And the science that explains them.
What does your body really need to kick through that Zumba class? We asked health experts what to eat an hour before you hit the road (or pool, bike, or mat) for optimal results.
Healthy male subjects who drank beet juice as a supplement for 15 consecutive days showed increased endurance, according to a July 2015 study from the American Physiological Society. The juice’s natural nitrates dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow, bringing more oxygen to muscles, which eases the burden on the heart. Other foods with high nitrate concentration are celery, arugula, and spinach.
Organic Maple Syrup
Who knew your preferred pancake topping could also help your Crossfit workout? A tablespoon of maple syrup gives you a needed boost of carbs with an added bonus of 24 different antioxidants, helping protect your body from the wear and tear that come with exercise, says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees and the New York Rangers. Just make sure that you’re using real maple syrup. (Sorry, Mrs. Butterworth.)
The sugar in bananas enters the blood stream a little quicker than other fruits, Sass says, which means it fuels your fitness faster. It’s easy on the digestive system, too, and is a great source of potassium, reducing your chance of muscle cramps. It also replenishes your body with the electrolytes you lose from sweat.
Though you probably rely on your cup of Joe as an energy boost, your morning jolt can help you at the gym, too. Coffee improves endurance and strengthens your legwork, according to an American College of Sports Medicine study. You might even find yourself enjoying your workout more, a study published in the American Physiological Society says. Not a coffee drinker? Tea works, too.
Cutting carbs in hopes of shedding pounds? That’s not how it works. Your body can’t burn fat without the energy carbohydrates provide. Without them, you’ll quickly feel fatigued and break down your body’s protein deposits (aka muscle mass) to use as energy. Though it’s not your best choice for nutrients, this basic starch provides an inexpensive dose of carbohydrates without all the fiber of brown or wild rice, making it stomach-cramp free. Add honey, berries or peanut butter to make nutrient-dense balls and just a pinch of salt to balance electrolytes, Carwyn Sharp, Ph.D., the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s chief science officer, says.
An hour before you begin your workout, try yogurt for its high ratio of roughly three grams of protein for every carbohydrate, says Felicia Stoler, R.D., nutritionist and exercise physiologist and member of the American College of Sports Medicine. By the time you complete your reps, the protein will have been absorbed into the small intestine, helping you repair and build muscle.
You lose water many different ways when exercising, breathing heavily and sweating chief among them, so make sure you’re adequately hydrated before and after the workout. But don’t hydrate excessively, either. Drinking too much water can cause lightheadedness, nausea, and exercise-associated hyponatremia, a condition that causes the brain to swell, according to a recent study published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. We don’t know exactly what constitutes “too much,” so just drink when you’re thirsty rather than trying to hydrate preventively, experts say.