- How to Choose the Best Pre-Workout Snack for Your Body
- Pre-Workout Foods
- The Benefits Of Eating Pre-Workout Foods
- What and When to Eat Pre-Workout
- Take Home Message
- Nutritionist-Approved Snack Bars for Your Gym Bag
- The Best Snack Bars Pre- and Post-Workout
- 14 Best Energy Bars (Review) in 2020
- The Best Energy Bars (How We Choose)
- Features To Look For In Best Energy Bars For You
- 3 Ingredients to Watch Out For in an Energy Bar
- Energy Bar FAQs
- Perfect Your Pump: The 7 Best Protein Bars
- Selecting Protein Content
- Watch the Calories
- Count the Carbs
- Cut the Fat
- Fiber: Sinner or Savior?
- Sugar is the Kiss of Death
- Beware Sugar Alcohols
- Ingredient Check
- Hit the Bar
- Epic All Natural Meat Bars
- Oatmega Bar
- Simply Protein Bar
- Rise Protein Bar
- Clif Builder’s & Builder’s Max Protein Bar
- Quest Bars
- Muscle Pharm Combat Crunch Bars
- The Best Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks for Lasting Energy
- Read all about the latest gym openings, healthy events, and fitness trends in our twice weekly Wellness newsletter.
- Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
- Pre and Post Workout for Weight Loss
- Pre and Post Workout for Muscle Building
How to Choose the Best Pre-Workout Snack for Your Body
Right before a sweat sesh, some people swear by a handful of peanuts, or a specific brand of protein bar. And yet for others, the ideal option might be a … Wendy’s Frosty? Yep, a milkshake can actually have real pre-workout perks, according to Julie Duffy Dillon, RD, a nutritionist specializing in fitness. Read on to learn why—plus other helpful tips on how to fuel up right.
Pay attention to your body
Dillon, who has worked with high school, college, and professional athletes for 19 years, says the most crucial thing about picking a pre-workout snack is recognizing your individuality. “We can look at recommendations or nutrition books,” says Dillon, “but everyone is different in what feels best. The thing I always recommend to people who are wanting to move their bodies more and wanting to incorporate food is that it takes practice to figure out the best ways for you.”
Certified trainer and registered dietician Jonah Soolman agrees. “The first thing I say to patients when they come in with a sports and nutrition concern, whether it’s pre- or post-workout, is, ‘It always has to be individualized,’” he says. “There are certainly principles that apply to virtually everybody—say, for example, carbs before a workout,” he adds, but some things will vary.
Soolman, a marathoner, is a great example. “When I go for long runs, I drink Mountain Dew and eat Oreos,” he admits. “That’s what works best for my body. The way I found that was first trying things like Gatorade; that didn’t work for me so well.”
As you try various snacks, keep in mind that what works for your workout buddy might not work for you. “Our bodies are just different,” says Dillon. “Some people feel super-energized by a mix of macronutrients. For others, it’s carbs. We all metabolize differently, and we have to respect that.”
RELATED: 6 Rules for Post-Workout Meals
Don’t shun carbs
Our carb-avoidant culture can present difficulty for those trying to find the best sustenance for workouts, the experts say. “People turn their noses up at sugar and carbs,” says Dillon, but “from a sports point of view, you’re keeping the fuel from your muscles.”
The body tends to prefer carbohydrates, which digest quickly, as a source of quick fuel. Though both experts point out that there are always exceptions, for the majority of us, completely avoiding carbs will make it more difficult to exercise effectively. “My body feels like dead weight today,” is a phrase Dillon has heard from the occasional paleo client.
Time your pre-workout snack wisely
When you’re choosing what to eat, also consider how long it will be until you exercise.
If you’re eating hours in advance of your workout—say, two hours before a soccer game, says Soolman—you can have a well-rounded meal, since “that’s a pretty good amount of digestion time,” says Soolman. (Think: carbs, protein, and fat.)
An hour before your workout, says Soolman, you should be thinking more about “a ratio of food heavier on carbs. Protein and fat could slow digestion and make you not feel great during the workout.” Consider yogurt, which yes, has protein and fat, but is heavy on carbs, or a couple pieces of fruit, he suggests.
Immediately before a workout, says Soolman, “we’re thinking pure carbs: maybe juice, Gatorade, saltines, pretzels, a piece of white bread—something to digest and absorb really quickly.” He adds, “when you’re about to do a workout, you don’t want to do necessarily something that’s high-protein or high-fiber.” Complex foods can cause stomach issues, depending on the workout. (Again, says Soolman, there’s always an exception, including the ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes, who famously ate a whole pizza while running.)
Want to get stronger and fitter in just 30 Days? Take our Love Your Strength Challenge With Emily Skye!
“People think, ‘bananas, protein, sport drink,’ which I think is fine, but could also get really boring,” says Dillon. “Don’t be afraid of a bagel with peanut butter on it or chocolate milk. Things that feel appealing any time could also be very energizing for your sport.”
As opposed to getting hung up on which snacks are “healthy” (which can feel “loaded and ambiguous”), make sure 1) you’re getting enough food; 2) you have something you can snack on halfway through a long workout; and 3) you don’t discount options just because they seem odd, says Dillon. She has seen people have success with grub as eclectic as grilled cheese sandwiches, trail mix, and yes, that Frosty, which she says is “absolutely” not a problem. “ts fat will keep it in your stomach longer” on a long run, she says—and that means more energy.
Stay hydrated, too
“Make sure you listen to your body,” says Dillon. “When you’re thirsty, make sure you have some .” She reminds us that it’s better for the body to sip on water throughout the workout (and beforehand, and after) than to drink a lot at once. And a good general rule of thumb, she says, is that “a person working out for 45 minutes should make sure to stop and get some then” to replenish the fluid you’ve lost through sweat.
RELATED: 5 DIY Sports Drinks to Help Keep You Hydrated
Don’t exercise hungry
There are definitely various schools of thought on this point, but Dillon is not a fan of exercising hungry: “Rumbles of hunger will put your energy level in toilet.” She suggests bringing something with you that you enjoy, such as a granola bar or trail mix, just in case. Allow yourself to experiment, too, she says. Really listen to your hunger, and provide for yourself. And sometimes a lack of snacks isn’t the culprit: “Sometimes the best way to provide nutrition with sport is to make sure we’re eating more nourishing meals throughout the day,” she says.
Go ahead and eat mid-workout
Again, like the pizza-eating ultra-marathoner, it’s OK to snack as you go. Around the 30-minute mark of a high-intensity workout your glycogen store will get depleted, says Dillon. “Having a snack within half an hour of that exercise is something that’s traditionally recommended. Some people need it further out; some people won’t want one.” Experiment, and recognize your own needs.
If you’re running long distance, try carrying quick-to-digest energy in the form of gels, Gatorade, or whatever works for you.
