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The Two Most Important Things You Can Do Before a Workout

There is a ton of information out there addressing things like training, supplementation and best practices, in terms of what you should do before a workout. It can be overwhelming trying to sift through it all and figure out what works best for you. Each of us has unique needs and what works for me may not work for you. Here’s what the latest research says about two of the most important things you can do before a workout: hydration and fuel.

waterHydrate: Did you now that performance decrements can be apparent with just a 1 percent loss of body fluid? As a result, going into a workout dehydrated decreases your time to exhaustion and inhibits performance. As the percent of water loss increases, the severity of symptoms increases and time to exhaustion decreases. Water is necessary for a number of bodily functions, including thermoregulation. Make it a point to stay hydrated before you head out for your next training bout.

bananaFuel: There is a long-standing debate about whether it’s best to perform cardio after a fast or after fueling. Although fasted cardio can help tap into fat stores (because glycogen stores are low or depleted), this doesn’t necessarily translate into the best or most intense workout. If you think about it from a physiology standpoint, the body’s main source of energy is carbohydrate, which it can use during high-intensity exercise because it requires less oxygen to metabolize. Training at greater intensities helps increase post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which makes it possible to continue to burn fat beyond a workout. Conversely, when you exercise at lower intensities (using fat as a fuel source), your body will not be able to burn energy at the same rate as it did when exercising using carbohydrates as the primary fuel source.

What are the best fuel sources to consume before a strenuous session? Simple carbohydrates are quickly digested and absorbed into the muscles via the bloodstream. This provides the muscles with energy, which allows you to train harder, faster and longer. Fruits and liquid carbohydrate solutions are both good options that can allow you to go into a workout feeling fueled, but not overly full.

The next question to answer is how much fuel you need and how soon before a workout you should consume it. This will be different for every person. Some people can eat right before exercising, while others need more time to digest their food. And how much food you need will depend on the duration and intensity of your workout. Figure out what works best for you and always be sure to drink enough water before your workouts.

article adapted from Kelley Vargo from ACE – American Council on Exercise