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Ready to hit the gym for a workout?  Do you need a snack to provide some energy?  What fitness-1499785__340kind of snack is best?  When should you eat it?

You may need a snack if it has been at least two to three hours since you last ate.  If you had lunch at Noon and head to the gym at 5 pm, it would be best to eat a snack.  If you head to the gym first thing in the morning eat some breakfast or a snack before you go, as you need fuel before exercise.

When to eat?  Eating on the way to the gym will not provide your body with the benefits you are seeking.  It is best to eat your snack one to two hours before you head to the gym.  Eating right before does not allow your body to digest and absorb the food, so it reaches your muscles during exercise.  Eat within 1 to 4 hours before exercise and eat a carbohydrate-rich snack according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

What to eat?    Carbohydrate-rich foods are the recommended foods before working out but you may need to balance them with protein and fat.  To prevent a spike in blood sugar, consume some protein and/or fiber with the carbohydrate rich snack.  This can also help with satiety.  Including protein may promote muscle recovery when doing resistance exercises (strength training).   Some examples of healthy pre-exercise snacks include:

  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Cheese sticks
  • Nuts
  • Seedsfruit
  • Canned seafood in single-serve packs
  • Whole grains
  • Whole fruits
  • Fruit smoothie

How much should you eat?  The closer to your workout the less you should eat.  You will also want to limit fat, protein, and fiber, so the snack can be more quickly digested and absorbed especially if you are doing cardiovascular exercise.

When choosing to eat 2 hours or more before exercise, choose a snack with 200 to 300 calories, depending on your individual needs, such as tuna with cheese and whole-grain crackers or ¼ cup of hummus with whole grain pretzels and 8 ounces low-sodium veggie juice.  If eating 1 hour before, lower the calories to 100 to 200 such as a small whole fruit and 6 ounces of yogurt and if eating just 30 minutes before a workout choose a small whole fruit or other whole grain item.

Be sure to stay well-hydrated.  Water is best unless you are exercising vigorously for more than 60 minutes, then use a sports drink.  Recommendations include:water-19659__340

  • Drinking about 2 to 3 cups of water during the 2-3 hours before exercising.
  • Drinking ½ to 1 cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout.
  • Drinking about 2-3 cups of water after your workout.

Pay attention to how you feel as everyone is different and you may need to adjust your eating habits. Other factors that may affect your workouts and eating are altitude and hot or cold environments.   Keeping a journal can help you tweak your meals and snacks to optimize exercise. Enjoy your workout!

Author:  Pat Brinkman, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension

Reviewer:  Misty Harmon, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Perry County

References:

American College of Sports Medicine, (2016). Nutrition and Athletic Performance Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2016, 48(3)543–568  Available at http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/fulltext/2016/03000 /Nutrition_and_Athletic_Performance.25.aspx

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Fitness, Knowing when and what to eat can make a difference in your workouts.  Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045506?pg=2&p=1

Tufts University. (2017). Smart Pre-Exercise Snacks, Health & Nutrition Letter, Tufts University.  March 2017 issue.  Available at https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/13_3/current-articles/Smart-Pre-Exercise-Snacks_2109-1.html

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