FITNESS CORNER: Power your exercise with pre-workout nutrition

If you exercise on a regular basis, you’re familiar with how it is when you just aren’t “feeling” your workout. You’ve probably experienced times when the weight you lifted last week feels heavier instead of lighter, or when you take your regular morning run but your legs don’t seem to fully cooperate.

This is a normal phenomenon when it comes to working out. However, it could sometimes mean that you need to pay more attention to your pre-workout nutrition.

I personally realized the importance of eating a snack before working out a few years ago. I was the type of guy who just worked out without paying attention to whether I ate or not. On a particular day, I noticed during my strength training session that not only were my energy levels high, but additionally, I wasn’t totally worn out after the workout.

Days later, I experienced one of those workout slumps, and after comparing the two sessions in my mind, I realized that I’d eaten a snack before the first workout and skipped a snack before the second one.

After considering my feelings and doing my own research, I was convinced that pre-workout nutrition was worthwhile, and to this day I always try to eat something before I exercise.

Now that we’ve established that pre-workout snacks can make a big difference in your workout, it’s important to take two additional factors into consideration.

For one, make sure to eat your snack at the right time. If you consume the snack too early, it won’t do much for your workout, and if you consume it too close to your actual workout session, you’re asking for trouble. You could experience anything from feeling the food sloshing and bouncing in your stomach, to altogether losing your snack.

I think you get my point, so I’ll spare you the details. Aim to consume a pre-workout snack between 30 minutes and two hours before you exercise to allow time for your body to begin processing it.

The second factor to consider is that you need to consume the right kind of snack. One commonly held thought is that we’re free to eat junk before a workout because we’re about to burn it off -- but this kind of thought is notorious for keeping us from reaching our goals.

First of all, junk food is often very high in calories. Case in point, an average candy bar at 250 calories would require a 150-pound person to run about half an hour just to burn off that one bar. Second, if a food isn’t good for your body, it doesn’t matter whether you burn the calories off or not. The chemicals and high sugar content in junk food can still detrimentally affect your health.

Good pre-workout snacks will be relatively high in carbohydrates, which are the primary sources of energy for our bodies. Protein is good, but is not as important before the workout as it is after the workout -- when your body is ready to repair itself.

Examples of good snacks include fruits, natural whole grain bars with minimal extra ingredients and granola. My personal favorites include bananas with either a handful of nuts or a spoon of peanut butter, or a healthier snack bar such as a Larabar or Clif Bar.

If you have yet to experiment with pre-workout nutrition, I challenge you this week to try eating some healthy snacks before you exercise and tell me how it helps.

Shawn McClendon is an ACE certified personal trainer and owner of the health/fitness blog, Contact him at