Consider these options
Below are a few suggestions from Dillon to get you started. But both dieticians agree that you need to find what works for you. (Some of Dillon’s ideas, for example, such as peanut butter on a bagel, might be too heavy for high-impact workouts.) So experiment, get creative, and be OK with what works for you.
A half hour before a low-intensity to medium-intensity workout, try…
A handful of Dates
Nature’s Made Crunchy Granola Bar
Oatmeal with fruit
A piece of toast with nut butter
An apple or pear
One hour before a longer, endurance workout, try…
A bagel with peanut butter
Pineapple and cottage cheese
Peanut butter Toast
Pita with tuna salad
A bagel sandwich with egg
A sliced apple with cheese on crackers
Greek yogurt with granola
Egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich
Q: What’s the best snack to eat and how long before my workout should I eat it?
A: In general, you don’t need to eat before exercise unless you tend to run low on energy during your workouts or it’s been more than a couple hours since your last full meal.
The best time to eat is about 30 minutes before you begin to exercise, and the best snack is one that combines carbohydrates and protein (with an emphasis on the carbs). And you don’t need a lot of food. Protein isn’t a fuel for exercise, so you don’t want to overdo it. For carbs, aim for the equivalent of a half bagel or a large banana; for protein, consider a couple tablespoons of peanut butter or a small cup of yogurt.
To get both if fresh food isn’t an option, look for energy bars with 25 to 40 grams of carbohydrates and about 10 grams of protein. Steer clear of caffeine and warm fluids, which tend to speed food through your intestine, as well as dairy and high-fat or high-fiber foods, all of which can upset your stomach, slow down the absorption of carbs, and leave you feeling sluggish.
You should also stay well hydrated and avoid super-high-calorie snacks because you might end up consuming more calories than you burn off.
Rich Weil, MEd, CDE, WebMD Fitness Expert
Knowing how to fuel your workout for the best results — preferably without getting a stitch — can be a difficult one and differs from person to person. While some people like to get up at the crack of dawn and do a fasted workout, this isn’t for everyone and if you’re going midway through the day, then you’re going to want to eat beforehand and pack in some pre-workout foods. You’re also going to want to eat right, so that you can get through your workout without feeling sluggish from too much, or lethargic from too little. Read on to discover some excellent eats to leave you ready for anything the gym throws at you.
Bananas are a great source of natural sugars, simple carbohydrates, and potassium. In the body, potassium is only stored for a limited amount of time, so try consuming a banana around 30 minutes to an hour before your workout. Eating a banana pre-workout is the perfect way to boost your glycogen stores and increase blood sugar levels — you can add some peanut butter for that extra protein boost.
2. Chicken, Rice & Vegetables
The stereotypical healthy meal: chicken, rice, and vegetables. This is actually a classic pre-workout meal. By combining a good source of lean protein and complex carbohydrates, this meal can provide amino acids to promote anabolism (muscle growth) and a slow-releasing source of energy. Consume a meal like this around 2-3 hours before a workout.
Check out this barbeque chicken recipe to spice up your rice.
3. Protein Bar
If you’re on the go and looking for a quick top-up before the gym, then a protein bar is a great option. There are lots of options out there, but in terms of a pre-workout snack, you want to fuel your workout as well as boost your protein intake. Look for one with some carbohydrates too to offer a good balance of energy. A protein flapjack such as Oats and Whey would make a good pre-workout as it contains protein, contributing to muscle mass as well as oats — a complex carbohydrate that’ll have you trampling the treadmill for hours. The low-sugar content is an added bonus for those watching their waistlines too. Eat around an hour before you workout to optimise your workout energy.
4. Porridge and Oatmeal
Porridge makes the ultimate pre-workout breakfast. This pre-workout food contains complex carbohydrates and is also a great source of the soluble fibre, beta-glucan. By consuming oats around 2 hours before a workout, you’ll be able to satisfy your hunger throughout, whilst getting a great source of slow-releasing energy. Try adding a scoop of protein powder or a blob of peanut butter to your porridge too — that way you’ll also get a great source of protein and amino acids.
5. Fruit Smoothies
Many people think fruit smoothies are great tasting and super-healthy. Whilst smoothies do provide a series of micronutrients that are beneficial for health and well-being, they’re also full of sugars, including fructose. This means that smoothies are often high in calories and what are often mistaken as drinks are actually meal replacements. However, consuming a fruit smoothie pre-workout is a great meal option that can provide you with a good source of fast-acting glucose. Add some protein powder to max the benefits of your pre-workout smoothie.
6. Wholegrain Bread, Sweet Potato and Brown Rice
Wholegrain Bread, sweet potato, and brown rice are great sources of complex carbohydrates that should be consumed around 2-3 hours pre-workout. Combining these foods with a good source of protein means you’ll get a good source of slow-releasing energy to fuel you throughout a whole workout. Carbohydrates should be consumed by all those physically active, but in particular, those who carry out regular endurance activities such as cycling and running.
Try these loaded sweet potato toast ideas for a tasty pre-workout.
7. Apple Wedges and Peanut Butter
Enjoying sliced apple wedges with a small spread of peanut butter is one of the tastiest and easiest pre-workout foods. This is a great option for those who are on a calorie restricted diet and are watching their carb intake. The added crunch-factor will satisfy any cheeky cravings while still providing you with protein from the peanut butter and plenty of nutrients from the apple. It’s perfect for consuming around 30 minutes before a workout.
If you’re into your foodie fitness, then there’s no way that could get by without some form of eggs on a daily basis. Although eggs contain a certain amount of fat, omelettes made using whole eggs or just egg whites are a great source of muscle-building protein and amino acids. Omelettes should be consumed 2-3 hours before a workout to avoid muscle catabolism and promote muscle growth — for added nutrients, add some greens such as spinach or kale to make the most of this meal.
9. Homemade Protein Bars
We listed pre-made protein bar options earlier, but if you’re into your baking, then give some homemade bars a go. Homemade protein bars are super easy to make and are top of the list for on-the-go pre-workout foods. What’s more, you can control the content making bars that are high in carbohydrates and protein or low in carbohydrates and high in protein. You can add everything from nuts and seeds to dried fruit and a sprinkle of chocolate — just watch the sugar content.
These easy 4-ingredient strawberry and cream protein bars will have you racing through your workout.
10. Protein Shakes
Last but not least, protein shakes. If you’re on the go and in a hurry, then a quick protein shake can solve your pre-workout problems. A good quality shake will contain plenty of nutrients and you can mix a few more bits and bobs in, such as BCAAs to really make your shake pack a punch. By consuming a shake with a good source of fast-releasing protein, such as whey protein, with simple carbohydrates like maltodextrin powder, you can get all the pre-workout nutrients you need in a matter of minutes. Sip on a shake around an hour before your workout to maximise your gains.
Try this energising homemade pre-workout shake to charge up your workouts.
