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Should I Eat Fats Before a Workout?

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Should I Eat Fats Before a Workout?
Hard to digest fatty foods can make you feel sluggish. Photo Credit JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

Pre-workout nutrition gives you the energy and nutrients to perform your best, but only if you eat the right kind of foods. Too-large servings or hard-to-digest foods can make you feel sluggish or nauseous, and they can send you to unexpected restroom stops, which puts a damper on your workout efforts. Fats can be one of those pre-workout no-nos. Although fat should make up at least 20 percent of the calories in your diet, eating too much of it before you run, cycle, swim, dance or lift can negatively affect your workout.

Nutrients to Emphasize Before a Workout

Your pre-workout snack depends somewhat on what type of workout you're planning. If it's mainly cardio and will last longer than an hour or longer, aim for a snack that has plenty of quality carbohydrates. Carbs provide you with energy, spare muscle loss that can occur if your body senses a lack of calories, and prompt the release of the hormone insulin, which helps encourage the muscle-building process when you're lifting heavy weights. Look for quality carbs such as fruit, sweet potato or whole grains, rather than simple quick-digesting option such as sugary drinks and white bread. Avoid too much fiber pre-workout though, as it can wreak havoc on your digestive tract.

A little protein with your pre-workout snack is also warranted, especially if you're aiming to build muscle with weight training. Protein provides you with amino acids, which your body uses to build muscle, particularly just after they've been worked. If you have protein pre-workout, you have the amino acids ready right when you finish your first set. Protein also helps with recovery and exercise adaptation by reducing muscle damage. Whey protein mixed in a fruit smoothie, a few scrambled eggs or some slices of deli turkey suffice.

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Why Fats Are Discouraged Pre-Workout

Fats take time for your body to digest, so any you consume pre-workout won't pass through your system fast enough to provide energy for your workout. Because the food sits in your stomach longer, it can also trigger digestive distress and create feelings of sluggishness as your body uses energy to support digestion rather than to power your workout.

Modest servings of healthy, unsaturated fat are OK pre-exercise, though. A tablespoon of peanut butter on a whole-wheat bagel or whole-grain cereal with a sprinkling of almonds are quality pre-workout foods. Avoid saturated fat-laden cheeseburgers and large portions of even healthy fatty foods -- a hunk of cheese or half an avocado aren't going to help your performance.

How to Include Fats in Your Diet

Fats are essential to an anyone's diet, including an athlete. Get most of your fats from unsaturated oils, which you'll find in nuts, seeds, avocados, cold-pressed plant oils and fatty fish. Fats help with vitamin absorption, brain health and essential fatty acid levels.

Save these healthy fats for other meals -- not the snack you eat an hour or so before your workout. If you have lunch at noon and plan to train at 3 p.m., you could easily have a serving of fats at that meal that's equal to about a tablespoon of olive oil, 20 whole almonds or 1/4 of an avocado.

Fats and Post-Workout Nutrition

Immediately following your workout, you should still emphasize protein and carbohydrates over fats. These two macronutrients work to build muscle, help you recover and refill energy stores. Substantial servings of fat can slow digestion, so it doesn't allow carbs and proteins to do their job as quickly. Overly fatty meals might be ribs and french fries or several slices of sausage pizza. This kind of meal may not even be appealing in the hour after exercise, especially if you just did a long endurance session. Foods high in saturated fats, such as full-fat milk, rib-eye steaks and fast food, should be avoided most of the time to promote good health, anyway.

A small serving such as a tablespoon of peanut butter in a smoothie or a vegetable omelet with a few slices of avocado, is fine post-exercise, just as it is pre-exercise, and can help with nutrient absorption.

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