When you’re asking yourself this question, base it off of two things – your overall diet and how intense your planned workout is. If you’re already eating small, balanced meals every 2-3 hours you honestly don’t need a meal strategy (and I officially hate you – thank you for being so perfect) – your body should already have ample fuel to get through a workout that’s an hour or less. If you’re like me though, and have those days where you just don’t eat due to schedule restrictions (or whatever else) we’re going to go through a few options for avoiding that “boink” that comes with exercising without fuel.
OK, so if you do go longer than 3 hours without eating you should determine your needs based on a few different things. First and foremost, how hard is your workout? Less intense aerobics (such as simple yoga, slow jogging and hiking) and other workouts where your heart rate doesn’t exceed 140-150 beats per minute don’t use a whole lot of fuel and can be done easily on a pretty empty tank. Honestly, in a situation like this – good hydration is the only fuel you’ll need. However, harder workouts all have an anaerobic interval component which burns your limited stores of glycogen. Think about it – your body stores glycogen until you need it, but when your diet is very lean (and it’s the new year, I’m assuming most people’s are), you’re almost certainly going to deplete these stores before the end of your workout. If you haven’t eaten in awhile, this might cause your performance to plummet – let’s figure out how to avoid that, shall we?
3 hours before your workout…
This one’s easy because you have ample time to digest the food you’re eating. Eat a well-rounded meal – but make sure to keep it on the “lighter” side. As long as it’s not too heavy in calories (more than 500ish), most of it will be turned into fuel by the time you start working out – easy, right!?
2 hours before your workout…
If you think 2 hours is “crunched for time” – you’re wrong. You still have enough time to digest a light snack made up of mainly carbohydrates (my favorite). Something that’s 4 parts carbohydrate to 1 part protein (with little fat) will ensure there’s time to convert the the food into fuel. Want me to make it simple for you? Take a serving of plain greek yogurt, some granola and a handful of blueberries and voilà – you’ve got yourself the perfect snack!
1 hour before your workout…
So you’re getting ready to head out to the gym and now you realize you’re starving – in this instance you’re going to want to eat very light – no more than 200ish calories. Once again you’re going to want eat something that’s 4 parts carbohydrate to 1 part protein – any extra protein or fat is only going to hinder your workout. This is really similar to the “2 hours before your workout” snack – but since your body can only convert 200 to 300 calories into energy in a given hour…well, you’ll want to keep your portions smaller obviously.
Less than 1 hour before your workout…
It’s better if you try not to eat during the last hour before your workout. If you haven’t eaten in hours though, liquid fuels like the Vi-Shape shake mix (mixed with water and not milk) – or easily digestible carbs, like half of a banana, will digest quickly enough to help you during the later stages of your workout when your glycogen stores would otherwise run out.
How’s everyone doing with their 2013 health resolutions?