FEATURE: Pre-workout fuel-ups

KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/ANN) - Foods that are ideal for good health may be detrimental just before a workout.             

Have you ever gone for a workout where the person next to or back/front of you is either belching or farting continuously? And it smells unpleasant?

Kopi ginseng, ginger, asparagus, garlic, durian ... these “fragrances” waft through the air, along with body odour and perfume.

It turns me off, but I try to put on my zen cloak and ignore this cacophony of sounds and scents, which accompany the blaring music and flying sweat.

In yoga classes, some poses are meant to relieve your body of trapped gases or “wind”, so it’s normal for a bit of air to pass out.

To minimise the release of these gases during exercise, one needs to drink the right fluids and eat the right foods in the right amounts, and time it accordingly.

I’m not a proponent of exercising on an empty stomach because my body lacks the oomph to power through an intensive workout, or even a hike for that matter. 

I need adequate fuel to keep this old train chugging so that I have the energy to maximise my workout, increase my ability to burn calories and build muscles.

For most people, the perfect time for a pre-workout snack or meal is one or two hours before training. 

How much you consume depends on your metabolism, how hard you want to work and the duration of the exercise.

The right foods

Healthy foods that are ideal for weight loss and muscle building may not necessarily be suitable as a pre-workout meal and can leave you feeling weak.

When you exercise, your muscles require a lot of blood to be pumped into them; hence the blood flow to your stomach is limited. A full tummy will require energy to digest food, which then drains the power from the rest of your body.

To maintain the highest level of energy during your workout, concentrate on carbohydrates and protein while limiting fat. 

These three macronutrients are metabolised differently, so they’re all absorbed by the body at a different pace.

Carbohydrates provide the quickest energy: simple and sugary carbs are absorbed the fastest, while healthy complex carbs, like those found in whole grains or legumes, take longer. Protein is absorbed the second quickest, and fat takes the longest to digest. 

Most foods have a combination of these different macronutrients, so the digestion time depends on the ratio. 

Examples of good choices to fuel up before a workout include eggs, yoghurt, sweet potato, yam, cottage cheese, a slice of toast and peanut butter, fresh fruits or a fruit/yoghurt smoothie. 

If you’re like me and constantly rushing from one place to another with few minutes to spare before you hit the gym or trail, eat a piece of fruit such as an apple or banana. 

The key is to consume carbohydrates that are easily digested so that you don’t feel sluggish.

Bananas are easily digested and are a good source of natural sugars, simple carbohydrates and potassium. The natural sugars and simple carbs are broken down quickly, boosting your glycogen stores and increasing blood sugar levels.

Bananas are also a good source of magnesium, which helps with muscle cramping, calms stress levels and promotes sleep.

In the past, I opted for protein or granola bars for snacks, but I’m much more informed now, so I’ve changed my views.

According to 8fit, the Berlin-based health and wellness company that has more than 25 million users worldwide, protein bars tend to be heavily processed and high in sugar or artificial ingredients. 

They say, “Energy bars or trail mixes aren’t an ideal pre-workout snack either, even if they only contain natural ingredients like nuts. 

“Remember, high-fat foods like nuts are slow to digest, so your body can’t use them as fuel immediately. 

“An energy bar might even leave you feeling less energised during your workout: your energy is needed for digestion if you eat one too soon beforehand.”

Foods to avoid? 

Go easy on warm fluids (which tend to speed food through your intestines), as well as milk and high-fat or high-fibre foods. 

Strict no-nos are salads, legumes, nuts, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower etc), leafy greens, legumes and grains.

These are all hard to digest and can upset your stomach, releasing unwanted gas in the process of exercise.

Coffee lovers, rejoice! Some experts say there is nothing wrong with drinking a cup of coffee prior to exercise as caffeine can enhance athletic performance. 

I’ve tried drinking tea 30 minutes prior to exercise and it does no harm if my workout is a cardiovascular one. 

The same can’t be said for yoga or core exercises. The fluid gurgling in my stomach is pretty uncomfortable and leaves me nauseated. 

Whatever you choose, don’t gorge yourself thinking you’re going to burn it off shortly. It doesn’t work. 

The less time you have, the lighter your food should be. You need just enough fuel to ride through the workout. You can load up on your favourites later.

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul.            

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