Q. I’ve heard that you shouldn’t eat before exercising, but is it really that important? If I don’t fuel up before my workout, I run out of steam halfway through. On the other hand, I am trying to lose weight and don’t want to sabotage my goals by eating. Any advice?
A: The type and amount of food eaten before a workout should correlate with factors such as intensity and duration of the exercise. Consuming a meal too large for the activity ahead can result in sluggishness and contribute to weight gain. Eating too little or skipping meals altogether, and/or eating the wrong foods, can result in blood sugar crashes and other problems that can lead to binges and cravings.
The answer? Make “eat for the activity” your new rule. Bigger meals when you know you will have a chance to burn those calories off; smaller meals when you plan to be less active.
That said, eating the largest meal of your day and then heading right out to exercise is definitely not a good idea. Instead, always allow time for digestion. Generally speaking, having an appropriately sized healthy meal approximately 2 to 2½ hours before an exercise session and within 2 hours afterward is safe.
Whether a workout day or not, start the day with a healthy breakfast. People who eat breakfast seem to not only eat less in general, but tend to eat healthier throughout the day than those who don’t. Those who skip meals are more likely to binge on junk food, feel tired and perform less efficiently mentally and physically.
Frequent healthy meals should be comprised of complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein and healthy fats. Carbs, protein and fats digest at different rates, so keep this in mind when meal planning. Almost all carbohydrates are the quickest to digest; it takes longer for fats and proteins.
Beverages are a sneaky contributor to weight gain and “roller coaster” energy highs and lows. High-calorie designer coffees and smoothies are daily habits for many Americans, for example. To get a handle on how many calories you are drinking, keep track for a week, or even just a day or two. It may be a real eye-opener.
Most soft drinks and beer, for example, have about 150 calories per 12 ounces. Doesn’t sound like much? Adding just one of these drinks per day equates to a whopping 54,750 extra calories – close to a potential 16-pound weight gain – in a year’s time.
A twofold problem – calories in beverages are usually underestimated or overlooked – and the overage is typically not offset by more exercise or lower food consumption.
People who eat rather than drink their calories tend to be more mindful of portion sizes, feel more satisfied and less deprived. As boring as it sounds, water remains the most perfect calorie-free beverage choice.
Marjie Gilliam is a personal trainer and fitness consultant.