You’re an active guy. You put in the work at the gym but just like a high-end sports car, your performance is only as good as the high-octane fuel you put in your body. The right foods can give you the strength you need to crush a cardio workout or maximize a strength-training session. And while fasted cardio has always been a diet trend among people hoping to lose weight, exercising on an empty stomach will leave you aching and out of steam before you’ve accomplished all the training you were aiming to do. According to registered dietician and author Manuel Villacorta, you want a combination of carbs and protein to provide a stream of energy during strenuous exercise and nutrients to repair muscles afterward. Here’s what to grab to give your body what it needs, without having to hit the health food store.
Peanut Butter on Whole Grain Toast
Whole grains are packed with fiber, providing slow-release, sustained energy to keep your motor humming throughout the duration of a workout. Smear it with a tablespoon of your favorite protein-packed peanut butter for the fuel your muscle tissue and nervous system needs. For an added bonus, add a dash of cinnamon. The spice has been linked to stabilizing blood sugar and improving brain function.
No time to prep a snack? Grab a handful (approx. ¼ cup) of dried fruit like berries, apples, apricots and pineapple. The less time you have before you exercise, the more carbs—and less protein—you should ingest. Protein intake too close to a workout may lead to cramps and indigestion. A handful of dried fruit provides simple carbs that offer instant energy, while any brightly-colored berries fight oxidative stress during a workout.
“They're nature’s PowerBar,” says Dr. Louise Burke of the Australian Institute of Sport and author of The Complete Guide to Food for Sports Performance. Bananas are packed with fast-acting carbohydrates that provide a rush of usable fuel for a workout. They're also loaded with potassium, which aids in maintaining muscle function. The body doesn't store potassium for very long, so a medium banana before you work out will help keep the nutrient's levels high.
Fruit and Yogurt
Fruit is high in good carbs and Greek yogurt is a great source of high-quality, low-fat protein. “People tend to skip fruit and other foods that are high in carbs, but protein doesn't break down fast enough to become fuel for a workout,” says Villacorta. “The carbs from fruit break down quickly and the protein is used later to prevent muscle damage.”
Chock full of fiber, the oats will gradually release carbohydrates into your bloodstream. You'll want this steady stream so you can keep your energy levels consistent during a workout. Oats also contain B vitamins, which help convert carbohydrates more efficiently into energy. Prepare one cup at least 30 minutes before you begin exercising and top with a little honey for sweetness (and an added boost of energy).
DIY Energy Balls
Making your own energy balls is easier than you think, says Jordan Mazur, R.D., coordinator of nutrition and team dietitian for the San Francisco 49ers. He suggests looking for no-bake recipes (like this one) that include nut butter, protein powder, oats, chia seeds, honey, and maybe some dark chocolate chips.