Foods to Eat Before Hard Physical Work

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It's important to eat the proper food before engaging in strenous physical activity.
It's important to eat the proper food before engaging in strenous physical activity. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

If you’re preparing to engage in heavy-duty physical labor, to run a marathon or even to work out at the gym, it’s important to eat the proper food beforehand to fuel your activity. In these situations, not only is the type of food important, so is the amount consumed and the amount of time between eating and exercising.

Food as Fuel

What you eat immediately before a workout can have a major impact on your performance, and the biggest mistake many people make is to exercise on an empty stomach. Fitness expert and author Jim Karas stresses the importance of eating food prior to exercising that will provide the best fuel. Before a light workout, Karas recommends a bowl of Raisin Bran, and peanut butter on whole-wheat bread for more demanding exercise. The complex carbohydrates found in both the cereal and the bread, says Karas, will provide energy and help build muscle.

5 Tips from the Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic offers five diet-related tips to help maximize a workout: eat a healthy breakfast; don’t eat a large meal if you’ll be exercising within three hours; eat small snacks before and possibly during exercise; eat after you exercise; and drink plenty of water before, during and after exercising to stay well-hydrated. Keep a food and exercise journal to record any perceived relationship between what you eat and your corresponding energy level.

Five Foods to Fuel a Workout

Lifted Athletics recommends five foods to maximize a workout: banana, a quickly digested fruit that is high in carbohydrates and offers instant energy and the potassium your body craves after strenuous activity; oatmeal, another source of carbs, but also containing fiber and vitamin B, which helps convert carbohydrates to energy; yogurt, which can boost metabolism due to its high levels of magnesium; nuts, an excellent source of protein, fiber and carbs; and pasta, which can serve as stored energy when eaten the day before a challenging physical activity such as a marathon.

Best and Worst Workout Foods

The Canadian magazine "Chatelaine" offers a list of the best and worst foods to eat before a workout. Two hours before exercising, the best foods are fruit, fruit smoothies and other foods that are high in carbohydrates that can be broken down easily. The worst foods to eat two hours before a workout are high-calorie, sugary snacks, such as candy bars, or anything containing a lot of meat, which takes longer to digest.

Within a half-hour before exercising, recommended foods are milk, whole-grain cereal and yogurt with fruit, while the worst foods are fried foods, hamburgers, pizza, candy, bacon, eggs and donuts.

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