Eating Before Exercise for Maximum Results
-- By Dean Anderson, Fitness Expert

If you are a moderate exerciser who tends to perform better with a pre-exercise snack, there are two ways to handle your needs:

1. Eat a small (100- to 200-calorie) snack about 30 minutes before you work out. This snack should include fast-digesting (high glycemic index) carbohydrates and very little fat (which digests slowly), so that you digest the meal quickly and the fuel is available during your exercise session. Here are some ideas:
Fruit juice
Fruit smoothie
High-glycemic fruits like pineapple, apricots, banana, mango, and watermelon
Sports drinks
Pretzels or bagels (but not whole grain varieties, which digest slowly)
Energy bars (look for 3-5 grams of protein, at least 15 grams of carbs, and very little fat)

2. Eat a nutritionally balanced meal 1-2 hours before your exercise. This is the best option for many people. The larger the meal, and the more fat and protein it contains, the longer you may need to wait before exercising. Ideally, try to eat enough calories to equal about half the calories you expect to burn during your upcoming workout. So if you burn about 600 calories during your workout, aim for at least 300 calories during this meal — or a little more if your exercise is “high intensity” (over 75% of your maximum heart rate). At least 50-60% of these calories should come from carbohydrates, which should keep your blood sugar and energy levels fairly stable during your exercise session. Include some protein to help prevent the breakdown of muscle for fuel and give your muscles a headstart on recovery after exercise. Some good food choices and combinations for this kind of meal include:

Fruit and yogurt
Cereals (with more than 3 grams of fiber) and milk
Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
Hummus and raw veggies
Hard boiled eggs (or egg whites)
Cottage cheese and fruit
Half a peanut butter or turkey/chicken sandwich on whole grain bread
Whole grain crackers with nut butter or cheese
Whole grain fig (or fruit) Newton cookies
Milk (especially chocolate milk)
Tomato or vegetable juice
Yogurt smoothie (with added protein powder, if desired)
Most protein/energy bars

As a moderate exerciser, you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to timing your meals and choosing your foods. The most important things are getting to know your body and how it responds to exercise, so that you can give it what it needs to perform at its best. Eating the right foods at the right times before you work out is essential to keeping your energy up, your workout performance high, and your body in fat-burning mode.

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