January has finished and the month where we all test the strength of our new year’s resolutions begins!
For me, January is a chance to learn where the gaps of fitness knowledge are with the average athlete. Each and every person that walks into our gym has questions and we always want to answer them to the best of our abilities. This year we were asked, “what do I eat before/during exercise?”
The answer differs depending on your exercise, and we will cover both short and long term exercise nutrition choices that we find to be the most helpful.
Do I Eat Before a Workout?:
This answer tends to be quite personal depending on the athlete, and the best answer is to do what you are used to at first, then adjust from there.
There’s plenty of science on the types of carbs we should have before working out but none of that matters if you end up throwing it up! Humans are creatures of habit and we develop an internal clock that is very set in its ways (our circadian rhythm). If you are not used to eating before performing and activity and suddenly eat a meal before working out, you are way more likely to try to throw that up. Wasting the food and the time you took to make/eat it.
In order to get to a point where you are fueled properly for workouts, you need to slowly start implementing changes!
For a short answer: yes you should eat prior to working out but only in the time your body is ready for with an aim for optimization at a later date. Journeys take time and listening to your body is very important.
Everything we eat is made up of a blend of macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbs). Proteins are the building blocks for the structures in our bodies (think muscle and hair), fats are for maintaining the health and function of our organs (think brain development and joint function), and carbs are for short term energy.
When understanding what you need to fuel your body for a workout, you need to talk about carbs, as they are what our body primarily uses for energy in most aerobic exercise (i.e. CrossFit).
We get carbohydrates from our starches, vegetables, fruits, and fibrous foods. These are categorized in two categories that have become buzz words in the industry: simple and complex carbohydrates.
Simple Carbs: Bread, Sugar, Candy, Chips, etc… are all simple carbs. These are digested very easily by the human body, therefor making us feel less full when we eat them and leaving us crave more! These carbs have their purposes, but really only for athletes performing at a high level for an extended period of time.
Complex Carbs: Sweet Potatoes, Fruits, Vegetables, Brown Rice, etc.. are all complex carbohydrates. The term “Whole Foods,” gets thrown out there quite a bit for these. All it really means is that “you pick it from the store the way it was found in nature.” That’s it. These are what our pre-workout snacks should be made of!
When and What Should I Eat Before Working Out?
We tackled a bit of when earlier, now let’s get more specific.
Most people tend to do best when eating complex carbs as part of a meal 2-3 hours before participating in exercise.
This meal might look something like this for a 150lbs female: 1 cupped hand’s worth of sweet potato, 1 fist size of baked salmon, and a few almonds.
For a similar sized male we may bump this up half a hand measurement for each.
Now, this is just a place to start. Changing one meal to just Whole Foods and putting it at a time that is about 2-3 hours out. On the day you try this the first time, go exercise. Take it at your normal pace and see how you feel.
Take mental notes like:
On a scale of 1-10: How do I feel?
On a scale of 1-10: How am I performing?
Am I performing better or worse than usual?
From there we can change a couple variables:
Timing of the meal
Quantity of food
If you aren’t feeling great after that first day you made the change, try and change 1 variable. Move the meal closer to the workout or farther away. Change out sweet potatoes for basmati rice. Have more or less sweet potato.
Chances are if you are nauseous due to food intake, you are eating too close to to working out or too much. If you feel like you have a lack of energy, you may have had too little food.
The best thing to take away is that you gotta be able to find your food in nature and that you have to be somewhat of a scientist with yourself to find out what works best for you. One of the most irresponsible things the fitness industry does is act like there is a “catch all” out there. You are unique when it comes to how you should eat and being analytical is the main way to truly figure out what works best.
I don’t think I can do that on my own…:
You don’t have to! Depending on your state of health, you can do a number of things to get on this track of eating healthy without feeling overwhelmed and getting swamped in jargon!
Phone a friend:
The easiest way to start eating healthy is to start your journey with other people. Humans are pack animals and we got this far by being analytical and sharing information from what we tried.
Talk to some friends, make a plan to eat Whole Foods, and work together to get yourselves to your healthiest day!
Hire a professional (non-medical):
The fastest way to your results would be to hire a trained nutrition coach (like those here at Vegvisir CrossFit).
A certified nutrition coach can help you create plans to change behaviors, demystify nutrition info in a way that is specific to you, and (most importantly) keep you accountable!
Nutrition coaches have the tools to get you to your goals and know what to try when things aren’t shaking out as expected.
Get the help you need (medical):
Some of us, like people with diabetes or thyroid issues, need a licensed dietitian.
Dietitians are medical professionals that work with chronic illnesses and can prescribe medication and/or specific meal plans that can help get people where they need to be healthwise.
If you are someone that is or could be suffering from a chronic illness that is affecting your diet, please talk to your doctor to find out what next steps should be taken for you to live your healthiest day!