What you eat before your elliptical training really depends on when, how hard and how long you plan to exercise. If you are hitting the machine for a low-intensity workout that is 30 minutes long, you may not need anything, especially if your last meal was only a few hours prior. A vigorous-intensity session lasting for 90 minutes or longer usually calls for some pre-fueling, however.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for your body during a tough cardiovascular session on the elliptical. Healthy sources of carbohydrates include fresh fruit, yogurt, whole wheat toast and oats. Stay away from carbohydrates high in fiber, however, such as prunes or bran. The fiber can cause gas, bloating and unplanned interruptions to your elliptical workout. Avoid a snack high in fat or protein, which are nutrients that get digested more slowly than carbohydrates. Such foods eaten too close to your exercise session may cause digestive distress, including cramps and diarrhea.
If you are an early bird who heads to the elliptical for a marathon session before breakfast, a small snack will top off your energy stores and help you get a quality workout. Without a pre-workout snack, your body may run out of glycogen, or stored energy, and start to burn valuable lean muscle for energy. If you are eating something just an hour to 30 minutes before exercise, stick to a food containing about 50 to 75 grams of carbohydrates, such as 8 ounces of juice with a banana, a serving of sports drink, 8 ounces of vanilla yogurt with a piece of fruit or a whole-grain bagel with a small amount of nut butter.
If you are fueling two to three hours before your elliptical session, you can eat a little more. For example, if you eat breakfast at 7 am and hit the elliptical at 9 or 10 am, have a breakfast burrito with eggs and potatoes. If you plan to workout at 2:30 pm, have a turkey sandwich with a side of melon for lunch. If your elliptical session is three or more hours away, you can handle a full-sized meal, such as a tuna salad sandwich with pretzels, fruit salad and milk. Unless you are going for a mega-endurance elliptical workout that lasts much longer than 60 minutes, this full-sized meal will probably suffice.
You don't want to eat too much immediately before your workout. Too much food can make you feel sluggish and cause nausea. The amount of pre-workout food people can tolerate differs, so you'll have to experiment to see what works best for you. Unless you are trying to gain weight, you'll want to keep your calories in check. If your pre-workout snack contains more calories than you burn during your workout, you may gain weight -- especially if you don't alter your eating habits during the rest of the day.
If you regularly workout for 45 to 60 minutes without eating a snack beforehand, don't feel compelled to eat before the workout if you don't develop any adverse performance effects. However, do drink enough water before, during and after your workout. If you'll be pedaling the elliptical at a vigorous intensity for longer than an hour or you'll be working out in an especially hot room, you may need a sports drink that provides electrolyte replacement before or during your routine.
Most elliptical workouts do not require you to consume pre-workout food designed for endurance athletes. Save gels and chews for when you are doing a two-hour run or ride. Eating these foods, or other sugary snacks such as candy, before an elliptical session may cause a sugar rush and you may possibly crash in the middle of your workout.
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