The Benefits Of Eating Pre-Workout Foods
So now you know what to eat before your workout, let’s talk about why you should be eating it. Many people carry out what’s called fasted cardio, in an attempt to burn and lose body fat, but unless you’re carrying out this cardio from 6am – 7am, you need to fuel your body before each and every workout.
Ultimately, you should picture your body like a car – you can’t expect to drive 150 miles with no petrol in the tank, can you? If you’re looking to perform and train at your best, you need to make sure your body has enough fuel to do so. If you fail to provide yourself with the energy and nutrients required during exercise, the chances are you won’t see results as quickly as you should. Plus, over a long period of time, the likelihood of becoming ill or injured will be increased if you don’t eat the right pre-workout foods.
Here are some of the reasons you want to fuel your body right to smash your fitness potential:
1. Give You More Energy
Our bodies use carbohydrate stores (glycogen) as the first source of fuel. This is because they can be converted into ATP (Adenosise triphosphate, i.e. energy) faster than protein and fat. Therefore, filling up your glycogen stores pre-workout will mean you’ll have more energy to perform at your best.
2. Prevent Muscle Breakdown
When we exercise, glycogen stores are quickly used up and depleted, so the body looks for new sources of energy – our muscles. By breaking down hard-earned muscle, the body can utilise protein in the form of amino acids for energy. This puts our bodies into what’s referred to as a catabolic state, meaning that the muscle tissue is being broken down, which can prevent muscle growth and recovery.
3. Increase Muscle Growth
Eating the right foods pre-workout means you won’t only top up your glycogen stores, but by eating a good source of protein, you’ll also be able to create an environment in your body which promotes the building of muscle mass. This is known as an anabolic environment.
What and When to Eat Pre-Workout
In every meal, you need to consider the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fats. You also need to consider the ratio in which you are eating them.
Pre-workout, it’s best to avoid too much fat. This is because, although high in energy with 9kcal per gram, fats are slow-digesting. This means, instead of making you energetic, they can actually make you feel sluggish and heavy.
Pre-workout meals containing protein provide us with a major benefit – the prevention of muscle catabolism. By consuming a good source of protein before a workout, you can give your body the amino acids (branched-chain amino acids in particular) that it needs to prevent muscle breakdown, whilst aiding muscle recovery and growth.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple, high glycaemic index carbohydrates, and complex, low glycaemic index carbohydrates. But which one is best pre-workout?
This ultimately depends on your goal and the time of your pre-workout meal. Simple carbohydrates are great for 30 minutes to an hour before a workout, as they provide the body with fast-acting glucose as fuel. However, complex carbohydrates also play a role within energy metabolism. By consuming low GI carbohydrates around 2-3 hours before a workout, you can give your body a slow-releasing source of energy. This means you’ll be able to work out for longer and be less likely to have a dip in your blood sugar levels in the middle of your workout.
Maybe you’re worried about eating too soon before a workout and feeling sluggish, or maybe too early a crashing before you even tie up your trainers. Follow these simple timing guidelines to get into gear:
30 Minutes to an Hour Pre-Workout consume light meals and foods which contain simple carbohydrates and some protein.
2-3 Hours Pre-Workout consume a meal around 400- 500 calories containing a good source of protein (around 20g) and complex low GI carbohydrates (20-30g).
Take Home Message
Whatever pre-workout foods you decide on, make sure that it packs a nutritional punch. Crack on with the carbs and protein and make sure that you include other nutrients too, so that your body can go full throttle without a breakdown. There are so many tasty options out there, so be creative and keep yourself motivated with the many delicious dishes to fuel your workout the right way.
Enjoy this article on the top 10 pre-workout foods?
READ THIS NEXT:
Smart Swaps For Weight Loss | Start Seeing The Difference
With a few smart swaps, you can cut down on unnecessary calories – without having to compromise on the things you love.
2018-07-27 10:12:17 • By Jennifer Blow
Gooey Carb Crusher Protein Pancakes
This melt-in-the-middle, chocolatey goodness is what dreams are made of.
2018-08-09 13:46:49 • By Jennifer Blow
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
Nutritionist-Approved Snack Bars for Your Gym Bag
Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but never underestimate the power of a snack.
Having a little bite to eat before and after a workout is great for revving up your metabolism, fueling your body so it can function at max capacity, and aiding in the recovery process. Check out Aaptiv’s workouts to get your metabolism going.
A pre-packaged energy or nutrition bar might seem like an easy, on-the-go option but, before you load up on the snacks, you better make sure you’re doing so wisely! There are many bars out there that are deceptively unhealthy, many with enough sugars and carbs to rival a candy bar!
To help you snack smart, we asked two registered dietitians which bars have their seals of approval.
Take a peek at their picks below—and as always, read nutrition labels.
The Best Snack Bars Pre- and Post-Workout
Health Warrior Chia Bars
“With chia seeds as the main ingredient, these bars are packed with omega-3 fats, protein, and fiber. The omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory and can help with muscle recovery. At just 100 calories, they pair well with a piece of fruit for a snack or a sweet treat after dinner.”
—Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CSCS, author of Three Steps to a Healthier You
“These are my favorite of all time. What makes it the best? The super straight just eight ingredients does the trick! I love it for its simple message and no bogus packaging. It’s gluten, soy, and dairy free. It has no added sugar or sweeteners, and its sole source of protein is egg whites. Plus, it’s high in fiber. Sea salt chocolate and coffee chocolate are my two favorites. It’s an ideal recovery choice post high-intensity workouts (spin class, cross-fit, running, or squash, to name a few) as it provides good combination of carbohydrates (along with dietary fiber) and protein to replenish stores and provide adequate energy.”
—Pooja Vyas, MS, RDN
While you’re trying to get your protein in, check out Aaptiv’s strength training programs in app today.
“These bars use a base of grass-fed meats including bison, turkey, pork, beef, lamb paired with dried fruit and seeds to offer a unique savory bar. Similar to a soft beef jerky, these bars are low in sugar and pack 10-15 grams of protein plus complex carbs and fiber for a great post-workout snack.” —Rumsey
“Now these bars are special. Why? The creators and founders are Registered Dietitians. Legit! They are well-balanced, nutrient dense, free from allergens, and without any artificial flavors. They’re gluten free, vegan, and non-GMO. They’re soy-free and provide good fats (from nut/seed butter), antioxidants (in the dark chocolate flavor), and low glycemic carbs. They’re an ideal pre-workout snack—eat them about 1-2 hours before to avoid GI discomfort—due to their high carbohydrate and fiber content, which increases energy to thrive during any type of workout and keep you full for longer. Due to their low glycemic and high fiber value, they become an ideal snack for diabetics (or as matter of fact, for anyone who is on a weight maintenance goal) as it manages/controls blood sugar levels during workout and exercise.” —Vyas
Kind Bars Nuts & Spices
“With a wide availability, KIND bars are easy to find when on the go. Whole nuts, seeds and legumes are lightly sweetened to create bars high in fiber, protein, and healthy fat. The nuts and spices line bars have five grams of sugar or less.”
