Fueling Fundamentals: The Pre-Workout

What does it mean to be adequately fueled?

An athlete who is healthy and performs well is one who is adequately fueled. Adequate fueling means eating an appropriate amount of calories made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to fuel your activities of daily living as well as the vigorous physical activity your body may perform Each individual can perform different amounts of physical activity and has different nutrition needs at baseline. This means that being adequately fueled can have a unique meaning to each individual.

Why is it important to be adequately fueled?

Being adequately fueled can help your performance and training by bolstering energy, decreasing risk of injuries, maintaining lean muscle mass and enhancing your wellbeing. Under fueled athletes can experience what has been referred to as “hitting a wall” during a session and may feel that they lack the energy to carry on their sport and can perform poorly. Being inadequately fueled can lead to poor training benefit, lowering of your metabolic rate, difficulties maintaining your lean muscle mass, lowering of your intake of key nutrients, reducing your performance, and increasing your risk for injuries. Fueling your body appropriately is crucial!

Pre Workout Prep

It is important to eat adequate carbohydrate rich meals daily to fuel your muscles as well as before a workout if possible. Here’s why: After eating, carbohydrates are broken down and enter the bloodstream as glucose, a readily available source of energy for the brain and muscles.  In excess, this glucose can be energy for the brain and muscles.  In excess, this glucose can be stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver (as well as fat if there is more than can be stored as glycogen). When needed, glycogen can be broken down into glucose for usage as energy.

The body relies on free glucose for fuel if glycogen stores are low. However, it is beneficial to increase endurance in sports performance by having two sources of energy as opposed to one (stored glycogen and free glucose). Glycogen storage is limited, so it’s important to top off your energy supply before a work out. Low carb diets lead to less efficient glycogen storage and can lead to energy drain, especially through back to back activities. Eating carbohydrate rich snacks and meals regularly will help you maximize your performance potential, maintain blood sugar during events, stay focused, and prevent hunger. However, whatever foods may work for one person may not work for another. Experiment with what may work best for you, but stick to familiar foods before events. Keep foods that work well with you on hand.

Here’s a chart for length of time of exercise and suggested snacks:

Exercise time Type of snack Examples of Foods
Less than an hour Quick & easily digested low fat, high carb Toast, English muffins, banana, crackers, granola bars, low fat yogurt, cereal, trail mix, bagels
Longer than an hour Slower to digest carb with some protein if possible Poached eggs on toast, bagel with pb, oatmeal with low fat milk, brown rice, certain energy bars, pasta, sweet potato

Slow digesting complex carbohydrates reach the bloodstream at a slower rate, can provide sustained energy, and maintain blood sugar levels. Allow adequate time before exercise to digest meals or snacks and prevent regurgitation, cramps, or discomfort. If eating a meal, allow 3-4 hours (large) or 2-3 hours to digest (small). About 1.5 g of carbohydrate per pound body weight is recommended. When eating snacks allow up to 1 hour to digest before physical activity.

However, if there is less than 1 hour before exercise, reduce the amount of carbohydrate consumed. Eating right before exercising can cause blood to divert to your stomach for digestion instead of your muscles, reducing your abilities. Those with sensitive stomachs should try easily digested and tolerated foods and liquids low in fat and fiber. Foods high in fiber and fat can be retained in the stomach longer and can cause gastric distress, especially if eaten right before a workout. Stay tuned for Fueling Fundamentals: Part 2!

By Keri Yee, MS, RD, LD

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