To get the most out of your exercise, it is crucial to nourish your body properly before working out. The perfect pre-workout food formula is one part simple carbohydrates and one part protein, with minimal fat to avoid acid reflux. Eat your snack one to three hours before you work out.
Carbohydrates break down into glucose, enter your muscle cells and give your body the fuel to exercise at your maximal capacity. Simple carbohydrates are preferred because they are easily digested and provide quick energy.
Protein is also especially important if your workout involves weight training. Lifting weights creates small tears in your muscle fibers, and protein helps your muscles heal and grow stronger. In addition to being essential post-workout, protein is also important prior to working out to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Here are some simple recipes to optimize performance.
1. Fat-free Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup of blueberries and a tablespoon of chia seeds
Greek yogurt provides protein, while blueberries are a natural source of glucose that will fuel your workout. Chia seeds are loaded with fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and various micronutrients. Chia seeds have been shown to improve exercise performance just as much as a sports drink would. Try preparing this in advance and letting sit in the fridge overnight for a pudding-like consistency.
2. Cottage cheese and a small peach
Cottage cheese is a top source of casein, a slow-digesting milk protein which provides a steady release of protein to build and repair muscle fibers. It is rich in electrolytes, which can help reduce muscle cramping and enhance fluid absorption and retention, thereby contributing to optimal workout performance. Single serve 1 percent cups are perfect for on-the-go snacking. Sliced up peach complements the cottage cheese and will provide the simple-yet-natural carbohydrate needed to fuel your workout.
3. Apple with a tablespoon of nut butter or powdered peanut butter
Healthy carbohydrates with a decent dose of protein! This is a perfect pre-workout snack to give you enough energy to sustain your workout, yet it won’t leave you feeling heavy or weighed down. This is great when you’re on the run: Try swapping the apple for a banana for a new flavor profile. For people who suffer from acid reflux, the fat from the nut butter can be irritating, so try using powdered peanut butter. It has the same amount of protein and a fraction of the calories and fat. Just rehydrate this all-natural powder with water for a creamy spread.
4. Oatmeal and fruit
Oats are a great pre-workout carb because they provide fiber that slows down the introduction of glucose into the blood, but not so much fiber that will cause GI distress during a workout. Stick to a half-cup serving and make your oatmeal with water, almond milk or low-fat milk. Top with some easily digested fruit like strawberries and bananas and a dash of cinnamon.
5. Homemade smoothie
Creating a smoothie with protein prior to your training session primes the pump. It enables your body to start protein synthesis during your workout by increasing the delivery and uptake of amino acids by your muscles. There is also a carryover effect of pre-workout nutrition so you will get benefits from the protein after your workout. To make the smoothie, put unsweetened almond milk in a blender along with a banana for easily digestible carbohydrates, protein powder, cinnamon and stevia if you need extra sweetness.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.