Food as Fuel: You are only as strong as your diet allows you to be.
You do not need to eat a big meal before you workout in order to get through the workout, regardless of how intense you plan on going today.
You should not work out on an empty stomach, particularly if this is something you recently read in a magazine and are eager to try because it boasted about how much fat you will burn. Cough:: Bullshit:: Cough
Let’s talk really quickly about how we use energy from food and how it feeds our muscles. Like plants we also do a lot with glucose, except we can’t create our own using photosynthesis. While some of us are certain we live off the sun, we still need to eat and gather glucose from carbohydrates. With this glucose and a process called glycolosis we make and store something called Glycogen.
Glycogen is stored in muscle tissues and the liver. Fruits provide the fructose necessary to synthesize glycogen but muscle tissues cannot carry fructose, making it solely energy replenishment for the liver.
The first ten seconds of activity utilizes all of our readily available ATP (Energy.) It seems unfair, but its true. Rarely, if ever, do we stop exercising after ten seconds, so as we are exercising and creating greater demands of energy our cells are breaking down Glycogen to create more energy for our activity.
Knowing this, you should feel good about eating carbohydrates, as they are an essential source of energy for your muscles. You can replenish your energy reserves by including them in your post workout meal, or just make sure they are somewhere in the diet.
But why then do so many people talk about protein? Protein is the only material to repair and restore your muscle fibers. Protein builds muscle, but this is not the same as feeding a muscle and giving it what it needs to do work.
Are there supplements you can take as a pre-workout without having to consume calories from a meal? Sure. Does coffee work magic sometimes? Yes. But these shortcuts have their price. Pre-workouts are filled with tons of garbage. Coffee depletes your hard earned hydration and increases your cortisol levels.
While yes you need fuel to power through heavy lifting AND exercising on an empty stomach allows you to demolish your fat reserves, these modes are subject to your body’s reaction and they can’t happen in an isolated fashion.
What does that mean? It means the diet you keep, not just pre or post workout, but rather your total consumption of food will translate into either having enough fuel to get through a workout or not. It will also reflect on how good you feel while you are exercising and when you are done. You can blast through cardio and lift for an hour afterwards, pack up on protein, skip the carbs, and have coffee to be alert when you feel your brain become mush. But you will not maintain healthy cellular functioning. You may experience headaches, muscle cramping, erratic sleeping patterns, stomach aches, etc.
I would advise, as I do all of my clients and trainers to eat about an hour before you work out, this can be an estimate of course, but if you haven’t eaten in three hours, the inner lazy will sound more persuasive. You may feel hungry or fatigued and not able to maintain weight or reps, or worse yet, you’ll give in when she starts talking about burgers and fries. On the flip side, if you’re trying to work out after having just ate, unfortunately a lot of the blood your muscles need to create energy is actually in your belly digesting food.
Glucose from complex carbs like sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, and all squash are excellent sources to add to your diet to replenish the used glycogen from muscle tissues. These stores should be full so that they are there when you need them, not sending you into fatigue during your work our or worse, running for a pizza party the second its done.