Best Foods to Eat Before Your Workout

Need a snack stat? These prerun foods and drinks are ready when you areNeed a snack stat? These prerun foods and drinks are ready when you areSometimes your grumbling stomach keeps you from completing your workout as planned. If workout time is approaching before it's time for another meal, try these best snacking practices. "The right snack can prevent premature fatigue on a run and keep blood-sugar levels steady, thwarting cranky moods that might cause you to peter out early," says sports dietitian Jan Dowell, M.S., R.D. She recommends eating up to 150 calories if you're hitting the gym within 15 to 30 minutes and as much as 300 calories if you have an hour or more to digest. Even if you're trying to lose weight, snacking on something can keep you on the right track. These options contain carbohydrates for quick energy, a bit of protein to hold off hunger, and some electrolytes to keep your fluid levels balanced (it's best to avoid too much fat and fiber, which take longer to digest and can spell GI trouble). Best of all, these snacks take little or no prep, so you can grab a bite and go.

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WORKING OUT IN 15-30 MINUTES
Oranges
Easy to stash, slow to spoil, and hard to bruise, oranges quench your thirst while providing more than 100 percent of your daily need for vitamin C. "This vitamin helps prevent muscle injuries and replaces collagen in muscle fibers that break down during exercise," says sports dietitian Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat! Sports Nutrition. One orange has just 62 calories--enough to quiet a growling stomach before a short workout without going overboard.

Snack Right: Stick with whole fruit--orange juice is a very concentrated source of sugar, supplying too many carbs at once, and drinking a lot of it may upset your stomach during exercise.

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Applesauce or Pudding
These snacks are easy to digest and won't cause cramping issues during your workout. Both options also provide a hit of carbohydrates with little or no fiber. A sweet bonus? One pudding cup supplies 10 percent of your daily need for calcium. Stick with varieties with 1.5 grams of fat or fewer.

Snack Right: Choose applesauce without added sugar--it has nearly half the calories of traditional.

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WORKING OUT IN 30-60 MINUTES
Cereal

Skip on the high fiber breakfast blends as they may cause mid-workout GI issues. "Muscles can convert simple carbs into energy faster than fiber-rich foods," says sports nutritionist Barbara Lewin, R.D, who works with endurance athletes. Stick to cereals with fewer than two grams of fiber per serving, like Special K or Rice Krispies.

Snack Right: Eat it plain or pour in milk--your choice. Top with half a cup of sliced strawberries or bananas for an extra kick of carbs and vitamins.

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Dried Dates
The natural sugars in these little gems are a concentrated source of quick carbohydrates, says Dowell. They are also packed with potassium, which aids muscle function. Two dates contain 10 percent of your daily needs--the same as a small banana.

Snack Right:
Dried fruit can have up to three times the calories of fresh, so stick to a quarter cup serving. Don't like dates? Try dried apricots, mangoes, cherries, or--Dowell's favorite--blueberry-flavored dried cranberries.

Iced Coffee Drinks
A drive-thru option that won't bust your nutrition plans--Frappuccinos, iced caffe lattes and cold coffee beverages are good for hydration. The milk provides some protein, while the caffeine can improve your focus during exercise. A recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology also found that caffeine delays muscle fatigue during intense workouts.

Snack Right: Frappes can have around 100 calories--or 500. At Starbucks, order a tall (12-ounce) unsweetened coffee Frappuccino with fat-free milk for 160 calories. Skip the whipped cream.

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WORKING OUT IN 60-90 MINUTES
Hummus and Carrots

This protein-and-carb combination will help keep you satisfied during long runs or workouts. The sodium in hummus will make you thirsty for a few extra sips of H20. Carrots are rich in beta carotene, and according to a study review published in 2010 in the journal Nutrients, eating carotenoid-packed fruits and vegetables may help defend skin against sun damage--good news if you're exercising outdoors.

Snack Right: Pick up handy single-serve cups, like Sabra Hummus Singles. A few whole-grain crackers or a wheat pita are other smart dunkables.

Instant Oatmeal
A good source of whole grains, "oatmeal is great for longer runs because it sticks to your ribs without feeling heavy," Dowell says. The instant variety is convenient when you can't make it from scratch; plus, one pack supplies 40 percent of your daily need for iron.

Snack Right: Plain instant oatmeal is the best choice, but it's also okay to go with sweetened varieties when you're clocking longer workouts--the extra sugar will provide quickly absorbed fuel.

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Sweet Potatoes
High in carbs, sweet spuds provide long-lasting energy for your workout, says Lewin. One has 230 percent of your daily need for vitamin A, key for a strong immune system. The skin contains soluble fiber, which, according to a study in Obesity, can help reduce belly fat when paired with exercise. But if you eat it, give yourself an hour or more to digest before exercising.

Snack Right: Microwave a small sweet potato at home, wrap it up, and take to work. Reheat in a microwave. "It's also just as tasty cold," Lewin says.

EAT BETTER TIP: Can't stomach solid food before the workout? Have eight to 16 ounces of sports drink. The quick carbs provide energy without weighing you down.

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TELL US: What's your pre-workout routine?

--By Jessica Girdwain, from the May 2012 issue of Runner's World

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