You know the drill: You’re working out hard, either at the gym or on a long run, and it happens – hunger strikes! And once those hunger pangs rear their ugly head, all you can think about is food. You want it now but you still have reps to do or miles to run. There has to be a smarter way to prevent a growling stomach in the middle of training.
Fortunately, there are good pre-workout snacks. But, before we get to that, why are you getting hungry during exercise? Did you take time to fuel up before the workout? Is so, was it the right types of food? Have you recently increased the intensity of your training, making it difficult to stop hunger pangs in the first place?
Planning pre-workout snacks
The thing about choosing pre-workout snacks depends on many factors which include:
- The type and intensity of training
- What time of day you are training
- Your pre-workout foods you’ve been choosing or not eating at all before a workout
Let’s address each bullet point starting with the type and intensity of training. If you are primarily going on walks at a moderate-to-brisk speed, you may not need a snack beforehand unless you have not eaten at least 3 hours previously. But, if you are performing more intense workouts such as lifting heavy weights for more than 30 minutes and/or including running, bicycling, elliptical, or stair climbing, then it would be advisable to eat a pre-workout snack within 3 to 4 hours before. You will want to avoid eating much sooner than that as your food will need time to digest. If you eat too soon before a sweaty workout, blood will be diverted to your muscles with less of it going to your stomach and intestinal tract to work on breaking down your food. You’ll begin to feel nauseated and then your performance will go downhill.
Timing of day may or may not be as big of a factor. However, if you are an early morning exerciser, you may want to have a quick snack of a protein source paired with a carbohydrate, powering you through the workout. This will help calm any hunger you may notice.
Food choices do matter and if you’ve been choosing overly sugary foods made up of fast-acting carbohydrates that break down quickly, it’s no wonder you’re feeling hungry mid-way through the workout. Overly sugary food choices include items such as pop-tarts, donuts, sugary cereal, any juice, cookies, or graham crackers. These foods lack fiber, protein, and even fat, which each can help slow down digestion, keeping you feeling fuller longer.
Best pre-workout snacks for sustained energy preventing hunger
As stated previously, you may not need a pre-workout snack. But, if you regularly get hungry while working out, listen to your body. Are you eating three meals a day? Do you include protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates at each meal, filling you up to satisfy hunger until the next meal or snack?
Complex carbohydrates – veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes – will break down slowly due to their fiber content, providing fuel for muscle cells. So, how much complex carbohydrates should you eat as a pre-workout snack? Here a good rule of thumb, particularly for men lifting weights at the gym,using a time frame of one to four hours before working out:
- If it’s one hour before working out, eat one gram of carbohydrate per kilogram in body weight.
- If it’s two hours before working out, eat two grams of carbohydrate per kilogram in body weight.
- If it’s three hours before working out, eat three grams of carbohydrate per kilogram in body weight.
To know how much you weigh in kilograms, just divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. Keep in mind that athletes who have an intense, lengthy training regimen likely will benefit by eating more carbohydrates per kilograms than someone who is “average” who would benefit more by eating carbohydrates on the lower end suggested above.
Healthy pre-workout snack ideas include the following:
- Chocolate milk and a banana
- Chocolate milk and a granola bar
- Oatmeal with milk; add raisins, chocolate chips, and fresh fruit like berries
- Peanut butter with a banana
- High protein cereal with milk
- Greek yogurt parfait made with berries and nuts
- Cottage cheese with canned pineapple or fresh fruit
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Ricotta cheese on cinnamon raisin toast
- Whole grain crackers and a glass of milk
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.