“Individually wrapped, they are literally delicious! A complete plant protein/vegan bar (sprouted and whole grain) along with MCTs, no artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, or protein isolates. They’re USDA organic and a non-GMO product. They also are soy, dairy or any allergen free, making it easier for individuals with dietary or allergy restrictions. They come in five different flavors and contain 10 ingredients or less. Chocolate coated nuts and sea salt is my favorite! Moderately balanced, this snack bar can be a great post workout or pre-workout (eat two hours before) alternative or a mid-day snack on rest days.”
“This brand has an array of bars and products starting from traditional bars, bites, fruits and greens bar, nut and seed bar, and organic with superfoods bars. There’s a quite versatile range of inciting flavors. I love the easy-to-read ingredient list (nuts, fruits, seeds, and dates- for sweetener) as it does the trick for anyone with a sweet tooth. It’s a non-GMO, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, and kosher product. This bar is high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fiber. Could possibly be a pre-workout snack as it provides enough calories to thrive any cardio class, let it be spin class, zumba, or one-hour run on treadmill. It’s ideal for any endurance runner or long distance swimmer too, as to quickly refuel for instant calories post workout.”
Luna Protein Bars
“The highlight of this bar—it’s low glycemic value. Soy protein isolate is the first ingredient. It contains soy, milk and nuts, so it’s not suitable for people with dietary and allergy restrictions. However, it’s gluten free and packed with vitamins and minerals and antioxidants (certified cocoa use). It’s an ideal pre-workout snack or mid-day snack and is a suitable alternative for athletes with diabetes for its controlled carbohydrate content.”
The most important rule when it comes to snacking—know what it is you’re munching on. Vyas says to always look for eight to ten ingredients—or less. When it comes to an ingredient list, the shorter the better, and If you can’t pronounce something, it tells you that the product isn’t in its (most) natural form, she adds.
Lastly, she says to look for a good balance of carbohydrates and protein. Aim for no added sugars, no artificial sweeteners, or sugar alcohols, and aim for whole grains or 100 percent whole wheat as the first ingredient, and be on the lookout for a bar with more than three to four grams of fiber per serving.
Have you checked out the latest workouts in the app lately? We’ve just added more workouts for every fitness level – Check them out today.
14 Best Energy Bars (Review) in 2020
The Best Energy Bars (How We Choose)
Effectiveness – It’s not easy to quantify the effectiveness of a product like energy bars, simply because different people have different dietary requirements, different metabolisms and are different ages. So making blanket statements like “this is without a doubt the most effective energy bar on the market” isn’t really going to work. Instead we have to gather information from a variety of users and try to see if a consensus emerges. We then weigh any consensus opinion against our own experience with the product and try to draw a reasonably accurate conclusion.
Brand – The concept of the energy bar is fairly new, having arisen primarily out of the health and exercise movement of the 1980s. For a number of years there were only a few brands of energy bar on the market and they catered mostly to outdoor enthusiasts. Sometime shortly after the turn of the 21st century however interest in energy bars went through the roof and today there are dozens of different brands all vying for your attention. Because the field is populated by so many new entries we tend to put less weight on the particular brand and judge energy bars by their ingredients and effectiveness as determined by the process laid out above.
Reviews – Again, because the energy bar industry is both new and experiencing explosive growth one needs to be more than a little suspicious of the veracity of the reviews available on sites like amazon, it can be a little tough to find the best energy bars on the market (hence the review guide!). They might be legit, or they might be authored by employees of a particular company and their friends. In any event we always like to draw our own conclusions anyway. So while we peruse customer reviews to see what’s being said we take what we read with a grain of (sea) salt.
Features To Look For In Best Energy Bars For You
Ingredients – What goes into an energy bar is the hot button issue for most health conscious folks today. They regularly watch what they eat and don’t want their carefully constructed diets to be compromised by downing a nutrition bar before or after their workout. If you want your energy bar to be made from all natural, healthy ingredients you’ll need to read the label carefully. If it lists things like high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup and sorbitol it’s not actually made with natural ingredients no matter what the label might claim. The best energy bar indication that an energy bar is made with all natural ingredients is if the ingredients list is relatively short and populated by things you can pronounce such as figs, egg whites, walnuts and the like, rather than pyridoxine hydrochloride and sodium molybdate.
Calories – Some choose to look at the energy bar as being a kind of meal replacement bar rather than a cup of coffee you can chew. If you look at it that way the 200 to 300 calories in the majority of energy bars fits right into the equation. It has to be said though that energy bars are intended to be just that: a quick way to obtain a needed boost of energy. They are not intended to take the place of a well-considered, well balanced diet. In fact, if you consume too many energy bars in an effort to speed up your weight loss or workout goals it can actually cause you to gain weight. So use them sparingly.
Flavor/Taste – Here is one consideration that is entirely subjective since a flavor one person may go gaga over another may think is akin to eating dirt. Fortunately today’s energy bars are not confined to tasting like, well, energy bars. They come in a dizzying array of flavors ranging from raspberry to dark chocolate to granola to pumpkin, green tea, vegan chocolate, banana, tropical fruit, coffee and about a thousand more. Basically if you can imagine a flavor chances are you can buy it somewhere. And if you can’t there’s probably a recipe floating around that would allow you to make your own.
Texture – The different textures of different energy bars are intended to appeal to different audiences. Some like their bars crunchy, some like them chewy while others prefer them a bit crumbly (although to be sure most people express a preference for chewy). The texture of the different energy bars is driven by their content though and chewy energy bars require ingredients like peanut butter, margarine and corn syrup. Things not everyone is down with consuming. Dates and prunes can help provide a bit of chewy texture and also have the advantage of adding beneficial fiber to the energy bar. But again, not everyone is down with dates and prunes. The bottom line is that makers of energy bars & protein bars know that they can’t be all things to all people so most simply determine a target audience for their product and design them according to the preferences of that demographic.
Digestion – Most folks think of energy bars as being pretty benign, and if used sparingly most of them are. But they are not without their potential downsides. We already talked about how eating too many can actually cause you to gain weight, but there’s another issue some folks run into and it has to do with digestion. Quite a few brands that tout their low-sugar, low-carb, high fiber benefits neglect to mention that such a combination is often a recipe for bloating and even diarrhea. It’s not because low-sugar, low-carb, high fiber foods are naturally bad for you but rather a byproduct of the ingredients they use. Sugar alcohols, chicory root, inulin and other ingredients don’t sit well in some people’s stomachs. Even wheat can contain something known as oligosaccharides, which can help power muscle growth on the one hand but also power diarrhea and cramps on the other hand.
