Does fueling for a workout leave your head spinning? It does mine. There is a lot of information out there and a lot of it is contradictory.

I was excited to catch up with Lucette Talamas, a Registered Dietitian (RD) at Baptist Health South Florida, about what science says we should eat before and during a workout.

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RDs are great resources for nutrition tips because their recommendations are based on evidence-based practice.

Here are some of the best foods to eat before and during a workout.

Before a Workout

  • Eat carbs – Lucette recommends that you eat a meal containing carbohydrates two to four hours before you work out. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is the main fuel for exercise. Eating a piece of fruit 30 to 60 minutes before is a practical way to get in a pre-workout boost. If you can stomach more, you could also combine a carbohydrate with protein and munch on something like a piece of avocado or nut butter toast.
  • Caffeine – There is some research that says caffeine is an ergogenic aid, a substance that can enhance performance, so it could be helpful for your workout to drink a small coffee (equivalent 8 oz of American coffee or a shot of colada). However, caffeine may cause feelings of anxiety, irritability, and insomnia in some people. If this sounds familiar, it would be best to avoid it pre-workout. The real energy for a workout comes from your glycogen stores anyway.
  • There are some foods to avoid – Lucette recommends to listen to your body, if any foods give you gas or stomach discomfort, it would be advisable not to eat these before your workouts. Foods with high-fat content, like a burger and fries or pizza, could fall into this category because the excess fat can slow down digestion. Eating too much fiber would also have a detrimental impact on your stomach pre-workout, but most people don’t eat enough fiber for this to be an issue. 

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During a Workout

  • Water – Hydration is an absolute necessity during your workouts. The goal is to drink enough water during your workout to replace what is being lost in sweat. 
  • You don’t need protein shakes – According to Lucette, and science, it’s not necessary to slurp on a protein shake while you’re working out. Unless you are training for an endurance event, like a marathon or triathlon, where you will be exercising vigorously for 60 minutes or more, you don’t need to consume anything except water while working out.
  • You might not need sports drinks either – If you are in the gym or taking a class that is no more than an hour, all you need is water. If you are training for an endurance event, you can consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates for every hour of vigorous movement. This is the ideal situation for consuming sports drinks, in fact they were formulated specifically for this purpose. Liquid carbohydrates, like sports drinks, deliver simple carbs that will boost your energy as well as provide hydration and electrolytes. The best approach is to try out some different products, like sports drinks, gels, or gummies during your training so you’ll know what works best for you on the day of your event.  
  • Energy drinks + working out = No Bueno – According to Lucette, there is absolutely no reason to drink an energy drink while working out. They can be dangerous, especially if you have an underlying heart issue. Everyone’s body would react differently to the combined effect of caffeine and stimulants.

Importantly, pre-workout nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. It is actually quite approachable. Simply eat whole foods, including carbs, within 2 hours before your workout and make sure you hydrate with water, especially in the Florida heat.

Follow Lucette @miamidietitian and @baptisthealthsf for more healthy eating tips.