Many athletes are nervous to tweak their pre-workout eating routine because they arent sure how their stomachs will react. A general guideline is to avoid foods that are high in protein, fiber or fat within the hour before a workout to avoid stomach discomfort. Keep a balanced meal at least one to three hours before you work out. Use the 20 to 30 minutes immediately pre-workout to top of your energy stores with simple, easily digestible carbohydrates.
Role of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the primary source of pre-workout fuel because they are easily digested and absorbed, giving your body instant energy. It’s ideal to eat a balance of both high- and low-glycemic carbohydrates in the 20 to 30 minutes pre-workout. My top choices are fruit, minimally processed sugar (like coconut palm nectar or brown rice syrup) or sprouted grains and seeds. I also like to add a bit of coconut oil to whatever I’m eating pre-workout. Although it isn’t a carbohydrate, coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are burned in your liver like a carb — not like a fat. A single date with coconut oil is one of my favorite pre-workout snacks.
Hydration and electrolyte balance is important during all stages of physical activity, not just during. Your pre-workout hydration strategy should include water and electrolytes, but dont fill on up on too much water right before intense exercise. Focus on proactive and ongoing hydration throughout the week to support performance.
Should You Use Caffeine?
Although I dont recommend a high intake of caffeine, there are times where certain sources of caffeine can be useful, and before endurance exercise is one of those times. Caffeine works as an ergogenic aid: It improves endurance performance, increases alertness and concentration, and supports mental focus. I recommend choosing holistic stimulants such as green tea and yerba mate. Its important to remember that the more caffeine you consume, the more you need to consume to achieve the same effect — regardless of whether youre using caffeine to get you through the morning, or to give you a performance boost. So if you have a big event or race coming off, work on removing all sources of caffeine from your diet for a minimum of three days.
My Favorite Sources of Pre-Workout Fuel:
High-glycemic and easily digestible carbohydrate, best eaten 30 minutes before a workout. You can eat them dry, or blend with coconut oil and agave to make a spread for toast, or toss them in a smoothie.
Source of MCTs. Try using coconut oil instead of butter one to three hours pre-workout, or blending with dates immediately before you work out.
Caffeine from green tea feels steadier and less jittery than the spike and crash with caffeine from coffee. This is likely because green tea contains L-Theanine, an amino acid found in tea that helps promote relaxation. Drink hot or cold pre-workout.
Rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and electrolytes. Drink hot or cold pre-workout.
This Acai Berry Pre-Workout Energizer is one of my favorite easy-to-digest pre-workout fuels:
Acai Berry Pre-Workout Energizer
Originally published in Thrive Energy Cookbook, Penguin Canada.
Prep Time: 2 to 3 minutes
Special Equipment: high-speed blender
4 fresh or frozen strawberries
?…" cup chopped pineapple
ë_ cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 scoop acai berry flavor Vega Sport Pre-Workout Energizer
ë_ cup coconut water
ë_ cup acai berry juice
1 Tbsp agave nectar or maple syrup (optional)
About 2 cups ice cubes
* If using frozen fruit, use less ice
In a blender, combine all the ingredients except the ice. Add ice to about 1 inch above the liquid line. Blend on high speed until smooth.
For more answers to your questions on how to fine-tune your nutrition pre-, mid- and post-run, and improve your performance, visit FuelYourBetter.com.
Brendan Brazier is a former professional Ironman triathlete and two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion. He is now a successful performance nutrition consultant, bestselling author of the Thrive book series, including the newest book, the Thrive Energy Cookbook, formulator of the award-winning line of plant-based Vega nutritional products and creator of Thrive Forward. For more information, visit his website and follow him on Twitter @Brendan_Brazier.