Being a dietitian who happens to also be a CrossFit trainer I get asked A LOT what you should eat before a workout. I sometimes cringe when I hear this question and then take a deep breath because I have no blanket statement and I know that annoys most people. There is literally no one size fits all for this question and I normally end up saying, “It depends”, because it does.
I think this lack of clear answer from experts is why so many have turned to supplements, shakes and snacks to fill the need of wanting something to fuel their workout. Food and supplement companies have gotten smart and capitalized on this and your wallet has taken the hit. There is no magic drink or pill that will make you infinitely better at any given sport. What makes you successful? Hard work, dedication, and a nourishing diet filled with vitamins, minerals and calories to fuel you. This recipe for success has no excess amounts of taurine, lecithin or casein protein (common ingredients in supplements)… shocking I know.
I recently had someone get off all pre-workout supplements that they found at GNC and they told me they felt 100% better off of them, and seemed surprised. This person thought that these supplements would be beneficial to their workouts and “gains”. Unfortunately the guy or gal at the GNC counter is uneducated and is trying to make a sale. I don’t fault them as this is their job and they don’t really know better but I can guarantee you that you will not find the results you want from the big plastic bottle found on shelves in a supplement store. If you are relying on supplements to get you through a workout you are either a) a big time athlete or b) not eating the right foods (or both).
Remember there is no one-size fits all model as far as nutrition goes but here are a few pointers on what to do pre-workout:
Workout fasted (if able): For those early birds out there (hello 5:30am), this tidbit is for you. How many of you wake up at the LAST possible second, grab a bar or banana, roll into the car only to get to the gym RIGHT on time? If you eat enough real food the day before, you will be fine. Your body is in a fasted state when you sleep and continues to burn fat as fuel in the morning, let it!
Eat a small snack that resembles a real food meal: There are NO rules as far as meals and snacks go, you don’t have to eat breakfast foods for breakfast or lunch or dinner so why do we need “snack” foods for snacks. Have a smaller portion of a meal and call it a day. Examples? Tuna salad, hard boiled eggs, chicken over salad, vegetables and hummus, leftovers, nuts/seeds and fruit etc.
Eat 2 hours before a workout: This gives your body enough time to digest the food you have eaten without causing distress mid workout. This also allows your body to be fueled properly so you won’t feel weak mid workout.
Eat enough food! This should be obvious but most of us are of the belief that if we workout more and eat less than we will lose weight and improve in the gym, not always true. If we are under eating we will eventually hit a plateau and or feel like we are going to pass out post workout. This does not give you free reign to eat whatever you want, but eat enough REAL FOOD and you will feel much better pre, during and post workout.
Drink some coffee or tea! Caffeine has shown to be effective in workouts but let’s get it from a real food source not some powdered supplement. This is also under the assumption that you are not addicted to caffeine, you don’t take coffee with your sugar and you do not have sleep issues. If any of the above are true, skip the coffee/tea and get to bed earlier.
If you want to know specifically what you need to eat for your health and your goals feel free to set up an appointment with me and we can get you a more definitive answer but when all else fails, JUST EAT REAL FOOD!
I’ll be back soon to talk about post workout nutrition and you can probably guess protein shakes do not rank 1st on my list.
Ps. I did a podcast on this as well, [check it out here].