As part of my Intuitive Eating efforts, I conducted two eating experiments this week:
- Eating a small snack before exercise each morning
- Eating within 30 minutes following exercise each morning
Experiment #1: Eating Before Exercise
When I first started the habit of exercising at the gym each morning, I ate a small granola bar out of habit before my workout.
Surely I couldn’t possibly function — much less exert energy — without eating first. Gotta have fuel to burn before a workout, right?
But after a few days, I found that I didn’t really need the quickie breakfast after all, and so over the weeks, months and now years, I’ve slipped into the habit of exercising while fasting. Whenever I did eat something early, it was usually wolfed down quickly so that I could get on with my mission: exercise. I kind of felt like I was wasting calories that could be savored more later in my day, because — well, this gal likes to eat.
Prior to conducting this experiment, I consumed only lemon water in the mornings until eating breakfast at my desk more than 3 hours after waking.
Lately I’ve been thinking about stepping up the intensity of my workouts, though, since my time is more constrained in the mornings. And some days I just feel a little tired. Not completely worn out, but I could feel better. I think that having a light “pre-breakfast” before my workouts could give me the boost I’m looking for.
So the Question is: will eating a light snack before morning exercise give me more energy to have a better workout?
So what to eat before the gym?
It seems like fresh fruit might be a good option, but I’ve conditioned myself not to crave any food early in the morning, so the thought of super sweet stuff doesn’t appeal to me at all.
A mini bowl of oatmeal might be ideal, but Husband doesn’t wake up at the same crazy hour I do, so I try to make as little noise as possible. Our microwave and fridge in the kitchen share the same wall as our headboard in the bedroom, so I need something that doesn’t require heating or much prep.
I settled on Nature Valley’s Crunchy Granola Bars, Oats ‘n Honey flavor. They have more sugar than I’d like to start my day with, but they travel pretty well, are chock full o’ carbs, relatively inexpensive and thus good for experimenting.
Yes, eating a Nature Valley granola bar will give me more energy and improve my workouts. Fingers are crossed!
I decided to start small. These crunchy granola bars come two to a package, and I cut each bar in two, giving me four sections from one individual package. Roughly 50 calories to a section.
So I packed the 4 sections into a tiny plastic storage container and planned to consume one section (¼ total package) after arriving at the gym before going inside. On Monday morning, I ate the bar about 5-10 minutes before I began my workout. I repeated the same practice Tuesday.
On Wednesday morning, I was pretty worn out from the two previous days’ workouts, so I ate an additional section once I made it to the locker room, hoping for a little extra boost of energy. About 100 calories total for that morning.
Wednesday night I ate waaaaaaaay too many brownies for dessert, so Thursday morning I wasn’t as hungry as usual and didn’t have a granola bar at all. Same thing Friday. Too many brownies on Thursday night, so I skipped the granola bar again. (Did I mention I’m working on my relationship with food using an Intuitive Eating approach? It’s a journey and it’s not perfect, that’s for sure.)
Not going to lie, I really enjoyed eating that bar on the first morning.
Man, I forgot how tasty these things are. Super sweet!
Same thing Tuesday and Wednesday. Very satisfying.
But did the calories actually help my energy level?
Yes and no.
Yes, for a few minutes. But it didn’t last. The familiar empty stomach feeling arrived much sooner than I expected. Rumble here, grumble there. And my energy level dropped off about halfway into my workout, leaving me feeling about the same as before with no food at all.
Perhaps I should repeat the experiment with a larger snack next week. Adding in some fat would probably help keep me full once the initial carb jolt wears off. A few almonds, maybe?
And perhaps I shouldn’t eat so many dang brownies and screw up my experiment mid-week too. Yep.
Experiment #2: Eating after Exercise
Right now, there’s a 60-minute gap between the end of my exercise cooldown and when I consume my first food of the day. That’s how long it takes me to shower and get settled at my desk.
There are many people in the fitness world who believe that you should eat something within 15-30 minutes of exercise to help your body refuel and recharge.
So the question is: will eating sooner following my workout make me feel better and affect my hunger levels (and eating habits) for the rest of the day?
After very little research or deliberation, I decided I would drink a smoothie immediately following my workout. My smoothie recipe probably isn’t perfectly ratio’d for optimal recovery, but I wanted to start somewhere. Smoothies travel well, are easy to consume while doing other things (don’t require a knife, fork and eating surface), and I can pack in all kinds of goodness (like nutrient-rich berries and high-protein Greek yogurt, even a little flax for a boost of fiber) to help start my day on the healthy side.
Drinking a smoothie within 15-30 minutes of exercise will make me feel better and positively affect my hunger levels for the rest of the day, empowering me to make better food-related decisions.
I’ve been hesitant to consume anything except water in the locker room because it seems kind of gross from a hygiene perspective. I also like to wear a lot of white shirts, and I’m afraid of their super-magnetic powers when it comes to purple smoothies. But I set these issues aside and just went for it this week.
- 2 7-oz. containers Fage 2% plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup 2% milk
- 1 lb. clamshell strawberries, rinsed and tops removed
- 1 dry pint blueberries, rinsed
- 2-4 tsp. ground flax seed
- water (as little needed to make the blender function)
- Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy.*
*These have a thicker consistency than my usual smoothies. I popped a few ice cubes into the bottle before I headed off to the gym each morning. Three ice cubes proved to keep the smoothie well-chilled and melt just enough to thin it out to the perfect creaminess.
Drinking a smoothie in the locker room still seemed kind of gross. For this reason, I felt rushed, like I had to gulp the thing down before A) anyone saw me eating in the locker room and B) rogue globs of smoothie launched onto my nice work clothes.
I managed to avoid getting smoothie on my clothing, but I didn’t like worrying about it the whole time.
Hunger did arrive mid-morning as I expected, and I ate again, which I planned for. But I was hoping that this better start to my day would improve my ability to make good choices (and stay in tune with my hunger) for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, this didn’t prove to be the case…
One could posit that the post-workout smoothies were even detrimental to my eating habits for the rest of the day, as exemplified by my overeating of brownies mentioned in Experiment #1.
It was really nice to eat sooner, though. I enjoyed not being ravenous when I walked into my office, and breakfast therefore wasn’t my #1 priority of the workday.
Conducting two experiments concurrently obviously gave me two variables, so we can all agree that it wasn’t the most scientific approach. But it was fun to try something new and see how things affected me. Results are inconclusive due to the scientist’s lack of scientific-ness.
Further experimentation and data required. Maybe I’ll try something different for next week.
What do you think?
- What do you eat before an early morning workout?
- Do you always eat within the 30-minute window following exercise?