Although exercising on a full stomach is never recommended, eating first -- before you exercise -- is crucial to overall performance. Eating gives you energy and nutrition. Without consuming food to fuel your body, you cannot perform optimally and your energy is depleted quickly. The type of meal you consume prior to exercise should be individualized and based on your preferences and needs during a workout.
Carbohydrates are stored in your body in the form of glycogen, your body's preferred fuel for your muscles and your brain. Without glycogen, you experience fatigue and loss of energy and alertness. Your storage capacity for glycogen is approximately 2000 calories. To make certain your body is adequately supplied with a ready source of this primary body fuel, consume carbohydrate-rich foods before a workout.
Times to Eat
The timing of your pre-workout meal is also important. Allow your body adequate time to digest so that you do not feel complications, such as bloating or nausea. Carbohydrates typically take two hours to digest, fiber takes three hours and fats take four hours, so consuming a large meal a few hours before exercising or competing is ideal. This meal should consist of carbohydrates, fats, protein and fluids to provide balanced nutrition. If you are crammed for time, 30 minutes before your workout you can consume a carbohydrate food item with minimal fat or protein. If you do not have any time to eat before your workout, consume a high-carbohydrate beverage. Runners generally carb load the night before a marathon, fueling up on large portions of pasta and bread.
What to Eat
Consume 300 to 600 calories a few hours before you exercise. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends a fruit and yogurt smoothie plus low-fat granola; oatmeal with skim milk and a banana; a turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich with fruit and a sports drink; or peanut butter toast with an instant breakfast drink. Thirty to 60 minutes before exercise, consume a sports drink, sports gels, gummies or bars, a piece of fruit or a jam sandwich to provide a maximum amount of carbohydrates.
Foods to Avoid
Although consuming food before exercise is important, avoid foods high in fat and fiber, which take longer than carbohydrates to digest. These foods -- such as doughnuts, French fries and potato chips -- can be slow to digest, and in turn cause cramping and bloating that hinder performance. Experiment to find the foods that work best for you.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.