Does this sound familiar? Some days you feel like you’re dragging ass and the workout is owning you instead of the other way around. Other days you feel like you can take on the world and crush your lifts. Why is this? Well, it can be a number of things, but the first place you can start is with your pre-workout nutrition.
It can be a tricky balancing act — too little food and you have no energy, too much or the wrong foods and you’re ready to blow chunks halfway through your squat set. Not that that’s ever happened to me. :-P
And to add to that, everyone is different. One snack may be perfect for you, but may sit like a rock in my stomach. And you may prefer to train on a fairly full stomach or a mostly empty stomach. It also depends on the time of day and the kind of workout you have planned.
A workout early in the day may require a smaller, lighter meal, whereas a workout right after work may need more substantial sustenance, especially if your last meal was hours ago.
Other questions to ask yourself:
Is my workout primarily cardio-based, weight training, or circuit style?
How long is my workout going to be?
Am I training primarily for performance (such as a race, competition, strength-building) or fat loss?
What foods tend to affect my digestion negatively (bloating, gas, upset stomach, acid reflux, etc.)?
Which ones make me feel great?
And on kind of a silly note — which ones taste absolutely awful if you happen to burp? You may laugh, but this is a big consideration I take into account, as it happens often enough to make a difference! This is the reason I stay away from tuna and peanut butter in the hours before a workout.
Performance based workouts will require more calories, as exercising without enough fuel will hamper your efforts, and you may feel tempted to cut it short or dial back the intensity. If you’re training mostly for fat loss, you don’t want to overdo it on fuel, as you’ll need to remain in a caloric deficit throughout the day, and you’ll want your body to tap into its fat stores for fuel once available glycogen (energy, or carbs basically) is used up. I wouldn’t necessarily train fasted, as there is no evidence that that is more effective for fat loss. But if that’s your preference, go for it. Consider sipping a branched chain amino acid drink before and during the training session to prevent the breakdown of muscle. I like Optimum Nutrition’s Amino Energy. It has caffeine it for a little boost, but there are other good ones out there that don’t if you’re sensitive to it or training at night.
Give a few of these snacks a try:
Nut Butter on Toast/Bagel or Apple/Banana. Go for a natural nut butter with no added sugar or other junk. Schmucker’s Natural, Nuts ‘n More, Justin’s, and Barney Butter are a few of my favorites.
Protein Bar. You don’t want too much protein or fiber before a workout (your stomach may not like you!), so do half a bar. I aim for at least 15-20 grams of protein and less than 15 grams of fat per bar. My faves are Quest Bar and Think Thin.
Oatmeal and Berries. This is a great source of carbs, and you can add a little protein powder if desired. MyOatmeal.com has thousands of custom combinations if you want to get crazy with it.
Berries and Yogurt. If you’re not sensitive to dairy, this is a high protein option that won’t weigh you down. Go for Greek yogurt for more protein, and keep the sugar content under 10 grams if possible (there are some naturally occurring sugars in dairy (lactose)).
Protein Shake/Smoothie. Keep this on the lighter side, maybe just ½ scoop and some greens and fruit.
Hardboiled Egg and Toast or Fruit. A little bit of protein and fat to keep you satiated and some carbs for quick energy.
Lara Bar. I love these bars, as they are made with whole, natural ingredients and no fillers. These are made with nuts though, so they are calorically dense, so try half a bar to start.
Kashi Waffle and Nut Butter. Sensing a pattern here with the nut butters? If you’re like me and they tend to feel heavy in your stomach, feel free to substitute something else with a little bit of protein, such as a mixture of a small amount of protein powder and Greek yogurt, water, or milk.
Protein Pancakes. I’ve recently discovered Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes (good mix of carbs and protein; you can find this at Target or Amazon.com). If you want to create some from scratch, I have a low-carb recipe on my website here, or there are a gazillion other recipes out with more carbs if you just Google.
Carrots and Hummus. Low cal, low carb, and a serving of veggies, all in one.
As with anything else, you’ll have to experiment to find out the optimal mix of carbs, fat, and protein for you. Take note of how your stomach feels with each type of snack, the amount of time before your workout that you ate it, and how you felt during the workout. Tweak until you find a few favorites.
Happy eating (and lifting)!