Your workout awaits you, and you intend to slay it in full-out beast mode. But as you lace up your shoes, your tummy rumbles. You know you need to eat something to ensure you’re adequately fueled to show that gym who’s boss, but what? This is not a frivolous question. Eating the right foods before a run or other workout may be the difference between an energetic sweat session … and being doubled over with stomach cramps.
In an interview with The List, Jillian Michaels, health and fitness expert and creator of the Jillian Michaels Fitness App (available in iOS, Android and on the Samsung Health wellness platform), explained why eating an entire meal right before a workout is the absolute worst thing you can do. “Don’t eat a normal size meal within 60 minutes of exercise,” Michaels urged. “Not only can it cause cramps while you exercise, but blood circulates to the stomach and intestines after we eat in order to transport the nutrients of our meal to relevant systems in our body. This causes a heart rate increase and blood vessel constriction in order to maintain your blood pressure.”
Why does this matter? “Because when you are working out, we want the blood circulating to our muscles, so we can best deliver oxygen to them while we train,” Michaels said. “And adding insult to injury, an elevated heart rate and constricted blood vessels only makes it that much harder.”
Working out on an empty stomach is also a bad idea, says Jillian Michaels
So, exercising with a three-course meal sloshing around in your stomach clearly is out. What about running on empty? This, too, is a bad idea, Michaels said. “If you work out on an empty stomach with no blood sugar, you are likely not getting your best workout in and intensity can be compromised,” she explained.
Some prefer fasted workouts, because you burn a higher percentage of fat calories that way, but Michaels said the math doesn’t add up. “Let’s say you train in a fasted state, and burn 200 calories in 30 minutes, of which 70 percent are from fat, and 30 percent are from glycogen. That would mean you burned 140 calories from fat, and 60 from glycogen.” In contrast, however, “if you did that same workout with available blood sugar for greater energy, which gives you greater intensity, let’s say you burned 300 calories instead of 200,” she explained. “But the ratio is 50 percent of those calories are from fat and 50 percent are from glucose/glycogen.”
In the end, Michaels pointed out, you get more total burn when there’s fuel in the tank. “You’d still burn 150 calories from fat … and 150 calories from glycogen.” Ultimately, working out after you’ve eaten means you’ll burn more fat calories and more total calories, Michaels concluded. “The greater your intensity, the more calories you burn after the workout is over,” she added.
Here's how you should eat before a workout, says Jillian Michaels
Finding a happy medium between a large meal and an empty stomach is the key to an optimally fueled workout, according to Jillian Michaels. “Ideally, eat something one to two hours before you train,” she advised. “Get a little of each macronutrient in their cleanest form if you can — clean protein, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and complex carbs.” Michaels said an apple with almond butter is the perfect snack to eat an hour or so before you hit the gym. “The carbs give energy. The fat and the protein help to sustain that energy and keep you from getting a blood sugar spike that might come from eating carbs alone,” she said. “Plus, the protein might help encourage protein synthesis,” which aids in muscle recovery, according to Michaels.
If you want to up the intensity, Michaels suggested adding a pre-workout supplement. “Personally, I like something with beets, matcha, and organic coffee,” she added. “This is because caffeine is a known performance enhancer, and the nitric oxide in beets helps to dilate blood vessels — which is the exact opposite of what happens when we eat and they constrict — thereby allowing better oxygen delivery to the muscles.”
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