"What should I eat?"
It's a common question that nearly everyone deals with on a day-to-day basis. For those adhering to a workout program, however, this simple question gains added importance.
Believe it or not, it's a source of stress for many who hope to maximize their workout gains. While some of us choose to gobble down a carefully chosen assortment of foods right before stepping onto a treadmill, the rest of us do the opposite — we don't eat anything before exercising.
So who is right and who is wrong?
Some of this confusion can be cleared up by first understanding how our body uses food for fuel. At the heart of the matter is a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which serves as a direct source of energy for doing cellular work in any kind of living cell.
Here's the catch: The energy from food needs to be processed in order for it to reach this usable form. This occurs slowly, mainly because of the necessary chemical reactions that need to occur in order to convert the molecules in food into ATP molecules.
So what is best to eat right before a workout? The answer to this question: nothing.
Why, you ask? Because anything you shovel down before a workout will be too late to have an impact on the levels of stored ATP needed for your working muscles.
Thus, the question we should really be asking ourselves is, "What should I be eating hours before my workout in order to supply my body with the best energy to do its job?"
Preparation is the real answer. It is best to eat foods that give you the energy required for your workout.
This is not just muscle-building protein, mind you. It also means carbohydrates and foods that contain fats, minerals and vitamins. And yes, you should eat meals that have all of these nutrients together.
All right, I hear you thinking: Carbohydrates? Yes, you need carbs; carbohydrates are the body's primarily energy source. When you don't provide your body with good carbohydrates, you don't give your body its necessary fuel and you won't perform at your optimum.
But keep in mind that these carbs should be the unprocessed kinds that still have all the nutrients inside. Processed carbohydrates, such as white rice, white flour and your run-of-the-mill pasta, are usually stripped of their most beneficial nutrients.
When you eat processed foods (in other words, processed carbohydrates), your body does not receive the minerals and vitamins required to metabolize and properly use food for fuel. Minerals and vitamins are among the key factors in our bodies' necessary chemical reactions. If we don't have them, nothing works. Providing ourselves with foods that give us required nutrients is necessary to receive the energy throughout your workout, as well as throughout your day.
Again, a reminder: No matter how healthy the food, you'd do well not to eat right before the workout — unless, of course, you savor the experience of throwing up while exercising.
When you exercise, your blood will flood into your working muscles, leaving less energy for digestion. Thus, when you eat before a workout, your body has no other choice then to deal with the digestive demand, and it has to put its energy into digesting the food. That is the issue we have here.