Yawning is often seen as a sign of boredom but, in many cases, it’s an indicator that your blood glucose levels are in decline. This is no big deal at school or at the office, when your body can happily burn fat instead. But, at the gym, this could mean your workout performance is about to take a dive.
Consuming carbs during your workout is one way to stop this series of events happening, but it’s much better to avoid it in the first place. The best way to do this is to pay attention to your pre-workout meal.
Your pre-workout meal should consist of good-sized portions of protein and carbs, consumed 2-3 hours prior to your workout. By having your pre-workout meal this far in advance you ensure your blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels are topped up, but your stomach is empty. This will eliminate the chances of a belly full of food making you feel sick during your workout.
However, while eating so far in advance ensures an empty stomach, it does mean your blood glucose levels may peak too early and be falling into decline by the time you hit the gym. Also, for early morning exercisers, it may be impractical to eat 2-3 hours before training. In these instances, you may need a pre-workout snack.
A pre-workout snack must contain a concentrated source of fast acting carbs, and needs to be easy to digest. This ensures the glucose hits your bloodstream in time to fuel your workout, but your stomach is not overloaded with food.
Fat should be avoided at this time because it is a major gastric inhibitor, meaning it delays digestion, keeping food in your stomach for longer. You can include protein in your pre-workout snack if you wish, but your main emphasis should be carbs as that is what your body needs to fuel your training session. Good pre-workout snacks include:
- Whole-wheat toast, mashed banana, honey, and cinnamon
This snack is loaded with a variety of sources of carbs, which means it will not only supply instant energy, but slower releasing energy too. This will ensure you stay strong until your very last rep. The inclusion of cinnamon ensures maximal insulin sensitivity so those carbs will be preferentially shunted into your muscles.
Just take 1-2 slices of whole-wheat bread and toast it lightly. Mash a ripe banana and spread it on your bread. Drizzle with honey, and then sprinkle with cinnamon. Feel free to replace the bread with a bagel, or even rice cakes if preferred.
- Breakfast cereal
Most breakfast cereals are hopeless breakfast foods. They are sugary, refined, and are too quickly digested so that, a few hours later, you feel hungry again and crave another sugary snack; bring on the 11am donut!
However, all the things that make cereal a poor way to start your day make it great as a pre-workout snack. Loaded with fast-acting carbs, easily digestible, portable, and easy to eat, there are definitely worse foods you can have 20-30 minutes before a workout. A one-cup serving with a little milk should power you through your workout.
- Fruit-flavored yogurt
Fruit-flavored yogurt is usually a dietary no-no. Invariably, it’s flavored with fruit-flavored syrup, and that means added sugar. Because it’s low in fat, most people assume that fruit-flavored yogurt is a good weight loss food, but all that sugar means it’s a concentrated source of energy and about as far from a diet-friendly food as you can get.
As with cereal, these factors are what make it a good pre-workout food. Assuming you have no issues with lactose, a pot or two of fruit-flavored yogurt will provide you with fast-acting carbs for your workout plus a few grams of protein too.
- Cereal bars
The average cereal bar is not much better than a candy bar in terms of sugar intake. Many people mistakenly believe cereal bars are a healthy alternative to regular confectionary but, other than providing a small amount of additional fibre, this isn’t really true.
Cereal bars, like candy, contain sugar in various forms, as well as several different grains. While not great for weight loss, they do provide your body with plenty of fast-acting carbs for your workout.
Portable and easy to eat, cereal bars are a good choice of pre-workout snack that you can eat on your drive to the gym. They are also available in most convenience stores so you should never have a problem tracking one down.
- Flavored milk
Half a litre of flavored milk contains around 50 grams of carbs and a meaningful amount of protein too. It’s pleasant to drink, provides a modicum of hydration, and also contains calcium which is vital for muscle contractions.
Many people find fluids easier to digest than solids, and that they cause less bloating than other types of food. This is especially true for high impact workouts like running.
You can pick up flavored milk at petrol stations and convenience stores so it’s readily available. Low in fat, the carbs it contains are readily digested, and quickly available for fuel. But, if you have any problems digesting lactose, look for lactose-free alternatives, or choose a different pre-carb snack.
A good pre-workout snack can be the difference between a successful workout and one that comes to a premature end. Provide your muscles with the fuel they need by eating a carb-rich meal 2-3 hours prior to your workout, plus a high-carb snack 30-minutes before you start. This belt-and-braces approach to pre-exercise nutrition will ensure that lack of energy will not derail your workout.