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Fuel Your Performance, Go Further with Food


By Army 2nd Lt. Sara Crews

WRNMMC Dietetic Intern

Whether you’re a distance runner, functional fitness guru, strength athlete, or a weekend warrior, your performance can benefit from a solid pre-workout choice. I’m not talking about a candy-flavored, overpriced, powdered concoction at your local supplement shop.
I’m talking about food.
Research has demonstrated that eating before a workout can improve your exercise performance and can keep you training longer by sustaining your energy during your workout.
Tip 1: General Performance Nutrition
While there is not one ideal pre-workout meal for everyone, there are general guidelines you can follow to find the best pre-workout meal for you. If you are eating within one hour of exercise, focus on choosing something higher in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and lower in fiber and fat. Carbohydrates are our bodies preferred energy source and are a quick fuel source during physical activity. Choosing something moderate in protein, while lower in fat and fiber, will digest faster and not leave food sloshing around in your stomach while you’re training. Some examples include a yogurt, whole fruit, an English muffin, applesauce, snack bar or a granola bar. A personal favorite of mine is a rice cake sandwich with banana slices and peanut butter. If you don’t tolerate food well before exercise, aim to get a balanced meal of protein, carbohydrates, and fat two to three hours before activity instead.
Tip #2: You Can Still Lose Weight if You Eat Before Exercise
For anyone who has ever tried to keep up their current exercise routine or intensified their activity while cutting calories, you may have noticed it took a toll on your workouts. If you save a few hundred calories for a pre-training meal or snack, this can help to give you a quick boost of energy. Fat loss is not hindered by eating before your workout (fasted cardio-ers, I’m talking to you). However, your exercise performance more than likely will decline if you have no fuel in the tank. Overall, weight loss comes down to the amount of calories you consumed during the day, not timing of meals.
Tip #3: Focus on Food before Supplements
Keep in mind that dietary supplements are just as they are named: a supplement to the diet. For the greatest benefits to performance, an athlete should always have a food first approach. Appropriate nutrient timing and food choices can help achieve the same desired results that supplements claim to do, in addition to being cheaper and safer. 
Keep your performance nutrition simple. Time your meal right. Keep it familiar, and do what works for you.
You can call 301-295-4065 at Walter Reed Bethesda to make an appointment with a registered dietitian, a licensed nutrition professional, to discuss more on this topic or for individualized nutrition plans to help you go further with food.