Vitamins & Minerals – Everyone needs to consume a proper balance of multi vitamins and minerals in the proper quantities but you should not be relying on energy bars as your primary source of either. That said some energy bars are definitely better at delivering vitamins and minerals that are important to generating energy than others are. A healthy energy bar contains the B vitamins B6 and B12 as well as thiamine and niacin that help provide energy and counteract fatigue and digestive issues. Iron is another mineral that’s important to generating energy and fighting off anemia, which is the most common nutritional deficiency in the US today.
Nutrition – The temptation with energy bars is to eschew nutrition in favor of the quick energy fix provided by sugar, whether it’s naturally occurring sugars or refined sugar. Ideally you’ll want an energy bar that doesn’t contain more than 10 grams of sugar. Any more than that is simply going to take up residence around your waist. There are plenty of energy bars out there that contain 20 grams of sugar or more, but they are intended for true athletes who need a boost before a triathlon or big game. They’re not intended for folks who sit at a desk most of the time and workout when they get a chance.
GMOs – Genetically modified organisms, commonly referred to as GMOs, are appearing in more and more prepared foods and may even be present in that expensive meal you get at your favorite restaurant. All scientific evidence points to the conclusion that there is no link between GMOs and any health threat. Still, many folks are skeptical and don’t want anything to do with GMOs. If you are one of those people the only way to be sure your energy bars are free of GMOs is to purchase bars that state exactly that on the label. If you don’t see “GMO free” on the label don’t take a chance.
Natural Sweeteners – Just as there is a large percentage of the population that wants nothing to do with GMOs there is an equally large number that go to extraordinary lengths to make sure they avoid artificial sweeteners. As is the case with GMOs there is zero scientific evidence that artificial sweeteners like aspartame pose any health danger but people certainly have a right to avoid it if they wish. This is where the label comes into play once again. If an energy bar contains artificial sweeteners it will be required to state that fact on the label. Only if it says it is free of artificial sweeteners can you trust that it is. At the same time however you’re going to want to avoid excessive amounts of natural sweeteners as well, and these have a way of sneaking into energy bars using names like “evaporated cane juice” and “coconut sap”. So be careful.
3 Ingredients to Watch Out For in an Energy Bar
Trans-fat – Trans-fats commonly go by their more scientific name “partially hydrogenated oils”. Most trans fats are produced artificially by injecting hydrogen into vegetable oils. Why would anyone do such a thing? Because it provides the oil, and by extension the things made using the oil, a longer shelf life. Restaurants often use trans-fatty oils to make their fried chicken, fried seafoods and French fries because they don’t have to change the oil in the fryolator as often. Whereas there is no evidence GMOs will harm you there is copious evidence that trans fats increase your risk for stroke, heart attack and type II diabetes.
Sugar – We touched on sugar above but it warrants a bit more attention. Sugar makes things taste delicious. And it’s cheap. As such food manufacturers love sugar. Your body however can do without all but the smallest amounts of sugar. One of the major differences between candy bars and energy bars is that energy bars are not loaded with sugar the way candy bars are. At least they shouldn’t be. When trying to decide on an energy bar look for hidden sugars in the form of high fructose corn syrup, agave and brown rice syrup and default to bars that achieve their sweetness by using dried fruit or things like raisins or dates instead.
Artificial Ingredients – This is an umbrella term that covers a lot of territory to be sure but it’s an important one. The purpose of consuming an energy bar is to help you in your quest for better health. But if your energy nutrition bar is seething with artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives it might be doing as much harm as good. Also, if your energy bar is sourcing its protein content from soy or whey this is not necessarily a great thing either as both indicate a high level of processing.
Energy Bar FAQs
Q: What is an energy bar?
A: An energy bar is a type of dietary supplement that takes the form of the familiar candy bar but utilizes a healthier ingredient set including cereals and other foods known to bolster energy levels. Top or Best Energy bars are intended to provide a quick boost of energy for those preparing to engage in strenuous activity. Although they are commonly used today as a kind of coffee substitute by people who need a pick me up during their work day. Most energy bars deliver anywhere from 200 to 300 calories with 20 to 40 grams of carbohydrates. Most of the carbs in a typical healthy energy bar are derived from glucose, fructose and other types of sugar and augmented with sources of complex carbs such as barley or oats. The level of protein in energy bars is usually minimal and is often derived from whey. Most energy bars are also light on fats.
Q: Are energy bars and protein bars the same thing?
A: Although you can find both energy and protein bars today that blur the lines, classic energy bars are not the same as classic protein bars. Energy bars tend to focus on delivering calories and carbs in order to make you feel more energetic in the here and now. They are intended to be consumed some 30 minutes or so before a workout. While protein bars are more big-picture items that take a longer view and provide the muscle building proteins your body needs to recover and repair itself after the workout. As we said you can find bars today the blur the line between the two but for the most part energy bars and protein bars are not the same thing.
Q: Do you eat energy bars before or after workout?
A: As stated above energy bars are intended to be eaten before a workout in order to provide the carbs and calories your body will need to sustain you while you exercise. They are not intended to help you repair and build new muscle during the period after the workout but instead just to make sure you have plenty of fuel in the tank while you are exercising. Eating high calorie energy bars after a workout could significantly undermine your efforts to lose weight and get in better overall shape.
Q: Are energy bars good for you?
A: Energy bars should be judged by their effectiveness when it comes to the job they’re intended to do; which is to provide a boost of energy prior to a workout of if you find your energy levels sagging during the day. If they fulfill that mission then they can be said to be good for you. If however they are used as anything other than an occasional supplement to a proper, well-balanced diet they can in fact have negative effects. The negative effects of abusing energy bars range from unbalanced blood glucose levels to weight gain, to vitamin deficiencies and more. So stick to using them to get a bit of extra pop during your workouts and you’ll be fine.
Q: How often should you eat energy bars?
A: As stated energy bars are not intended to be eaten on a regular basis as a substitute for a proper diet. They’re a supplement to that diet that allows you to work a bit harder during your workouts. Eating several energy bars a day in an attempt to stay constantly energized will only lead to complications like elevated blood sugar, vitamin deficiencies and weight gain. It’s probably not even necessary to have an energy bar before every workout. Instead of just defaulting to energy bars take the measure of yourself prior to working out. You may decide you could use a bit of a boost. But you may also find from time to time that you don’t really need it.
Q: Will energy bars make you gain weight?
A: They can if you eat too many of them. As we have stressed in the above responses energy bars are not intended to be a substitute for a well-balanced diet. They typically contain 200 to 300 calories that you are supposed to use to fuel your athletic or exercise endeavors. If you get in the habit of eating them as a kind of regular snack bar while you sit at your desk you’re likely to discover you are putting on weight as a result. That’s because you’re not burning off the calories, your body is simply storing them away in the form of fat.
