Figuring out the nutrition needed before working out isn’t tricky. The hard part is creating a meal that won’t leave an athlete or casual fitness lover feeling sluggish, give him a cramp, or cause him to feel nauseous as he works out.
Considerations vary depending on the type of cardio you plan to do, whether there is impact involved and how vigorous it will be. But let’s assume output will be strenuous and the athlete is aiming to sweat for the better part of 60 minutes.
Cardio workouts require a lot of energy and use up a lot of fluid, but it’s no problem to take a bottle of water with you even on a long run. Having a place to put your small water bottle or even a special bottle with a handle is easy. The hard part is creating a protein-carb balance. Energy comes from carbohydrates but will last longer if you add protein.
How Much Sugar
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate and should not be consumed in large amounts prior to working out. It is only going to cause a blood-sugar rush that will be followed by a crash, and possibly the end of your workout. Crashing causes you to feel dizzy, unfocused, and uncoordinated.
If there is sugar in your food, make sure it is derived from a natural source such as dates or honey and only a small percentage of the whole. Select protein bars carefully. They can be an excellent choice for that early morning run if you can’t eat a lot first thing in the morning or you have to eat almost immediately before getting started.
A better idea is consuming unrefined grains like oats, quinoa, barley, or wild rice and giving your body a little bit of time to digest it all. You don’t need much: just a quarter of a cup plus something to give it flavor.
Choose raisins or another dried fruit, sliced strawberries, or blueberries plus a dollop of honey and a little bit of milk or milk alternative. Chances are your system will need less food to fuel cardio moves as the day goes on.
Long cardio workouts place heavy demands on your body so you will need to add something more than complex carbohydrates if energy is going to last. The best pre cardio meal is balanced. Consider complementing grains with something dense in protein, preferably animal-based.
Even whey is better than plant-based protein but vegans can still satisfy their bodies’ needs with pea or hemp protein in a small smoothie made with almond milk and a banana. Peanut butter contains some protein and is easy to digest.
If you have no qualms about animal protein, dice some grilled or poached chicken into a bowl of rice. Scramble an egg to go with your oats or make oatmeal with 2% instead of water. Cooked quinoa or steel cut oats contain a lot of protein already, but you might need more. Dates are also surprisingly high in protein plus fiber while being sweet and fat free at the same time. They make a tasty addition to either sort of grain.
What about Fat
This is not the time to consume a fatty meal. While the fats in dairy foods and avocado are excellent for muscle building workouts, they are not as helpful during cardio. A little bit goes a long way and also prevents nausea, although this sensation is most commonly associated with rich foods like butter and cheese.
If you opt for cheese as your protein, stick with cottage cheese. Eat something full of minerals after working out to prevent cramps, like a banana with peanut butter.