When you're exercising, you may think you can get ahead by skipping out on a meal beforehand. This is a major misconception that's also not healthy. Contrary to common belief, skipping a meal won't automatically make your body burn off that belly fat or that extra weight on your thighs to get you skinny faster.
Getting fit and losing weight is as much about eating as it's about exercising. Without the balance, you won't be reaching your goals in a way that'll benefit you in the long term.
Why You Need to Eat
Not eating before a workout could mean undoing all of your hard work. When your body has no fuel, it starts to break down all that muscle you've been building. You need to eat and drink before exercise to give your body the fuel it needs to function properly so you continue to make progress.
If for no other reason, not eating before exercise can make you feel pretty rotten. You may feel tired or sluggish, even lightheaded or dizzy, which can prevent you from completing your workout. By eating, you'll have greater endurance and stamina and avoid health risks like putting extra strain on your heart.
How to Plan Pre-Workout Meals
According to WebMD, sports dietitian Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, CSSD, recommends including five key components in the pre-workout meal:
Low in fat:
Nothing fried or greasy is good fuel for a workout. Stick with heart-healthy options like fish.
Low in fiber:
Be kind to your system during your workout. Too much fiber could make you feel bloated or uncomfortable during exercise.
Staying hydrated before, during and after your workout is essential. Dr. Rosenbloom recommends drinking two cups of water about two hours before exercise and then continuing to drink water or a sports drink (depending on the length and intensity of your workout) during exercise. If you weigh yourself before and after, drink two additional cups of water for every pound lost to replace lost fluids and prevent dehydration.
Carbohydrates and lean protein:
Consuming moderate amounts of each makes for a well-balanced meal. Carbohydrates can come from grains like cereal or bread, but also from fruits and vegetables. Make sure your protein is lean to help you build muscle tissue and maintain the health of your blood cells to keep the body oxygenated.
Experimenting with new foods before a workout is not recommended because you don't know how your body will feel working out with them in your system. Try out a meal beforehand to see if it agrees with you.
Now that you know what your body needs, here are some great options recommended by nutritionists and physicians to keep you energized during your workout:
Protein shake -- Drinking a shake is a great way to get everything you need in one glass and most can be mixed with either water or milk. However, some have added ingredients like caffeine or creatine to help build endurance and promote muscle recovery, so pay attention to the ingredients and pick the one that fits your needs and wants. Choose a flavor you love or a few to rotate so you don't get bored. You can add low-fat or skim milk or even soy or almond milk if you want to avoid dairy.
Yogurt -- Look for one that's high in protein and low in fat and added sugars. Greek yogurt is a great choice, especially because it's so thick. You can add fresh fruit for additional carbohydrates, vitamins and antioxidants or even some granola (just avoid the stuff that tastes like a crushed up candy bar). Still like it sweet? Try agave or honey. Yogurt is also a favorite of Dr. Mehmet Oz because the liquid-like texture helps your body quickly access the nutrients it needs for exercise.
Bagel or cereal -- The Mayo Clinic recommends sticking to whole grains, low in artificial sugars and colors (no kiddie cereals) and topping with a whole fruit spread or some nut butter for added protein and healthy fats.
Green drink -- Get all your fruits and veggies at once. Green drinks and smoothies are available pre-mixed as powders or if you have a blender or juicer, you can make your own. Fruits like bananas are great before exercise for the potassium and add a green like spinach or kale. Just be careful you don't get too much fiber.
As recommended, try all of these meals beforehand to make sure they agree with your digestive system. Anything that makes you feel too full, bloated or gives you any other symptoms of indigestion is probably not great to have in your stomach when you're running, dancing or jumping around. Remember, exercise may not always feel good, but you should always feel good.
When to Eat
Once you pick the option that's right for you, you can decide the best time to eat. Most experts recommend eating 30 minutes to one hour before exercise, depending on how heavy the meal is. This can help you prevent cramps or feeling tired during your routine. If it's really heavy, like a dinner of meat, starch, veggie and dessert, the Mayo Clinic recommends waiting up to four hours depending on how you feel. Don't wait until you crash or feel tired.
I'll say it one more time just so it sinks in: Stay hydrated! This is the surefire way to make sure you stay in the game. Hungry yet?
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