Perfect Your Pump: The 7 Best Protein Bars
Few things in the land of dietary supplements have been as abused as protein bars. Walking the aisles of your favorite nutrition outlet, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of products laying claim to that name. Some of them are great, some are passable, and far too many are sugary rubbish lurking beneath the protein bar label. You play a perilous game of whack-a-mole each time you pick one up with the hope of amping up your workout or snagging a quick snack. They’re as likely to ruin your diet and injure your body as they are to help you.
Selecting a good protein practically requires a degree in nutrition. Even then you could find yourself walking through a high-fructose wasteland littered with synthetic ingredients. Unlike energy bars, you’re going to want to avoid carbs, monitor fats, and be sure of exactly where the protein is coming from. You’ll need to find one that jives with your lifestyle and supports your body goals. So that you don’t wander too long in the nutritionally deficient badlands, we’re going to tell you what to look for, and offer up our 7 favorite picks on the market.
Selecting Protein Content
20 grams of protein is a pretty standard amount these days. What you’ll want to do is avoid going below 10 grams in a bar. How much you specifically need is dependent on factors such as weight, activity level, age, and goals. GNC actually has a handy little calculator that can give you a general idea of where your protein strike-zone is. The most common types of protein are those that come from whey, soy, and casein, with vegans and vegetarians getting it from peas, rice, or hemp. Some bars use actual animal protein if you want a savory flavor. The truth is that none of it is bad. Some – such as whey – will just work faster than others and are better for pre-workout snacks than post-workout recovery.
Watch the Calories
This is the one that really trips people up when it comes to setting goals. If you’re looking to lose weight and are grabbing a bar with 400 calories, you’re blowing a huge chunk of your daily allowance for a quick nosh. Conversely, if you are trying to build lean muscle and need to get in a few more calories for your body to use, 400 is manna from heaven. You can get bars that slide in under 100 calories and those that give you nearly 500, so shop around and know your goals before you bite in.
Count the Carbs
This is a big one. Carbohydrates are good for getting energy and fueling up before you join in a mountain bike marathon or other cardio workout. When you’re planning to lose weight, you want to keep the carb count down. 30 grams of carbs should generally be your ceiling unless you’re using it in your recovery period after a workout. Even then, 35-40 grams is a lot. That’s energy bar territory and those have no place masquerading as true protein bars. A good rule of thumb is keep your carbohydrate count minus the fiber count lower than the protein count. If you want to lose weight, going with a 2:1 ratio (two grams of protein per gram of carbs) or lower is right on the money. Adding calories, and you can go up to 1:1, but you’d better be slamming it in the gym.
Cut the Fat
Fats in a protein bar are there to add in calories and very little else. Without exercise, they’ll load up your midsection like a roof mounted cargo box. Hack them off with a survival knife wherever you can. If calories are what you crave, a few more fats could help, though anything with trans-fats are to be shunned like Kanye at a humbleness festival. Ideally we’d suggest staying at 4 grams or less, but that’s a rarity in the market. Aim for less than 10 grams, settle for less than 20, so long as you’re actually active. Healthy fats from nuts and seeds can help slow the release of carbs into the body. If you’re going high carb, a few fats can be a boon, but since they both should be inhibited in a protein bar, it’s better to constantly think low. Fats are best if you tend to eat after a workout, but consider just adding a few unsalted almonds or cashews to the meal, rather than getting them out of your bar.
Fiber: Sinner or Savior?
High fiber in a protein bar isn’t a bad idea, since excess protein can gum up your digestion. On the other hand, it tends to cut down on calories like a hedge trimmer and will make you feel fuller faster. Extremely active people who need every calorie they can get should probably keep fiber to the minimum requirements, otherwise they’ll feel stuffed and sluggish. Besides that, if you find fiber lurking around it’s a happy accident that aids in weight loss and keeps your digestive tract clean and clear.
Sugar is the Kiss of Death
This is the downfall of the vast majority of protein bars. In favor of flavor the makers pack their products with sweets, beginning with the most evil of all, High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). You want your total sugar count to never climb above 15 grams, and even that is too much. The lower you go, the better. Sugar might give you a temporary boost, but the later crash isn’t worth it. It also gets converted almost instantaneously to fat, which ruins a sculpted look and cuts your dreams of weight loss off at the knees. If you simply can’t avoid any sugars, then never let them be in the top two ingredients on the list. Try to get natural sugars from fruits, and if you see a hint of HFCS, run far, run fast, and warn the village. 0 grams of sugar is best, and we’d say even that is too much.
Beware Sugar Alcohols
You won’t always find sugar in your protein bar, but you might see sugar alcohols. These aren’t really bad, but if you are one of the people who can’t digest them, then they’re going to feel horrible. Cramps, gas, loose bowels, and all manner of gastrointestinal issues can arise. Try them if you must, but be warned.
Now that you’ve identified all of the simple snapshot issues that are displayed on the handy little Nutrition Facts area, you should read the ingredients. This is pretty simple: If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. The best protein bars aren’t laden with preservatives or synthetic chemicals. They have simple ingredients that you can identify. Generally speaking, the fewer ingredients listed, the better off you’re going to be. A piece of lean, organic chicken roasted up in a slow cooker is essentially the best protein bar you’ll ever buy, and it has just one ingredient. Meats, nuts, and protein isolates are good. Anything that says “natural and artificial ingredients (and/or) flavors” is suspect. Keep it simple and you’ll go far, kid.
Hit the Bar
Now that you know what to look for, we’re going to give you a few options to send you on your way. These give you a good starting point to determine what you like, what you don’t, and what meets your goals.
Note: Flavor choices can severely effect the ingredients and proper ratios so always read your labels.
Epic All Natural Meat Bars
Pro: Best protein to carbohydrate ratio
Con: High cholesterol
Meat Up: When you want to get down to heavy-duty, lean muscle cranking protein, you just can’t top real meat. The amino acids that make up proteins are naturally present in their most complete form in animal products. Going from 11 grams to 16 grams of protein depending on the bar, these are mass makers. Carbs and fats are both in the 5 gram area, so you can cheat on a few fats elsewhere. You’ll run into a few sugars here and there, and the cholesterol is a risk for those with heart conditions, but for both building size and losing weight, Epic bars are to be celebrated.
Pro: Made with grass-fed whey
Con: Flavors are very hit or miss
Nature Made: These don’t really do anything special, but they are made from grass-fed whey, are GMO free, have no gluten, and keep their sugar content down. You’ll get an exact balance between carbs, fiber, and protein that is a good mix for light workout days. Only about 200 calories, they can work equally well as an energy bar as they can for protein. The flavors run to a lighter set by and large, and the colorful wrapping make these something your girlfriend will invariably steal, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. Not truly vegan, but reasonably close with extra care taken to be as humane and eco-friendly as possible.
