If you’re picking up weights for a strength training session, you’re using your body in a different way than when you’re getting ready for a cardio workout, such as HIIT or cycling. Both cardio and resistance training are beneficial for a balanced fitness regimen, so including both is the best way to maximize training and results.
Cardio emphasizes blasting fat and torching calories while you’re working out, as opposed to strength training's tendency to build muscular strength and mass and raise your resting metabolism to increase calorie burn when outside of the gym too.
The differences in the intensity of the workout may also affect your pre- and post-workout snacking habits. When it comes to pre-workout fuel, there is one food that several dietitians and trainers agree on.
Why You Should Eat Food Before Every Workout
You might think you don’t need the extra calories to strength train because there’s less cardio — instead hitting you with high-intensity work that gets you out of breath and sweaty fast — but having food before a strength training session will benefit your body during the workout (and after).
You are still taxing your muscles, just in a different way. Eating something will slow the depletion of glycogen stores as you workout. When you’re strength training, the muscles use their glycogen stores for fuel. When you’re finished with the workout, you’ll find that the muscles are low in both glycogen and protein, and therefore must be replenished to repair and strengthen those weakened muscles.
“This means that the muscles that are mostly depleted of glycogen and protein are being broken down, making it important to be properly fueled before completing a workout,” Trista Best, RD, says.
When choosing the right pre-session snack, you’re better off going with something containing carbs.
“Consuming carbohydrates also helps create lipids in the body, which provide energy for repletion after exercise rather than using food sources like body fats,” Jamie Hickey, certified trainer and registered dietitian, says.
The Best Pre-Workout Food to Grab Is ... Oats.
“I recommend oatmeal, bran cereal, wheat toast, or any kind of starch for about 30–60 minutes before strength training,” Hickey says.
While you can substitute for whole wheat or whole grain (as well as other starchy grains with moderate fiber like quinoa or brown rice), oats seem to be the experts’ top pick. And we can’t argue — Eating these snacks 30–60 minutes before your session is a good time frame for the amino acids found in protein to reach the muscles and provide fuel, and for the carbs to have digested smoothly so that you can avoid any stomach woes mid-workout.
If you’re going with the 30-minute option, chose something with fast-acting carbs like a quick oat bar or a slice of whole grain toast with a little bit of nut butter on top. And if you’ve got the full hour, you can likely have something a bit heavier, such as a smoothie with oats blended in, a bowl of oatmeal with some milk, or an unsweetened Greek yogurt bowl with oats as a topper.