Not sure what and when to eat before you exercise? Here are a few of my faves that have ideal amounts of carbs and protein to keep you fueled up. Bonus—they’re easy to prepare.
Oatmeal: It settles well and provides long-lasting energy, while added fruit will hit the bloodstream quickly to get you going. I add a scoop of protein powder and a tablespoon of flaxseed to mine with a slash of milk to cool it down.
A whole-wheat bagel with jam: “Simple carbs burn quickly, like paper, while complex carbs burn like wood and take a little longer to provide energy. An easy-to-digest whole-grain bagel with jam or a drizzle of honey combines both types of carbs. It’s an easy way to fuel your workout from start to finish.
Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt contains substantial protein and carbs, and less sugar than the regular kind, and unless you’re lactose intolerant, it’s easy on the stomach, which is ideal before intense activity or bouncing exercises like Zumba or plyometrics. Add fruit, honey, or ¼ cup of whole-grain cereal for an extra energy kick.
Protein shake with added carbs: Premade protein shake mixes are an easy on-the-go snack, and a good way to reap protein’s benefits while adding carbs to stay energized. Aim for a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio with 10 to 20 grams of protein. I use a shake powder with water (juice is also a good choice), and a banana or other fruit to provide carbs.
Brown rice with chicken: If you tend to exercise later in the day, try to avoid rich, fatty foods. Although a simple dish of brown rice with chicken may be a little bland, it sits well and provides a good amount of carbs and protein. Brown rice is a much better source of complex carbs than is white rice.
Bread with cheese or egg: A slice of whole-wheat bread with low-fat cheese, is easy on the stomach too, and it provides protein and slow-release carbs. Or, as an alternative, top toast with scrambled eggs.
Timing is everything. Even the best foods can come back to haunt you mid-workout if not allowed to properly digest, so it’s best to eat 30 minutes to an hour before you work out—longer after heavy meals. While certain foods settle well and hit the bloodstream quickly, exercising on a full stomach can still make you feel sluggish. Worse, it can cause stomach cramps, because exercise pulls blood away from stomach to the muscles.
If you can’t wait more than 45 minutes between meal and workout, remember that it’s always better to have a small snack (easily digestible, simple-carb snack like yogurt or fruit) rather than exercise on an empty stomach, and then and eat a full meal after exercising.