Sports Nutrition – Before Exercise 640 426 Visual Veggies

Sports Nutrition – Before Exercise

This article is Part 1 of a series of three articles.  Later articles will cover Sports Nutrition – During Exercise, and then Sports Nutrition – After Exercise.

Sports Nutrition – Before Exercise

Now that we’re getting into the summer months (which commonly increases everyone’s outdoor physical activity), I think it is appropriate to talk about sports nutrition.  There are three questions to address for pre-workout nutrition:  1) What is recommended to eat and drink before exercise?  2) When to consume the foods or beverages before the workout?  3) And how much is recommended to eat and drink?

What is recommended to eat and drink before you workout?

The nutrients to focus on during the pre-workout period include carbohydrates and fluid.

Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the muscles’ preferred source of energy during physical activity.  The body will still utilize fats and (to a small extent) protein as a source of energy during exercise, but carbs will be preferred, especially as the intensity increases.  There are simple and complex carbohydrates, and both may be used in the period before exercise.  The next section will explain when it would be appropriate to consume one or the other.

Fluid
Fluid taken before exercise helps to make sure you are not starting the activity in a dehydrated state.  Athletes should monitor the color of their urine to quickly assess their hydration status.  Dark urine (resembling the color of apple juice) indicates underhydration, and more fluid is needed.  Urine color should appear light yellow, like the color of lemonade, indicating a well-hydrated athlete.

What about other nutrients, like fat and protein?
Some research has found that protein taken before and/or during exercise may help prevent muscle breakdown that occurs as a result of exercise.  There is no definitive conclusion showing this as a necessity.  Protein before the workout can slow down the digestion process, which can be beneficial, in a sense, to provide the body with a longer-lasting effect of the carbohydrate release into the bloodstream and to the working muscles.

Fat, as well as fiber, should be limited before exercise as these nutrients empty out of the stomach at a slower rate.  If there is food present in the stomach when exercise begins, this can increase the chance of stomach discomfort during the activity.

When is the right time to eat before a workout, and how much is enough?

Timing is very critical for the pre-exercise nutrition.  Besides providing the body with the nutrients to improve performance, starting the workout with an empty, or nearly empty stomach is another key goal for pre-workout meals.  If you overconsume on food and then start to exercise, you could be more likely to experience stomach discomfort, which can impair performance, leading to a poor workout.  You will see in the sections below, as the time to starting exercise nears, the size of the meals will decrease.

1-4 hours before:  Moderate-sized meal plus fluids – With this amount of time before starting exercise, athletes should opt for a high carbohydrate meal containing approximately 100-300 grams of carbs.  This meal may also contain moderate amounts of protein and fat as the stomach should have an adequate amount of time to empty the contents, leaving the athlete less vulnerable to experiencing stomach discomfort.  About 16-24 fl oz of water or sports drink should be taken at this time to ensure proper hydration.

30-60 minutes before:  Snacks plus fluids – Carbohydrate-rich snacks containing simple and complex carbs and also lower in fat and fiber can be consumed without overloading the stomach with a large volume of slow-digesting food.  Approximately 40-80 grams of carbs may be recommended to top off muscle glycogen levels.  Fluids should be continued to ensure hydration.

Less than 30 minutes:  Mostly liquids – With the timing getting closer to the workout, easily-digestible carbohydrates are preferred.  Although this section states “mostly liquids”, there are other nutrition options besides sports drinks that athletes may turn to and still be able to tolerate very well.  These options include energy gels, energy chews, fruit, and for some athletes, energy bars.

See also:
Sports Nutrition – During Exercise
Sports Nutrition – After Exercise