In my last few posts I have been discussing fibre, the benefits of getting enough, the potential disadvantages of getting too much and how to make sure you are getting enough. Today, I’m going to explain why I think fibre is the perfect gym food and why you should consider making it part of your pre-workout meal.
Personally, I never was one of the those people who enjoyed drinking high sugar sports drinks before working out. I don’t particularly like the taste and I didn’t notice a significant energy boost after drinking them. On top of this they’re not cheap and can actually be quite dehydrating, so I instead opted to drink water whilst working out and eat a meal beforehand. The foods I ate as part of my pre-workout meals have changed over the years. I’ve experimented with plain chicken breasts, a huge plate of pasta and even some pretty disgusting meal replacement shakes which upon purchase I discovered were so full of sugar that they were almost undrinkable. However, after a few years of experimentation I’ve finally settled with a light, fibre rich snack as my perfect pre-workout meal. This will usually be a couple of sandwiches (filled with chicken, ham, beef, peanut butter or whatever else I decide to put on them) on whole grain bread or a large banana. But why do I think these foods are perfect for pre-gym consumption? Read on to find out:
1) SLOW RELEASE ENERGY:- Consuming carbohydrates that are high in soluble fibre allows the energy from the food to be released more slowly. Although in previous articles I have listed whole grain bread as a good source of insoluble fibre it does contain soluble fibre too. Bananas are also a rich source of soluble fibre. Eating either of these before hitting the gym means that the energy from the food is released evenly throughout your workout allowing you to maintain consistent energy levels for the full time you are at the gym.
I found that when I used to eat white pasta before the gym I had to eat lots to give me energy. Doing this made me start to feel drowsy towards the end of my workout. The reason behind this is that white pasta is relatively low in fibre and so the energy from the food is released into the blood much more quickly. Whilst it is great to have this energy surge at the start of the workout it does not last for the entirety of your workout meaning that your performance usually suffers towards the end.
2) SUPPRESSED APPETITE:- One of the biggest distractions at the gym for me is when my stomach starts rumbling and I start getting hunger pangs. If this happens at any other time during the day I can usually ignore them and get on with what I’m doing. However, when I’m at the gym I find them unbearable. Ever since I started eating a light, fibre rich snack before hitting the gym I have never felt hungry whilst working out. This is despite the fact that the snack is only light with the sandwiches containing a maximum of 250 calories and a large banana containing a maximum of 150 calories.
Now part of the reason for this is that around the same time I introduced fibre into my diet I started eating mini-meals which means that I rarely go more than three hours without food. However, another reason is that fibre is an effective appetite suppressant. Insoluble fibre soaks up water and expands in the digestive tract and helps to fill your stomach whilst soluble fibre holds food in your digestive tract for longer. Therefore, although these fibre rich snacks are lower in calories than the meals I was eating previously they are a lot more filling which means I can get on with my workout without any distracting hunger pangs.
3) FAT LOSS:- Since my fibre rich snacks are relatively low in calories and allow sugar to be released into the blood more slowly and evenly, they create a perfect scenario for burning fat. Why? Well I’ll begin with an extremely simplified explanation of how the body burns fat. When we eat the body converts the food into glucose/sugar. This sugar is then released into the bloodstream. As blood sugar levels rise this prompts the release of insulin into the bloodstream (although this function is inhibited in people with diabetes). Insulin then binds with the body’s cells and allows them to absorb blood sugar. Upon absorbing blood sugar the body’s cells either use it for energy (if required) or store it as fat (if not required immediately). When blood sugar levels are low and the body’s cells need energy they then start to use stored fat as their energy source.
When you exercise your body requires more energy so it will use either sugar (if your blood sugar levels are high) or fat (if your blood sugar levels are low). If you eat a low fibre meal that releases lots of sugar into the bloodstream all at once (such as white pasta) then your blood sugar levels will be elevated during your workout. This means that your cells will use blood sugar for energy whilst also storing some of it as fat because there is too much in the bloodstream to use all at once. If you eat a fibre rich snack that releases less sugar into the bloodstream at a more gradual rate then your blood sugar levels will be lower during your workout. This means that your body will use the blood sugar for energy first but then start to burn fat because there is not enough sugar in the blood at any one time to meet the body’s energy requirements. Eating fibre rich foods can stimulate a greater fat burning effect than low fibre foods at any time but this effect is magnified when you workout because your body needs more energy.
There are many food choices available to you as a pre-gym meal. However, if you haven’t already tried it I highly recommended that you experiment with fibre rich snacks as your pre-gym food. I think you will quickly find that you have more energy throughout your workout and will be able to stay much more focussed. In the long term you should also notice an improvement in your body fat levels.
What do you guys eat as a pre-gym snack? Do you agree with my recommendation of fibre rich foods? Do you have any alternate suggestions? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.