Want to get the most out of your workout? Then eat the right foods beforehand. Although you may be tempted to skip the calories, the food you eat before you exercise will fuel your workout and maximize your efforts and results. “If I don’t have my pre-exercise meal, my workout isn’t the same and it feels like a waste,” says Manuel Villacorta, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and founder of Eating Free. “If you fuel correctly you’ll workout harder.” Eating before a workout also prevents low blood sugar, which leads to light-headedness and fatigue.
That said, you don’t want to eat the wrong thing before you head out for a run. Here are the best foods you can eat within an hour before your workout. Bananas“They’re nature’s PowerBar,” boasts Dr. Louise Burke, head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport and coauthor of The Complete Guide to Food for Sports Performance: Peak Nutrition for Your Sport. Bananas are loaded with digestible carbohydrates (read: fuel) and are packed with potassium, which aids in maintaining nerve and muscle function. The body doesn’t store potassium for very long, so a medium banana before a workout will help keep nutrient levels high. Villacorta especially recommends bananas for morning exercisers: “Get up and eat a medium banana with 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt. Wait about 30 minutes and then hit the gym. Your body will need the carbohydrates and protein.”
Oats Oats are full of fiber, which means they gradually release carbohydrates into your bloodstream, Burke points out. (But they’re not so full of fiber that they’ll cause gas.) This steady stream keeps your energy levels consistent during your workout. Oats also contain B vitamins, which help convert carbohydrates into energy. Help yourself to one cup at least 30 minutes before you begin exercising. Wholegrain bread A slice of wholegrain bread is a good source of carbohydrates. “And it has flexible partners,” says Burke. “Top it off with jam or honey for more fuel or sliced up hard-boiled eggs for high-quality protein.” If you’re hitting the gym during your lunch break, grab some bread about 45 minutes before you head out. “Top it with a couple slices of turkey,” suggests Villacorta. “At this time of day, you should eat about 30 grams of carbohydrates and 15 to 20 grams of protein.”
Fruit smoothies Fruit smoothies are high in carbohydrates and high-quality protein. Better yet: “They’re easy to consume and are rapidly digested,” says Burke. Try blending 1/2 cup plain, low-fat yogurt, 1/2 cup fruit and 1 cup fruit juice. “People tend to skip fruit and other foods that are high in carbs,” says Villacorta, “but protein doesn’t break down fast enough to become fuel for a workout. The carbs from fruit break down quickly and the protein is used later to prevent muscle damage.” What to avoid If you’re going to stray from this list, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Be sure to avoid fatty foods before working out—fat leaves the stomach very slowly, which means you’ll feel full and sluggish and could cramp up easily.
Although carbohydrates are good, you should not get them from raw sugar or candy. Either of those foods will cause a sugar rush and probably a crash while you’re mid-workout. Also, don’t overeat before you workout. These are all snack—not meal—suggestions. Eating too much can cause indigestion, sluggishness, nausea and vomiting.