What you eat before your morning sweat session depends on many things, but here’s a quick guide based on whether you’re going long and slow (such as the weekend miles on the bike, or a moderate one-hour run) or quick and dirty (such as the mid-week Masters swim sprintfest, intervals or TT efforts in workouts lasting 45–90 minutes).
Long and Slow
Pre-workout: Nothing. Why? For these workouts where it’s all about getting in easy base miles, you can head out the door without pausing for breakfast (you’ll eat during your workout). Your muscles store enough glycogen to keep you going for at least an hour or more, plus training in a fasted state encourages you to become more efficient at tapping into those all-important fat stores—the fuel source that’s vital for long races. (Some medical conditions require eating before exercise, so speak to your doctor or nutritionist if unsure.)
During: Rice cakes with PB&J; electrolyte-rich sports drinks; banana; natural energy bar; water. Why? After 90 minutes (or 45–60 minutes for beginners) of easy training, you need to start replenishing glycogen and ensuring you have enough fuel in the tank to get through the entire workout as planned. For long, slow workouts, your stomach and GI system should be able to tolerate eating real, whole foods, which will stave off hunger and provide more essential nutrients than relying on gels and sports drinks. Incorporate some electrolyte-rich drinks or salty foods to help maintain hydration.
Post-workout: Scrambled eggs, spinach and smoked salmon with potato cakes. Why? Nutrient-dense foods with protein and carbohydrate within 30–45 minutes after your workout will maximize recovery. Salmon, rich in omega-3 fatty acid, will help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.
Quick and Dirty
Pre-workout: Coffee and a banana. Why? Caffeine can be a performance enhancer. If you’re not a big coffee drinker, you’ll want to practice using it in advance of high-intensity or interval workouts (some athletes say it makes them too jittery). Having a small amount of carbohydrate such as a banana will top off glycogen stores and fuel a high-intensity effort without requiring a lot of digestion time.
During: Sports drink and/or gel. Why? Your gut, just like your muscles, needs to be trained to tolerate fuel on race day. You should periodically practice taking in fluids and gels while working at high intensities to fine-tune your race-day nutrition plan.
Post-workout: Smoothie with whey protein powder, berries, almond butter and full-fat yogurt. Why? After hard workouts, hunger can often be dampened, which is when liquid meals can be beneficial as they are easier to get down. This smoothie with protein, carbs, fats and antioxidants will help replenish glycogen stores and assist in muscle recovery. In addition, drink water as guided by thirst pre-, post- and during workouts.