What you eat before working out can drastically impact how you feel during and even after your workout. It’s important to give your body what it needs so that you are feeling your best. Since all of our bodies are different, the best way to figure out what works for you is through trial and error. But where should you start when looking for the perfect balance for you? Here are some tips to that may help…
First, let’s start off with some general information about how different foods fuel our bodies and how those foods are utilized differently depending on the type of exercise you are doing. When we head out for a walk, hike or run, most of our fuel comes from glycogen stores (the stored fat and carbohydrate) in our body. Those stores come from the food that we eat in the days leading up to the walk, hike, or run. What you eat immediately before you start will not be stored as glycogen, but rather, will be more readily used during the workout. For example, if you eat a snack high in carbs right before you start, then you will burn a higher proportion of carbohydrates during the workout. This is particularly helpful, for example, if you are doing speed work where you are burning lots of energy quickly.
For short walks, hikes or runs (45 minutes or less), it is fine to go out on an empty stomach. One caveat: when I go out on an “empty stomach” it still has a latte in it, because I don’t go anywhere without a latte! And that does have about 150 calories with a mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates. But if it going to be a short walk, it is OK to go on a completely empty stomach.
To fuel longer walks, hikes or runs, you will definitely want to combine carbohydrates with protein and fat to help keep you from getting hungry. A meal complete with all three macronutrients can help delay the onset of fatigue, improve endurance and enhance performance.
Now that we’ve got that figured out, here are some snacks you may way to try:
I love peanut butter toast with banana and/or honey. You can add chia seeds on top too. You can put anything you want on your toast, but I have found that peanut butter sits well with my stomach and the extra fat and protein helps keep me full vs. if I just have plain or buttered toast. If I add honey, I get a little extra carb boost as well, which is helpful on long run or hard workout days.
I eat toast before all types of workouts – long, short, easy, intense. What varies is what I top the toast with, depending on the type of workout, and how many pieces I eat, depending on how long I plan to be out.
If you are gluten intolerant or do not like bread, you can substitute an apple for the toast. An apple with one tablespoon of peanut butter is my favorite mid-morning or afternoon snack. And just like the toast, you can add a bit of honey too for an extra carbohydrate boost!
Energy chews are another option if solid food is tough for you to stomach or if you prefer the convenience of prepared, packaged foods. There are a lot of brands out there (GU, Skratch, Clif, Honey Stinger). This is the best option if you only have about 15 minutes before your workout and no time to properly digest real food. But since chews are only carbs without protein or fat, you will probably get hungry mid-workout. Personally, I prefer to use chews for fueling mid-workout because they are easy to carry and fit in my pockets. I also keep some extra chews in my backpack just in case my hike or bike ride goes longer than expected and I am running low on energy. Because they are packaged, the do last a long time (yeah, I know…that can be good AND bad…) so they are easy to store for “emergencies”.
Remember we are talking about chews (they look like blocks or gummies). Gels, which seem similar (but are more like a thick liquid), do not seem to work as well for me and tend to have more sugar.
Dates stuffed with nut butter
This is another great real-food snack and it often gives me the quickest burst of energy of all the options. I buy medjool dates, slice them open, remove the pit and stuff it with peanut butter, almond butter or tahini (sesame seed butter) Two or three of these are a great pick-me-up!
Sliced banana with peanut butter and salt
Bananas combat muscle cramps, peanut butter adds protein, and salt helps balance out sweat. This is a bit lighter of a snack, so it is good for walks, hikes and runs of about 3-5 miles.
Before a long walk, hike or run (12 miles more more), Instant oatmeal is my go-to breakfast. For a full or half marathon, I always have 2 packets of Quaker instant oats before I leave the house. The time I spend driving to start line and waiting in the corral for the race to start gives me plenty of time to digest and it keeps me feeling full for several hours. Admittedly, Quaker instant oats packets have dehydrated fruit and some added sugar, but I find that just helps boost my energy and endurance during a race. And I know I will burn off the extra sugar when I am out there for 13-26 miles!
Sweet potatoes are a great addition to an athlete’s diet and they serve as a base for great toppings, similar to toast and oatmeal. I find them easier to digest than the traditional bagel and they are a lot more nutritious too.