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Workout Nutrition: Timing Meals

If you read the first article in this three part nutrition series, then this article may seem in direct contradiction to my advice in the Pre-Workout Nutrition article, but I promise it all ties together. A common mistake many people make when it comes to properly fueling a workout is eating too much food too close to the workout. Let’s take a closer look at the importance of timing your meals.

If you’ve already eaten adequately throughout the day, you’re more likely to have a less effective workout by eating than by not eating. Ideally, an easily digested meal centered around carbs and lean protein about three hours before your workout is your safest bet. Oatmeal and milk, fruit and yogurt, or a turkey sandwich are all great options. If you are headed to the gym directly after work or over the lunch hour, it’s easy to get distracted and lose track of time. Packing what you’ll need the night before or setting a reminder to eat your pre-workout meal as close to on-time as you can may be helpful.




It’s important to be conservative about fueling closer to your workout, especially if you miss your meal time window. You may need to go lighter in fiber and protein as the window between eating and your workout decreases, including sticking to simple carbs if you’re forced to fuel within the hour before your workout. You’ll also likely find that your tolerance for eating near your workouts increases over time as you experiment and become more comfortable in your training program.

Stay tuned until next week when I’ll cover the final part of workout nutrition: what to eat after your workout.

About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.

Pre-Workout Nutrition

As you establish your training plan, it’s important to support your activity through sound pre-workout nutrition. The most common struggles related to sports nutrition includes not eating enough, eating the wrong foods at the wrong times, or skipping workout nutrition entirely. Let’s take a closer look at how skipping a pre-workout meal can set you back before you even begin.

It’s no secret that your body needs fuel. By skipping a meal before you workout, you are more likely to hit the wall during your workout, reducing the effectiveness, quality and overall calorie burn of your workout. You will also increase the likelihood of breaking down muscle in order to fuel your activity.

So what is the best way to keep this from happening? Keep in mind the nutritional adage, “fat burns in a carbohydrate flame.” This refers to glycolosis, which is how our bodies create fuel for our exercise. We require some carbohydrate within our muscles to access our fat stores. If it’s hard to time a meal right before your workout, your best bet is to provide your body with some simple, easily digestible carbs shortly before your workout. This might include fruit or fruit juice, a breakfast bar, or toast. You’ll make up the calories by improving your workout and will help your body to access the fat stores you’re trying to reduce.




Meeting your training goals takes more than just completing the workouts, you need to support your training efforts by eating the right foods at the right time. These efforts will result in stronger training sessions and helping you to get stronger and fitter faster. Eat smart and have a great workout!

About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.

What To Eat Before A 5K Race

A 5K race (3.1 miles) is a great distance for beginning racers, as well as for more experienced runners looking to warm-up for the season. To give yourself every pre-race advantage, it’s important to consider what you put into your body.

As you’ve heard countless times before, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What you eat before your race, and when you eat it, could have a big impact on your energy level and overall performance. Here are a few common practices used by endurance athletes and how they could affect your race–for better or worse.

Nutrition Myths To Avoid

Traditional endurance wisdom encourages carbohydrate loading or “carbo-loading,” by eating large amounts of carbohydrates the day before and the day of your race. The logic behind this is that carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel, especially during exercise, when they account for 40 to 50 percent of energy production.

The problem with this theory becomes clear when you understand that the fuel used during exercise is stored in your muscles and liver. If you think of these stored carbohydrates as fuel in a car, then your muscles and liver can be compared to the gas tank. Like a car’s gas tank, there is a limit to how much fuel can be stored. Numerous studies have shown that not only does the carbo-loading myth offer no benefit to  runners – it could actually slow you down.

Another common practice is to eat simple carbohydrates, like honey or sugar, shortly before the race for a quick boost of energy. This, however, can lead to dehydration: your cells need excess water to absorb the sugar. The sugar spike will also lead to an insulin reaction, which will cause your blood sugar to drop sharply later on, leaving you tired and sluggish.

Planning a Proper Breakfast

Experts at the Colorado State University Extension recommend eating a light meal three to four hours before your race so your body has ample time to properly break down the necessary nutrients. This will also give your stomach time to settle. The meal should feature starches from complex carbohydrates, which break down more quickly and easily than proteins and fats. Avoid foods that are high in fat and simple sugars. Good examples of appropriate foods are whole wheat or multigrain bread, cold cereal, pasta, fruits and vegetables. Unlike the carbo-loading approach, these should be eaten in moderation, with the entire meal totaling only around 500 calories.

Adventure 5 Treadmill

Small amounts of caffeine may help improve your athletic performance, according to several studies. Be careful, however, since coffee is a diuretic and can increase the risk of stomach cramps and dehydration during the race.

It’s also important to select foods that you enjoy, and that you know your digestive system tolerates well, because your mood and comfort will affect your performance. Don’t use the morning of the race as an opportunity to try something new for breakfast since it could backfire and cause discomfort or digestive troubles. Try a variety of foods throughout your training plan to find what works for you.

In addition to your meal, you should drink at least 64 ounces of water leading up to the event, but stop drinking at least 30 minutes before the race begins. Having excess water in your system will make you feel bloated, slow you down and possibly give you stomach cramps.

Elite T7 Treadmill

Because a 5K is a relatively short race, it’s not necessary to follow a particular diet in the days leading up to the event. Maintaining a generally healthy, balanced diet and eating an appropriate light breakfast will give you the nutrient stores you need to perform your best on race day.