Eating & Drinking before Exercise

Why worry about pre-exercise nutrition?

So, you have set yourself a goal… A charity fun run? Perhaps your first full Ironman race? Or maybe you’re aiming improve your training stamina and performance? No matter what your goal is, the food you eat and drink before training or your major event provides a chance to:
• Fuel and hydrate your body for the exercise session ahead
• Get the most out of your training session – sustain quality and intensity for longer
• Avoid gut upset or unwanted dashes to the toilet block
• Help you hit your body composition goals
• Avoid unwelcome and distracting hunger pangs during the session

What can happen if I get my pre-exercise nutrition wrong?

Getting your nutrition plans wrong before a training session or event usually means that you don’t optimise your potential during exercise. Failing to fuel or hydrate properly before exercise can result in:
• Earlier onset of fatigue
• Reduced speed, especially during repeat efforts
• Reduced endurance
• Poor concentration and decision making
• Skill errors
• Gut upset
• Suboptimal body composition

How long before exercise should I be eating?

The short answer is “it depends” but generally most people can tolerate their last main meal 2-4 hours before exercise without any unwanted stomach upset. There’s also the option of adding in a small snack in the 1-2 hours before exercise for a final top up of fuel stores. It’s a good idea to sip on fluid in the few hours leading up to exercise rather than gulping a large volume down just before you start to allow your body to use the fluid effectively and avoid the need to pee soon after starting the session or event.

What should I be eating before exercise?

Everyone is different in what they like to eat (and what sits comfortably in their stomach) before exercise but in general, your pre-exercise meal or snack should be:
• Rich in carbohydrate to prime your fuel stores
• Low in fibre, especially if you have issues with your gut upset or feel very nervous
• Easy to digest – avoid foods overly high in fat as these are slow to digest
• Familiar – practice your options in training and don’t try anything new on event day!

There’s no one “best” pre-exercise meal or snack option and it will depend on what your individual goals and requirements are but here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Small bowl cereal with chopped fruit and yoghurt
  • Crumpets with sliced banana and drizzle of honey
  • Small bowl pasta with tomato based sauce
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Raisin toast with jam
  • Tub of creamed rice with canned fruit

What is the best fluid to drink before exercise?

The ideal fluid before exercise depends on your goals. If you are using fluid mainly to hydrate for the session than water or electrolyte drinks are a good option. If you also need a source of fuel then sports drinks can be helpful as they contain both carbohydrates and fluid to help hydrate and fuel your body at the same time.

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