One morning at my 6 a.m. aerobics class, I took a survey of what my friends ate before working out. Five or six ate nothing; two or three said they had an apple or banana; three or four drank coffee. The instructor said she had a piece of toast with just a little peanut butter.
So, who was doing the right thing? It depends on the person, the time of day for exercise, what foods are easily digested, and the type of exercise. Here are a few pre-exercise guidelines to help you assess what might work best for you.
1. Each day, you should try to eat a balanced diet. Be sure to include healthy carbohydrate foods, such as whole grains, fruits and veggies. This will help replenish your glycogen stores in the liver and muscles so you will be ready for action.
2. If you will be exercising for an hour or less, consider a light snack with a carbohydrate that you know will digest well for you, such as a piece of fruit, crackers, or granola bars. For longer exercise sessions, add a little protein with the carbohydrate. A small bagel with peanut butter or a slice of cheese would be good choices. The protein will be digested slower to sustain your energy level for longer activity.
3. Be sure to allow time for digestion. A general rule is to allow three or four hours for a large meal to digest, two to three hours for a smaller meal, and less than an hour for a snack. Again, you know your body best.
4. Limit the amount of high fat sources at your pre-exercise meal or snack. Too much fat can make you sluggish or even cause nausea.
5. Watch out for high-sugar foods before exercising. Examples would be jelly beans, jams, juices, or flavored sugar beverages. These foods are broken down quickly and may cause rebound hypoglycemic symptoms, such as lightheadedness and fatigue.
6. Drink plenty of fluids! Drink extra fluid the day before you want to exercise. Drink two or three glasses up to two hours before you exercise and an additional one to two glasses five to 10 minutes before you start. If possible, drink water during your exercise program.
7. If you are in training for an event, or want more information on fueling your body for different types of exercise, I recommend "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook."
The important thing is that you get out and exercise. Dust off those shoes, have a big drink of water, a light snack and just do it!
Jan Hadley is a registered dietitian at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.