If you’re gearing up for a big workout ahead, one thing you’ll want to be sure you’re not falling short on is energy.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source during exercise so if you aren’t getting a good dose in, you can expect your workout performance to suffer. This said, simply eating carbohydrates isn’t enough. You want to eat the right types of carbs to deliver that optimal performance.
The wrong types of carbohydrates may still provide you with energy, however more often than not, this energy will come on in a high burst and then leave you crashing, feeling worse than you did before.
The last thing you want to be doing is hitting an all-time low part-way through your workout session, which may very well cause you to leave the gym early.
Let’s take a closer peek into five of the best energizing sources of carbohydrates that you need to know and start using more regularly if you hope to achieve ultimate workout success.
The good news is that even for those who are watching their body, all of these, if eaten before exercise, will make for a great addition to your diet and support that goal as well.
1. Sweet Potatoes
The first great carbohydrate source to get in before your workout session is the sweet potato. Sweet potatoes do contain some natural sugars, which is great for providing the body with an immediate source of energy.
That said, these natural sugars do not spike blood glucose levels like sugar found in soda or candy would. In fact, sweet potatoes can help to stabilize blood glucose levels and improve blood sugar regulation. This is thanks to the high content of fiber this type of potato provides.
This means that you can rest assured you won’t be crashing mid-way through your session.
What’s more is that in addition to the few grams of sugar found in sweet potatoes, you’ll also take in a high dose of complex carbohydrates, which will go that extra mile to keep you energised until you quit.
Sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of antioxidants, which can help to combat any free radical damage that occurs during intense activity. Remember that exercise is a very stressful event being placed on your body and you need the proper nutrients to overcome that stress with ease. Sweet potatoes provide this.
They’re also a good source of many B vitamins including vitamin B6, vitamin B3, vitamin B1, and vitamin B2. All of these B vitamins are needed for proper energy generation purposes.
Finally, sweet potatoes are also going to provide a healthy dose of dietary fiber, which will help lower cholesterol levels and simply optimize health.
This said, it’s not so much dietary fiber that you’ll be weighed down and struggle with indigestion during the exercise session.
Sweet potatoes are highly versatile and can be baked, microwaved, roasted, or grilled – however you prefer them.
The next great carbohydrate source that you’ll want to take in prior to your workout session is the banana. Bananas are very well known to be one of the best bets for pre-workout fuel thanks to the fact they’re very high in potassium content.
Potassium is a key mineral that acts as an electrolyte in the body and along with sodium, will help regulate your blood pressure levels. Potassium is also involved in intense muscular contractions, which is another reason why having it before exercise is a very good thing.
Just like with sweet potatoes, bananas also contain a nice balance of simple sugars as well as complex carbohydrates (starch), ensuring that you get some immediate energy as well as some that will last over a longer period of time.
If it’s less than 30 minutes until you plan to exercise and you need some fast fuel, the banana will stand in perfectly here.
Bananas are also easily portable and can be taken with you on the go, so are ideal for those leading a busy schedule and who may not have time to prepare their full-blown pre-workout meal.
Paired with a protein smoothie, it’s a great go-to option.
Another terrific source of carbohydrates that you’ll want to start serving in your pre-workout meal plan is beans or chickpeas. Both of these are very complex sources of carbohydrates, meaning they’ll release their energy slowly over time.
If the particular exercise you’re doing is going to be 45 minutes or longer, this carbohydrate source will help fuel you until the very end.
They are very low in sugar, so unlike bananas, will take a little more time to hit you with their energy, meaning if you are going to serve these, aim to eat them at least 60 minutes prior to beginning your exercise.
One very nice thing about both beans and chickpeas is the fact that they contain some protein as well. For those who prefer not eating animal protein sources before a workout (or at all if you are a vegetarian or vegan), beans or chickpeas can help get those needs met.
As protein is also a very important nutrient that you need to be taking in before exercise, you won’t want to overlook it.
Beans and chickpeas are also reasonably easy to prepare and can be used in a number of different ways as well such as having them as a side dish, preparing a bean based soup, or serving them up as a dip (such as in hummus).
Beans do contain a fair amount of dietary fiber as well, so just note that you’ll want to avoid eating too many other high fiber foods with them if you are planning to exercise to avoid any stomach cramping from occurring. Too much fiber can lead to indigestion when starting to exercise. This is one reason why it’s a good idea to also wait for at least an hour after eating them before you start exercising.
The next carbohydrate source to consider getting into your diet plan is oatmeal. Oatmeal is very rich in complex carbohydrates, just like beans, so will release energy slowly over time.
The other nice thing about oatmeal is that it can be eaten cooked or raw depending on your energy needs. If your goal is weight loss, you’ll probably want to serve it cooked as it has a higher volume (per calorie value). Alternatively, if you are looking to build muscle, serving it raw can make it a very calorie dense food that will help you get your energy needs met.
To ensure optimal performance, choose the unflavored oatmeal variety to keep the total sugar content down and if you want to add a little sugar to it, simply top it with a half tablespoon of honey or some sliced banana, apple, or some berries.
Oatmeal is also very fast and easy to prepare, so is a great option when you’re on the go and need to get something in before hitting the gym.
5. Ezekiel Bread
Finally, the last of the carbohydrate sources that you’ll want to note and be sure that you take into your diet plan is Ezekiel bread. This bread variety is rich in complex carbohydrates, unlike other bread varieties that tend to be loaded with simple carbs.
While whole wheat bread does contain some dietary fiber, it’s generally not ideal as it’s still made with a lot of refined flour that lacks nutrients.
Ezekiel bread, on the other hand, is not refined and instead is made from wholesome grains in their natural state. It’s also highly convenient since you can simply take a few slices with you on the go. This makes it ideal for a portable gym pre-workout meal.
Smear the bread with a little natural fruit spread if you do want some simple sugars or prepare a sandwich with it, using sliced chicken breast or turkey to get your protein in.
Just avoid using any high fat spreads or avocado on the sandwich as adding too much dietary fat to your meal prior to your workout can also slow you down.
As an added benefit, this variety of bread also packs in a decent amount of protein as well, so while it may not completely be enough to meet your needs before the workout, it does add up.
If you pair two slices of the bread toasted with some fruit spread along with a tall glass of milk for instance, you’ll have just what you need before that workout gets underway.
So keep these five carbohydrate sources in mind as you gear up for your next workout session. This is the one time in the day when you do not want to fear eating carbohydrates as they can really help you see the optimal performance you want from your workout session while also jump starting your recovery as well.
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