April 2012 | Issue 69

Coach's Corner: Exercise and Breakfast

Man and Woman Making Fruit SmoothieQ: I exercise first thing in the morning. I don't eat before my workout because I don't feel like I need to, but should I?

A: Think of your body like a car – food is the fuel that keeps your body moving. The time you are asleep is essentially a 6 to 8 hour fast. If you don't give your body fuel when you wake up, you will basically be running on fumes while you exercise. While you can make it through your workout, chances are you will feel sluggish, unmotivated and maybe even lightheaded. Sound familiar? These are signs that your body needs fuel.

Eating before a morning workout can help you:

  • Have more energy and motivation to push yourself for longer or at a higher intensity.
  • Prevent low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and the feeling of lightheadedness, which can be serious problems.
  • Enjoy your workout more because your muscles and brain have enough fuel to operate at full capacity.
  • Control what you eat after your workout because you will not be ravenous and eat whatever is in sight

Ideally, you should strive to eat about 200 to 300 calories one to two hours before you exercise.

But if your normal routine is to roll out of bed and begin your activity, eat less. Think snack: 50 to 100 calories. Your body can digest a small amount of food even within five minutes of exercise. And you don't have to sit down to eat; a grab-and-go choice is a great idea.

It can take time to learn exactly how much of what foods you can eat before a workout without upsetting your stomach. There is no "one size fits all" plan. Use the tips below to create a pre-exercise eating routine that works best for you.

  • Experiment with food. A pre-exercise meal or snack should be high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat. This combination is quickly digested and won't leave you feeling full during your workout. Experiment with different amounts and combinations of food until you find one that feels good to you (use the guide below for suggestions).
  • Experiment with timing. Try waking up five minutes earlier or changing your morning routine around so you eat before you get dressed. You may be surprised to find you have more time than you thought to fit in a pre-workout snack.
  • Stay in balance. If you are trying to lose weight, make sure to count your pre-workout food so you don't increase your overall daily calorie intake. Chances are your pre-workout meal will help you avoid the ravenous hunger that often compels you to reach for a less-than-optimal mid-morning snack.
  • Try liquids. If your body has a hard time digesting solid foods, try drinking a glass of juice or sports drink before your workout.
  • Don't forget to hydrate. Drink 8 to 12 ounces of water about 30 minutes before your workout. If you can't drink that much or don't have enough time, have at least a few sips. Staying hydrated has a big impact on how you feel and perform during exercise.

Pre-exercise meal/snack suggestions

Use these suggestions to help guide your pre-exercise food choices. Feel free to mix-and-match. Note: calorie counts are approximate.

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup skim milk and raisins = 250 calories
  • 1 cup cereal with 1/2 cup milk and 1 banana = 260 calories
  • 1 sports bar (e.g., Power Bar, Clif Bar) = 240 calories
  • 1 cup orange juice and pretzels = 210 calories
  • 1 pita with 1 Tbsp. hummus = 200 calories
  • 8 oz. smoothie = 150-180 calories
  • 1 slice toast and 1 Tbsp. peanut butter = 175 calories
  • English muffin with 1 Tbsp. jelly = 170 calories
  • 6 oz. low-fat yogurt = 140 calories
  • Graham crackers (4 squares) = 130 calories
  • 8 oz. apple juice = 120 calories
  • Fresh fruit (apple, banana, orange) = 50-100 calories
  • 8 oz. sports drink = 50-80 calories

For more breakfast ideas check out New American Plate for Breakfast.



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