Honor your commitment by optimizing your potential

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, is a Certified Health Coach and a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

By this point in the New Year, many individuals are holding true to their resolutions of getting fit.  It is exciting for me to look around the gym and see so many new faces mingling with our current members.  Dedication seems to be soaring, as is evidenced by Group Exercise class attendance as well as the increasing demand for Personal Training.

As a trainer, I often find myself engaging in conversations with clients regarding what I refer to as “the success triad”.  To truly maximize the chances of success in a fitness endeavor, one needs to incorporate 3 courses of action: cardiovascular exercise, resistance-training, and an appropriate meal plan.   For many of our members, the first 2 come much more easily than the 3rd. Perhaps this dilemma is due to the fact that the available fitness literature is filled with controversy regarding this topic.  The most acutely divided of these is whether it is advisable to eat prior to a workout, or exercise on an empty stomach.  It has been my experience that the former is much more effective, and this position has been well-substantiated and documented.  In fact, many professionals will say (myself included) that one of the most important meals of the day is the pre-workout meal.

A pre-workout meal is a whole- food meal that is consumed within 3 hours of your workout. Whether your goal is to lose fat or build muscle, having an understanding of the nutritional/caloric implications of your pre -workout food choices can prove to be just as valuable as the desire to engage in exercise. The foods we typically enjoy can be categorized into 4 groups: fats, protein, simple carbohydrates, and complex carbohydrates.  Among other aspects, the digestion rate of these foods varies greatly. In general, dietary fat takes requires 6-8 hours to digest, protein needs 3-4 hours, and carbs may be digested in just 2-3 hours (depending on the source).  The good news is that this meal does not need to be “fully” digested in order to fill the energy demands of an upcoming workout. So, what is best to choose when planning this meal?  It is good to keep in mind some basic science when grocery-shopping and cooking.

Our bodies store energy in the form of glycogen. Filling up your glycogen with stores with complex, slow-burning carbohydrates prior to hitting the gym can help significantly improve energy levels during a workout. A diet which is very low in carbohydrates may lead you into a very difficult situation while trying to exercise because glycogen stores are low. 

Lean proteins such as poultry, fish and eggs contain branched chain amino acids (BCAA), which can help increase the rate of protein synthesis and decrease protein breakdown during and after a workout. Since proteins are comprised of amino acids, which ultimately become building blocks for lean muscle tissue, this is a key element in a pre-workout meal.  Owing to their longer digestion rate, the pre-workout meal should be relatively low in fats.  It is best to enjoy foods such as nuts, nut butters, and avocado at other times during your day.

Here are some menu ideas to pull all of this information together into a user-friendly format:

 Oatmeal with Whey Protein Mixed In (great if you have a sensitive stomach) 

 2 Whole Eggs, 2 Egg Whites, Peppers, Onions, Low fat Cheese, slice of whole-grain toast 

 Turkey Wrap (whole-grain tortilla) with veggies 

 6 Ounces Grilled Chicken with a small baked sweet potato and steamed asparagus 

At this point, I will briefly address the flaw in a plan to exercise on an empty stomach. Some studies suggest that working out in this manner means fat is burned to provide energy. In reality, this situation sets one up for it a reduced workout time and intensity, causing muscle loss, lowering metabolism and hindering fitness. “Your body doesn’t want to use its fat reserves,” says fitness expert Jenn Zerling, MS, CPT, author of Breaking the Chains of Obesity: 107 Tools. “It wants to use what’s readily accessible. Your body can actually start breaking down sugars from the muscle tissue, and then your liver starts producing sugar. That whole misnomer of, ‘We burn fat as the next-best resource’? It’s not true.” Instead of building muscle during your workout, you may actually be sacrificing muscle in order to produce energy.  This exacerbates the risk of going into a hypoglycemic episode — where blood sugar falls — and passing out.

Now that you have firmly established your new fitness regimen, give yourself the bonus of proper nutrition. I am sure you will see – and feel — the positive payoff!