Simply Protein Bar
Pro: Low calorie
Con: Minimal energy to burn
Fat Fighter: Made for either losing weight or snacking for the average person who might hit the gym and might hit the drive-thru, Simply Protein gives 15 grams or so of protein along with about 15 grams of carbs. Throw in a healthful 7 grams of fiber and you have a 140 calorie snack you can feel good about. Fat content drifts in the single digits with more given to natural fats than saturated ones. Top it off with a 0 cholesterol cherry and you have an easy supplement for dieting and going to the gym…or not.
Rise Protein Bar
Pro: Very few ingredients
Con: Sugary (but at least it’s natural)
Less is More: Rise’s protein bars hit a nearly perfect 1:1 protein/carbohydrate ratio (better when you account for fiber) and they do it with just a handful of natural ingredients. Probably the best choice for the true naturalist since they lack GMO’s, soy, gluten, and anything else made by the hands of man. Natural fats, decent fiber content, and some iron, these would be perfect if it weren’t for the 13 grams of honey sugar in them.
Clif Builder’s & Builder’s Max Protein Bar
Pro: Massive energy and bodybuilding boost
Con: Improper carb to protein ratio and lots of sugar
Protein Packed: We’re going to break our own rule for these, simply because they offer a heaping helping of muscle pumping protein, despite being a bit heavy on the carbs. Between 20 and 30 grams of the good stuff per bar, you’ll also receive almost 1.5 times the carbs, even after subtracting the minimal fiber amount. You’d either better be a serious athlete or have given up on losing weight if these 400 calorie monsters are in your gym bag. These also go extra heavy on the sugar with up to 30+ grams. We’re taking a lap just thinking about it.
Pro: Lots of fiber and low calorie count
Con: Not quite vegan
Anytime, Anywhere: Looking at the ingredients of the Quest Bars can mislead you a bit. The carb count seems a little weighty at 20+ grams when compared with the 20 or so grams of protein. Then you notice the 13 grams of fiber and all is made clear. Yes, you’ll be getting a few more carbs than proteins, but with the fiber padding it out and less than 200 calories all told, you’re still sittin’ pretty. A touch high in sodium, these nonetheless offer the most energy for your expense and are backed with plenty of whey and milk protein. Eat before, during, or after workouts.
Muscle Pharm Combat Crunch Bars
Pro: Low calories, high protein
Con: Heavy on sodium
A More Perfect Pump: Managing to only come in with a mite over 200 calories, these still have 20 grams of protein made from whey and milk isolate. The carbs are a bit above where we would like to see them, but they’re counterbalanced with around 12 grams of fiber. The most surprising thing is the flavors are made to really hit your sweet tooth, yet usually keep their sugar content in the low single digits. They’ve managed to make a pretty tasty cookie dough flavor that is gluten free. You’ll get a few odd ingredients, but nothing terribly harmful. Just keep an eye on allergies you may have, monitor the saturated fat, and be aware of the high sodium.
The Best Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks for Lasting Energy
These 10 carbohydrate-rich recipes keep you fueled longer, with protein to help you recover.
By Asia Bradlee· 4/16/2019, 11:14 a.m.
Photos via Wicked Spatula / Running on Real Food / Ambitious Kitchen
Whether you’re running a marathon or hitting the gym to lift heavy, nutrition is essential for fueling your body during your workout and helping you to see results afterwards.
To help your body perform at maximum capacity, registered dietitian Kelli Fierras says to eat something high in carbohydrates before you work out. After exercise, you should aim to eat a snack or meal with about 10-20 grams of protein. But as with anything, everyone’s body is a little different and she says to find what works best for you.
The next time you’re in need of a pre- or post-workout snack, try one of these healthy recipes.
1. Peanut Butter & Jelly Stuffed Oatmeal Cups
Via Eat the Gains
Using a muffin tin, these oatmeal cups are the perfect on-the-go pre-workout snack. If you’re gluten-free, be sure the oats are certified gluten-free.
2. Apricot, Almond & Flaxseed Energy Bars
Via A Sweet Peach Chef
These bars are free of refined sugars and get their sweetness from dates and dried apricots. Store the bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
3. Strawberry Banana Oatmeal Greek Yogurt Waffles
Via Ambitious Kitchen
If you prefer working out in the morning, these waffles would be good to fuel a long run or workout session. Feel free to use a different type of berry, blueberries also work well.
4. Veggie Breakfast Bowl
Via Love and Zest
Get your savory fix with eggs, roasted vegetables, and optional avocado. For an extra boost of carbs, pair it with a side of whole grain toast.
5. Pre-Workout Green Smoothie
Via Simple Green Smoothie
Get your greens and pre-workout fuel with this simple smoothie, made with fresh spinach, apples, bananas, and oats. Use frozen bananas to make the smoothie as thick and creamy as possible.
6. Dark Chocolate Cherry Protein Bites
Via Asia Bradlee
Tart cherries are great for workout recovery and may reduce joint pain and inflammation. You’ll also get a dose of protein from the vegan protein powder.
7. Orange Mango Recovery Smoothie
Via Running on Real Food
This smoothie incorporates glutamine, which is shown to have an effect on the body’s repair. It also helps boost immunity, digestion, and is good for physical and mental stress.
8. Spinach and Egg White Omelette
Via Yummy, Healthy, Easy
Cottage cheese adds an extra boost of protein to this omelette. If you want to add more vegetables, mushrooms or peppers would work well.
9. Paleo Chicken Hash
Via Wicked Spatula
Full of chicken, bacon, eggs, and sweet potatoes, this meal will keep you full and help you recover after your workout. If you don’t care for regular bacon, turkey bacon is a good substitute
10. Tart Cherry Gummy Candy
Via Margeaux Vittoria
While not necessarily a whole meal, this snack contains gelatin and tart cherry juice, two ingredients that are good for muscle recovery. These gummies need to be refrigerated overnight so they can set, so be sure to plan ahead.
Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
Whether you’re a professional athlete, a weekend warrior or a gym goer, good nutrition is vital for performance. Getting your nutrition plan right will help you optimise each training session and ultimately help you to reach your fitness goals. Knowing what to eat, and when to eat, before and after a workout can be a bit confusing, and is a problem many athletes and fitness goers struggle with at the beginning.
While workout nutrition will completely depend on the type of workout you are doing and the body composition goals you have in place, the basic principles remain the same.
Ideally, you should fuel your body 1-3 hours before your workout. A more substantial meal should be consumed 2-3 hours pre-workout, while a smaller snack can be consumed closer to the session. Food should contain both protein and carbs. Carbs are the fuel, while protein is what rebuilds and repairs. If your goal is weight loss, your pre-workout fuel will contain less carbs and more protein and be smaller in portion. If your goal is to gain mass, a bigger portion of carbs as well as protein should be consumed.
