If you’re like me, you want to get the most out of your workout. (I’m a new mom and I have minimal time when I get to finally exercise.) What you eat before a workout can help you burn more fat and power you through a sweat session. Ideally, it’s best to eat about one to two hours before you hit the gym, go for a run, or take a fitness class to give your body time to digest. If you’re short on time, a smaller snack 30 minutes beforehand is better than running on empty.
A pre-workout meal or snack should consist of low-glycemic carbohydrates, lean protein, and a little bit of heart-healthy fat. Carbs are your body’s first form of energy and low glycemic index (GI) foods supply a steady stream of energy as opposed to that crash and burn you get from high-glycemic carbs such as sugar, cereal, and white bread. By eating low GI carbs—such as oatmeal, whole grain bread, brown rice, and sweet potatoes—you’ll have more energy so you can work out longer and harder, which can help you burn more fat. Protein helps build muscle and slows down the rate of digestion, which makes it a smart idea to add some protein to your meal or snack. And heart healthy fats such as avocado, nut butters, and low-fat dairy add some flavor to your meal without weighing you down.
In addition to fueling your body before a sweat session, it’s also crucial to drink plenty of water. Being dehydrated will hinder your performance and can slow down your fat burning rate. I love having a large glass of ice cold water plus green tea or coffee with my pre-workout snack. Green tea and coffee have both been shown to raise the body’s metabolic rate. They contain caffeine and antioxidants, which cause thermogenesis, a fancy word for the production of body heat. And thermogenesis encourages the body to use fat as fuel.
Here are four creative pre-workout snacks that help keep your metabolism humming and your body burning more fat throughout your sweat session. If you’re short on time, the shake is perfect to make 30 minutes before your workout.
Cook a half cup of steel cut or regular oatmeal (not instant) with 1 cup of low-fat milk. Add 1 tablespoon chocolate protein powder and top with half of a sliced banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Serve with a cup of coffee or black tea.
Warm a brown rice wrap or whole-grain sprouted tortilla in the microwave for 10 seconds. Add 1 tablespoon chocolate or regular flavored Nuttzo (or any nut butter) and four thinly sliced strawberries. Roll up, slice in half, and enjoy with a cup of green tea.
Cinnamon Cheese “Danish”
Toast one piece of whole-grain or sprouted Ezekiel bread until it’s a slightly browned. Combine a 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon stevia (or your sweetener of choice). Spread the cottage cheese mixture on the toast and broil in the oven for one to two minutes until cheese is bubbly and melted. Serve with a half cup of raspberries or blueberries, plus a chai latte or cappuccino made with fat-free milk or unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
Green Tea Shake
Blend 4 ounces of vanilla-flavored almond or rice milk, 4 ounces of ice cold water, one scoop of vanilla whey protein, a teaspoon of matcha green tea powder, and ice.
Kristin McGee is a leading yoga and Pilates instructor and healthy lifestyle expert based in New York City. She is an ACE certified personal trainer who regularly trains celebrity clients in New York and Los Angeles. She serves as Health’s contributing fitness editor and is frequently seen on national TV. Her latest in a large collection of fitness DVDs is YogaSlim. Follow her on Twitter @thebendigirl and like her page on Facebook.