Pre-workout meals can make or break your cardiovascular or resistance training workout. Choosing the wrong high carbohydrate food will not only prematurely raise your blood sugar, but your blood sugar will plummet even lower than before you ate. This ultimately means you will not have sufficient energy to fuel an effective muscular or aerobic training session. Planning your pre-workout meal will help to ensure you eat the right kind of high carb food, optimizing your workout.
Grains include pasta, rice and bread. A large whole wheat bagel made with whole wheat flour has about 49 g of carbohydrates and a large everything-bagel — the bagel with the seeds on top — made with refined white flour has 50 g of carbohydrates. Though both bagels contain almost the same amount of carbs, you should eat the whole wheat bagel before a workout because it is digested much more slowly compared to the everything-bagel. The carbohydrates in whole wheat products are slowly released into your bloodstream, giving you a steady supply of energy compared to the carbohydrates and refined white flour. Save the refined bagel for your post-workout meal when you want your blood sugar to spike so your muscle cells can optimally replenish the energy you used.
Fruits are also high in carbs. However, as with grains, there are slow-digesting fruits and fast-digesting fruits. Apples, oranges and pears are excellent to eat before your workouts because they are slowly digested. A large apple, orange or pear has about 25 g of carbohydrates. Leave the banana, mango and pineapple to eat after your workout because these fruits raise your blood sugar too fast, detrimental for the workout to come. A medium banana and 1 cup of mango contain 28 g of carbs, while 1 cup of pineapple has 20 g of carbs.
If you do not plan your pre-workout meals in advance, you are likely to grab high carb snacks like graham crackers, jelly beans or pretzels. The only time you should eat these foods before a workout is if your blood sugar is really low; such foods will raise your blood sugar so that it is safe for you to exercise. Two large graham cracker rectangles have 22 g of carbs, 20 pieces of jelly beans have 20 g and 1 oz. of pretzel snacks contain 24 g of carbs. Instead, grab a Snickers bar because even at nearly 35 g of carb, the candy bar barely raises your blood sugar.
The number of grams of carbohydrates in a particular food does matter when you are keeping track of the percentage of your total daily calories from carbs, proteins and fats. However, it is more vital to consume slow-digesting, high-carbohydrate foods before a workout than it is to eat fast-digesting, high carbohydrate foods. The glycemic index of foods is a measure of the effect of the food on your blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic index of 45 or less barely have an impact on your blood sugar and are slow-digesting. Foods with a high glycemic index of 70 or more cause your blood sugar to spike and are fast-digesting. Choose foods with a low glycemic index to eat before your workouts then grab a large serving of high glycemic index foods for your post workout meal.
- “ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal”; Carbohydrates; Dixie Thompson, Ph.D.; November/December 2008
- “ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal”; Applying Concepts of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load to Active Individuals; Melinda Manore, Ph.D., et al; Septemeber/October 2004
- “ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal”; Glycemic Index: An Educational Tool for Health and Fitness Professionals; Stephen Wong, Ph.D., et al.; November/December 2003
- “The NutriBase Complete Book of Food Counts”; NutriBase; 2001