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What to Eat Before Cardio

author image Jenni Wiltz
Jenni Wiltz's fiction has been published in "The Portland Review," "Sacramento News & Review" and "The Copperfield Review." She has a bachelor's degree in English and history from the University of California, Davis and is working on a master's degree in English at Sacramento State. She has worked as a grant coordinator, senior editor and advertising copywriter and has been a professional writer since 2003.
What to Eat Before Cardio
Small bowl of oatmeal with raisins. Photo Credit: minadezhda/iStock/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend you do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate cardio such as brisk walking. If you’d rather jog or swim, you can cut your workout time down to 75 minutes per week. No matter which type of aerobic activity you prefer, make sure you’re prepared with the right type of pre-workout food.

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Morning Workouts

Your body burns calories and nutrients while you sleep. If you work out first thing in the morning, you’ll need a bit of refreshment first. Stew Smith, a former Navy SEAL, recommends you eat a carb-loaded snack about 20 minutes before your workout. Between 75 and 100 percent of your snack should be composed of carbs. If you plan on exercising for more than 40 minutes, add some protein to your snack and give yourself at least an hour to digest it.

Early Snacks

Smith recommends eating a single piece of fruit such as a banana, orange or apple. You might also snack on carrot sticks or chug a glass of juice or a sports drink. If you’re aiming for a long cardio session, add some yogurt, an egg, a slice of cheese or a small piece of meat -- this protein will help power you through a longer workout.

Afternoon or Evening Workouts

If you’ll be doing your cardio later in the day, make sure you eat a few hours beforehand. In “The Powerfood Nutrition Plan,” former NFL nutrition coach Susan M. Kleiner suggests you eat about 60 calories of protein and 150 calories of carbs. Schedule this snack about two to three hours before your cardio session. If you’re an athlete, chances are you’ll digest the food sooner -- Kleiner advises you wait about an hour and a half before working out.

Late Snacks

Celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson offers some ideas for a pre-cardio snack in his book “G-Force: The Ultimate Guide to Your Best Body Ever.” He suggests you eat a slice of whole-wheat bread and a piece of fruit such as an apple. You can also have a small bowl of oatmeal topped with raisins. If you need protein to sustain through a long workout, try a glass of milk with your snack or eat a small tuna sandwich. Avoid any food with fat, as it takes much longer than carbs to be absorbed into your bloodstream.

Timing Your Meals

Kleiner notes that active athletes should eat as many as six or seven meals per day. Even if you’re not an NFL linebacker or training for a marathon you should eat four or five small meals throughout the day instead of eating three larger meals. Eating less often means you’re more likely to run out of energy before a workout. Continually replenishing your body with small meals means you’ll always have enough energy to hop on the treadmill. Kleiner also says that when your body runs out of fuel between meals, your metabolism slows down -- which means you’re more likely to store fat.

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