I’ve created workout programs and meal plans for a lot of people living with diabetes and it often comes as a surprise to them when I introduce meals around workouts. I will get questions like:
- If I’m trying to lose fat, why should I eat before my workout?
- Won’t eating before a workout make my blood sugars go high/low?
- Won’t a full belly make my workout uncomfortable?
These are all good questions, so I want to address them in this post to explain why proper nutrition around workouts is essential.
Firstly, though, I want to stress the importance of eating enough in general, no matter what your health and fitness goals are. Even if you are trying to slim down, getting enough healthy calories is essential, and not eating enough can actually make it more difficult to lose weight.
Why and when to eat a pre-workout meal
I always recommend eating a small serving of protein and low glycemic carbs as a pre-workout meal before resistance training, simply to make sure you have enough energy to complete the session and give it your best.
The goal of resistance training is to strengthen your muscles, and protein and carbs play an important role in rebuilding and enlarging the muscle fibers that you used in your workout. The increased muscle mass will amp up your metabolism, improve your insulin sensitivity, and ultimately support fat loss.
If you don’t want to add extra calories to your daily meal plan, simply schedule your day so you have one of your regular meals shortly before your workout.
When it comes to cardio, my general rule is that you shouldn’t have to “carb up” for a cardio session of 60 minutes or less. You don’t need the energy if you aren’t trying to build muscle mass. However, there will be situations where you are either hungry or, if you are on insulin, have too much insulin on board (IOB) to do cardio safely. In those situations, I suggest you eat just enough carbs to get you through your workout without your blood sugar dropping too low.
If you want to learn more about how to manage insulin and food around cardio workouts, please read this great article by triathlete champion and diabetes coach Cliff Scherb.
This question is also 100% legit and relevant, because who wants to jump around with a belly full of food?
Well, when I talk about a pre-workout meal, I’m not talking about sitting down for a full turkey dinner and then running to the gym. I usually recommend that you consume a small meal about an hour before your workout. Of course, if it ends up being a meal to counteract too much IOB, the meal would be right before you start your workout.
That covers timing, but the other component is the size of the meal. We all have different ideas of what a “big” meal is, but I’ve found that for most people having about 20-30 g of protein and 15-20 g of carbs won’t cause discomfort.
Some of my favorite pre-workout meals are:
- 1 serving of Cottage Cheese Pancakes (25 g protein and 19 g carbs)
- 3 Turkey Meatballs (31g protein and 12 g carbs)
- 2 Pumpkin Raspberry Muffins (24 g protein and 12 g carbs)
The main takeaway from this post should be that eating around workouts is completely ok and even encouraged. And it’s encouraged even if the end goal is fat loss. The key is to be structured and plan ahead, which will allow you to optimize your workouts and manage both your calorie budget and blood sugars.
And that’s how you create a win-win situation when it comes to food and workouts.