What to Eat Before a Workout | Based on Ayurveda
what to eat before a workout
based on ayurveda
What you eat before your workout can really affect how you feel. Trust me, it’s not fun feeling nauseous while you’re doing heavy squats, or feeling like you are going to pass out during an intense cardio session because you didn’t enough enough food. Yes, exercise is one way to burn calories, but it’s so important to remember that your body needs calories to perform exercise to begin with. Calories are really just units of energy, which give your muscles the fuel to lift those heavy weights and carry you through that long run.
Food is fuel.
How the body gets energy from food
Your body taps into different energy stores, depending on the duration and intensity of the exercise you are doing.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy during exercise, providing your muscles with glycogen. As you deplete your glycogen stores, it becomes super hard to push past that wall you hit during a run, or keeping the intensity up during a heavy weight lifting sesh.
Fats are the main source of energy for lighter workouts, such as low intensity walking, swimming, or biking. For more intense forms of exercise, your body will first tap into the carbs, but if your glycogen stores are low, the body will use fat as fuel.
Protein is used as a source of energy if glycogen stores are “empty”, or if your calories are too low. However, the main purpose of protein is for recovery, and to rebuild the muscle tissue that is torn down during exercise (so that you become stronger and your muscles get bigger). While protein isn’t really necessary for a pre-workout meal, you can still include it, since the body will take a few hours to fully digest some meals (especially higher fat meals).
Integrating Ayurveda with Pre-Workout Nutrition
Ayurveda is based upon the three subtle energies, known as the doshas: Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Each dosha is a unique mind-body type that influences physical characteristics, mental states, personalities, natural tendencies, and various attributes. Your lifestyle, including the food you eat and the way you exercise, affects your dosha balance.
Ultimately, Ayurveda is all about maintaining balance of your dosha constitution, keeping both your mind and body in harmony and alignment.
One of the most fundamental aspects of the Ayurvedic Diet is digestion. Proper digestion allows the body to soak up all of the vitamins and minerals of the foods we eat, helping us feel our absolute best. And before you hit an intense workout, you definitely want to be feeling light, well energized, and strong.
Pre-workout meals for different types of exercise
Vata embodies the energy of movement. Types of exercise associated with the Vata dosha include running, spinning, circuit training, and pretty much any other form of exercise that keeps your heart rate high and sweat dripping. Vata workouts burn the most amount of calories, since the body is expending the most amount of energy. If the body doesn’t have enough energy to keep going, it will reach a point of exhaustion and lose endurance.
To keep your body fueled up for a Vata kind of workout, you need to consume a carb heavy, calorie dense meal beforehand. I would also recommend including some fat into your pre-workout meal, to give your body some extra fuel. Out of all of the macronutrients, fat is the most calorie dense and therefore takes the longest to digest. This is especially important because it’s easy to lose endurance in Vata exercise.
I would recommend consuming primarily Sattvic foods (unprocessed foods, whole grains, fresh fruits), but some Rajasic foods (more processed, energizing foods, higher glycemic carbs) are okay too. Your body needs carbs and calories, and it needs that fuel immediately. So if you are dying to have that banana nut muffin, now is your chance.
Recommended pre-workout meals:
Two slices of toast with one tablespoon of nut butter, topped with banana slices
Protein shake with banana, dates, 1 tablespoon of nut butter, almond milk, and 1 scoop of protein powder
Bagel with 1 tablespoon of nut butter and jam OR vegan butter or cream cheese
The primary function of Pitta is transformation. It’s really no coincidence that Pitta type workouts like bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and Crossfit, quite literally transform and reshape the body with adding muscle. During a heavy weight lifting sesh, your muscles need carbs in the form of glycogen to lift that shit up. It’s also super important to get enough protein throughout your day, to aid in muscle recovery and muscle protein synthesis. While weight training sessions can be intense, they don’t quite burn as many calories as a long distance run. (Your body still needs fuel though!)
To keep your muscles working, carbs are sooo important. I would also recommend adding some protein into your pre-workout meal too, to help you get sufficient protein throughout the day, and to keep protein synthesis stable (side note: you should aim for ~1g of protein per lb of bodyweight).
While spicy, hot, salty foods can elevate your inner Pitta, it’s typically not recommended to eat these foods before a workout. They can sometimes cause indigestion, cramping, or heartburn, which is totally what you don’t want to happen during exercise! However, a small amount of added salt can sometimes be beneficial before a weight training session. Increasing your sodium intake can drive more fluid into your blood system, resulting in better muscle pumps. If you do eat a saltier pre-workout meal, just make sure you are well hydrated throughout your workout and consume low sodium foods for the rest of your day.
Recommended pre-workout meals:
Baked sweet potato, drizzled with half a tablespoon of nut butter, and a few pinches of salt. Protein shake with ½-1 scoop of protein powder
Sautéed tofu or tempeh in soy sauce + brown rice
Tofu “egg” scramble with side of oatmeal (optional: add a few pinches of salt to each)
Kapha is the energy of growth and regeneration. The elements associated with Kapha are Earth and Water, supporting calmness of the body and mind. Kapha kind of workouts are really just those slow, steady, low intensity “workouts”. This includes low to moderate paced walking, hiking, biking (and by biking, I mean just cruisin’), swimming, and more restorative yoga flows. Since your heart rate isn’t really becoming too elevated, and your muscles aren’t exactly working super hard… your body doesn’t need too many extra calories.
A pre-”workout” meal that is higher in fat can be most useful for sustaining the body through low intensity exercise. However, fat is the most calorie dense out of the three macronutrients, with 1 gram equating to 9 calories. So, it’s important to be cognizant of portion sizes so you don’t go overboard with calories.
Recommended pre-workout meals:
SMALL handful of unsalted nuts (or 1 tablespoon of nut butter if you are the type who likes to eat right outta the jar)
Half an avocado
Mixed vegetable stir fry with ½ tablespoon of olive oil
When should you eat?
Honestly, meal timing really doesn’t matter too much. And it really depends on what time of day you are working out, the food you ate earlier in the day (or even the night before), how much glycogen is already in your body, and various other factors.
But for a general rule of thumb, I would say eating your pre-workout meal 1 hour to 45 minutes prior to exercise gives your body sufficient time to digest your food.
As long as your pre-workout meal is well digested, and you feel physically and mentally good, you’re ready to get moving!
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