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Healthy Headlines: Know what to eat (and what not to) before a workout, for maximum performance

Whether you are working out regularly to lose weight or in high-endurance training for a marathon or competition, diet plays an important role in getting the most out of your workout.

Brittany Diehl, a registered dietitian at the St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center says, “Proper nutrition is important for any level of training. If you know what to eat before, during and after a workout, you can enhance your performance, sustain energy levels, increase endurance and promote muscle building.”

Before a workout, you are looking for snacks to boost your energy but not slow you down. Brittany says, “Your biggest goal before a workout is fuel. If you properly fuel your body, it will provide you energy for the workout and the recovery.”

Pre-Workout Nutrition for the Recreational Athlete

The amount of fuel and the kind of fuel your body needs is largely dependent on your fitness goals. If you go to the gym an hour a day, 3-4 times a week and are trying to lose weight, your nutrition needs should be met through a regular, healthy diet.

Diehl says, “You don’t want to carb load if you aren’t an endurance athlete and your goal is weight loss. Don’t add more carbohydrates to your diet—time them better.”

A simple carbohydrate before a workout will give you energy throughout the workout.

“Simple carbs can be broken down quickly by the body to be used as energy,” Diehl said. “Foods like fruit, rice cakes, oatmeal, a bagel or yogurt 30 minutes before a workout will give you energy to start your workout and sustain it for the hour you are in the gym.”

If you experience lightheadedness, dizziness and nausea during a workout, be sure to always plan a pre-workout snack. Those could be signs of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, and a simple carbohydrate snack pre-workout will help.

The foods you want to avoid before a workout are high-fat, high-fiber foods. Choices with high fiber will make you feel too full and could cause gastrointestinal discomfort. You may feel full and satisfied, but you won’t want to run a few miles on the treadmill.

Pre-Workout Nutrition for the High-Endurance Athlete

If you are a high-endurance athlete training 1-3 hours a day, your nutritional needs will be very different than someone trying to exercise to lose weight.

“Athletes in training will need to adjust the food and water intake based on the physical demands they are placing on the body,” Diehl said. “Athletes need to maximize their glycogen stores for use during a long workout, so they need to focus on carbohydrates before a big training session.”

Glycogen is how the body stores carbohydrates for energy in your muscles. High glycogen levels in your muscles allow you to perform at a higher intensity level for a longer period of time. A larger meal with moderate protein and high carbohydrates should be eaten at least 3-4 hours before a workout to allow food to digest and build on the glycogen storage. Then a simple carbohydrate for a snack 30 minutes before can provide the quick energy needed to start the training session.

Hydration is Key to Nutrition and Performance

No matter what level of athlete or what your fitness goals, hydration plays a key role in your performance. If you feel thirsty, you are probably already dehydrated. If you’re not adequately hydrated, you can’t perform at your highest level.

Diehl recommends hydration is important before, during and after exercise. “There is no hard and fast rule about how much water you should drink while exercising,” Diehl said. “It depends on factors like your sweat rate, as well as the heat and humidity.”

For the recreational athlete, it is recommended to have 16-20 ounces of water or sports drink 2-3 hours before exercising and 5-10 ounces up to 10 minutes before a workout. That should be followed by at least 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you are done exercising.

Those who need help keeping weight goals on track, talk to a primary care physician or schedule an appointment at the St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center by calling (859) 212-4625. St. Elizabeth Healthcare also offers an online information session to learn more about medical weight-loss options.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare

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