Examples of pre-workout snacks:
- Greek yoghurt
- Piece of toast and boiled egg
- Apple with peanut butter
- Rice cakes with almond butter
- Pasta with tomato based sauce
- Handful of nuts and raisins
- Muesli bar
- Honey sandwich
The most important thing to remember when choosing your pre-workout food is to choose something that is easy to digest and that won’t upset your stomach. This, as well as working out what time frame works best for your body will take some experimenting.
Simply put, our bodies run like a car—we need to re-fuel when our food stores have been depleted. Post-workout nutrition should therefore focus on refilling energy storages and provide enough protein to prevent muscle protein breakdown and stimulate muscle synthesis. Independent of your goals, a post-workout meal should always be consumed. As soon as possible, try to eat high quality protein and carbs (ideally 30-60 minutes after a workout).
Examples of post-workout foods:
- Chocolate milk
- Grilled chicken with roasted veggies
- Tuna salad sandwich on wholegrain bread
- Spinach and egg whites omelette
- Hummus and pita bread
- Yoghurt and berries
- Salmon with brown rice and sweet potato
- Oatmeal, whey protein, banana and almonds
- Cottage cheese and fruits
- 2 hard boiled eggs on toast
- Protein rich green smoothie
Essentially, a balanced main meal that contains protein, healthy fats and a portion of carbs will replenish your glycogen stores and aid muscle growth and repair. It’s also important to note that there’s no real evidence that protein powders, especially the fast-digesting kind, are any better for us than whole food protein after training. If you are someone who prefers to consume protein in liquid form after a workout, then a protein shake is definitely suitable, however you should be able to get all the protein you require through a well-balanced diet (= save your $$$ from expensive protein powders!)
- Meals: 2-3 hours prior
- Snacks: 0-90 minutes prior
- Mixture of protein and carbs
- Refuel as soon as possible, ideally within 30-60 minutes, no more than 2 hours post
- Focus on protein and carbs
- Don’t underestimate the power of nutrition and the impact it has on your fitness goals
- Everyone is different and therefore have different needs when it comes to nutrition
- Find out what works best for you, your body and your goals
- HYDRATE! Pre/during/post exercise – don’t forget to hydrate throughout
Pre and Post Workout for Weight Loss
Pre and post workout nutrition is simple: one is fuel and the other one is repair. You eat before your workout to have the extra energy to push yourself during a training session. You eat afterwards to repair the damage done to your muscles, help them rebuild faster and grow. Depending on your goals, you can do either or both, or you can ignore it altogether.
The before and after meals are there to aid you do all of the above. They’re not something you need if all you are trying to do is lose weight. Your body has two fuel tanks: primary and secondary. Your primary fuel tank is the energy stored from your previous meal (glycogen stores) and the secondary fuel tank are your fat reserves (fat stored in fat cells). Unless the primary fuel tank is empty, your body will not access the secondary energy supply = your fat cells. So if your goal is to lose weight and/or streamline, you really want is to make sure you empty your glycogen stores first so you can access the fat stores.
Weight loss is a deficit of available resources so if you give your body more food that it needs you’ll just end up gaining weight. On the other hand, if your goal is to gain weight than that’s exactly what you need to do – make sure your eat more than you burn.
To lose weight you can either train on an empty stomach or train with a light snack that you will burn shortly after you start your workout. You need a pre workout snack if you are so hungry you are feeling weak otherwise you won’t be able to push yourself hard enough – not enough to force your body to change and/or burn more reserves. Your goal is to train to raise your heart rate and body temperature sufficiently to speed up your metabolism. So the harder you work during your training session, the more you burn throughout the day after your workout. If you were too weak to work out at 100% it doesn’t mean your workout was wasted – it’s just wasn’t as effective for the long-term burn.
A pre-workout snack is simply an aid to help you move faster and perform better. You can easily schedule your workouts around breakfast, lunch or dinner so you don’t require any pre-workout aid and hence consume no extra calories you then need to also burn off.
Some people train on empty early in the morning before breakfast. At that time, your body hasn’t got any quick energy in the stores and will use your reserves to function. Your body will access fat stores straight away. Another plus of this type of training is since your body isn’t busy digesting anything all of the energy will be directed into working out. You will burn more, you will burn fat but it is a brutal and a taxing way to exercise because of that so not many people can do that long-term.
Think of it this way: how long will you exercise and will you need extra energy for that or not? If your session is going to only last half an hour then you are unlikely to need any special pre-workout boost but if it’s going to be over an hour and it’s going to require everything you’ve got, then a pre-workout snack might be a good idea.
Running for under an hour for example, as demanding as it is, does not require any pre-workout snack.
A post-workout snack consumed roughly 30 minutes after your workout can help you repair the damage done to your cells and help you recover faster. It is usually a small protein snack or shake.
Pre and Post Workout for Muscle Building
To gain weight, on the other hand, pre and post workout nutrition is a must. You can’t let your body struggle for resources at any point because it will burn everything and make it difficult for you to then build muscle after exercising (which is when all muscle building is really done).
After a workout, your muscles are depleted of glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate) which fuels muscular contraction during exercise. If you don’t eat anything after a long training session your body will simply start whatever is available to it. Once it has exhausted all possible reserves it will look to breaking down protein (i.e. muscle) and since you want to avoid that, you should eat something shortly after. The best option is fast digesting protein and complex carbohydrate combo which will aid the muscle building process and prevent any muscle loss.
Because time is of the essence here many people use protein powders simply because a protein shake is convenient – it’s cheaper and easier to make than a snack. You can also do that or have a glass of chocolate milk, the kind they sell for kids in the supermarket… with a straw. Or you can make an actual food snack like a protein bar. The point is, you need to keep your body fueled up so it doesn’t lose any gains you made.
A lot of research has been carried out lately to determine just how easy it is for the body to resort to burning muscle and the general consensus is that as muscle is expensive to build and expensive to maintain the body will build it only when there is plenty of energy available to it and, by the same token, will burn muscle only when it has exhausted every possible avenue and is not getting any more energy. This makes nutrition and its timing that much more critical if you want to build muscle.
You should never work out on full stomach, you’ll simply throw up or you’ll feel uncomfortable at the very least and won’t be able to give it your all. As a rule, your main meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) should happen at least 2 hours before your workout to give your body a chance to digest the food.
Pre workout snacks are normally tiny amounts of food that can be processed quickly and then aid your performance and recovery. You should consume pre workout snack roughly 30-60 minutes before a workout. Post workout snacks are also small and are most effective within 30 minutes after your training session.
Neither pre nor post workout snacks are mandatory if you are trying to lose weight. You only need to concern yourself with those if you are trying to build muscle and you don’t want to accidentally lose some.
A pre-workout snack is only useful in this case if it has been several hours since your last meal, you are about to faint from hunger but you are still have a training session ahead of you which you need to get through. Then yes, sure, have a banana.