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What is the Best Food to Eat Before Working Out?

written by: Donna Cosmato • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 6/29/2011

Discover the best choices of food to eat before working out, and enjoy high performance and energy levels. Find out why fatty and sugary foods could slow down or hurt your performance, and use one of the sample menus provided here, or design your own for your next pre-exercise meal.

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    Eating immediately before a sports event or an intensive workout can cause nausea or cramps, and it could affect your overall performance. However, if you know the food to eat before working out, your performance levels are higher and you feel great. The best pre-exercise foods contain complex carbohydrates to prevent blood sugar spikes and provide optimum sources of energy.

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    Meal Timing

    If you eat four hours before a workout, the digestive system has time to work. You avoid any hunger pangs or lightheadedness from low blood sugar, and energy levels stay high.

    Foods to Eat 

    Eat complex carbohydrate foods. Meals that are eaten two to three hours before exercising should be lighter meals of about 200 to 400 calories, since there will be less time for the body to digest the food.

    One hour or less before a workout is when individuals must make the smartest food choices, and knowing the foods to avoid is just as important. Fatty foods slow the digestion and may cause stomach cramps, while sugary foods may cause the body to produce too much insulin.

    Image Credit/Morguefile/Morguefile Free license agreement/a1bargain

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    Foods to Eat

    Try a healthy combination of these complex carbohydrates before your next workout, but do not limit yourself to the foods listed here. This is just a small representative sampling of the wide variety of high carbohydrate foods from which to choose. Stop by your local bookstore or shop online for a carbohydrate guidelines book to help you make the smartest choices.

    • Breads: whole grain breads, bagels, pita bread, submarine rolls, matzo, or English muffins
    • Pasta (with spaghetti sauce) or Ramen noodles
    • Grains: rice, barley, and oatmeal
    • Vegetables: potatoes, yams, carrots, peas, winter squash, or corn
    • Fruits: banana, pears, apples, apricots, or raisins
    • Lean meat: chicken or poultry
    • Dairy: chocolate or 2 percent milk
    • Legumes: peas, lentils, or other legumes

    Now, let's see how you can combine these foods for the best pre-exercise meals.

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    Sample Meal Plans

    Use the suggested menus to get started, and then plan some menus for yourself that incorporate your favorite foods and healthy high carbohydrate foods.

    1. Meal one: Chicken sandwich on a whole-grain bagel, served with one pear and one cup of chocolate milk.
    2. Meal two: Pasta with tomato sauce, one slice whole grain bread, one-half cup winter squash, and one cup of 2 percent milk.
    3. Meal three: Steel-cut oatmeal, topped with banana slices and whole milk, and served with one cup of apple or orange juice, or apricot nectar.

    Try some of your own combinations, and feel free to deviate from traditional combinations. If you would like some bean burritos for breakfast, indulge. Make them with whole-grain tortillas for an added carb boost and enjoy.

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    Things to Remember

    The closer you are to working out, the more attention you need to give to each food choice. Avoid fats and sugars. Eat larger meals well before exercising to give the digestive system time to process the food. Use this information about food to eat before working out to help you plan meals that will stabilize your blood sugar levels and provide maximum energy.

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    References

    American Fitness, Counting Carbohydrates – includes list of foods with carbohydrates, Nancy Clark, Jan-Feb 1992, accessed 12/18/2010

    George Mason University, George Mason Rugby Strength, and Conditioning Program, accessed 12/18/2010