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Gassing Up: Pre-Workout Fueling

When you think about fueling up for a workout, do you have a pre-plan for what to eat beforehand? What I mean by a pre-plan is very straightforward and consists of two parts. The first part, which occurs two to three hours before your workout, is consuming a normal meal. The second part, which should happen 30-45 minutes prior to your workout, is the fueling-up meal and should not make your stomach feel full, but is designed to give you the energy to get you through your workout.

The first component of the fueling-up meal is consuming low-glycemic carbohydrates, such as one cup of oatmeal, one cup of rice, or half a cup of oatmeal or rice and an apple. Low-glycemic carbohydrates are released slowly, providing a steady supply of energy for a workout. High-glycemic carbohydrates rapidly increase insulin levels in an attempt to stabilize blood sugar, but then just as rapidly drop sugar levels, causing a rush of energy followed by a feeling of being tired and/or fatigued.

The second component of fueling up is consuming 20-40 grams of a combination of whey and casein proteins. Whey protein is digested quickly, making it rapidly available to the muscles, whereas casein is absorbed slower, providing a steady stream of protein. Protein keeps muscles in an anabolic state, or basically helps keep muscle tissue from breaking down as fast during a workout. Mixing in 20 grams of whey with one cup of skim milk, which contains a combination of both proteins, is one option. Another is to buy whey, casein, or a combination protein powder, such as Muscle Milk, which can be mixed in water or milk. I prefer to mix 25 grams of whey protein, one cup of oatmeal, one cup of skim milk, and additional water to taste. Another option is energy bars. Though many of them contain high-glycemic sugars and fat for taste, just like pre-workout powders and drinks, they work well and are easy to carry.

The above is a good starting point for a workout under two hours. If your workout or training is going to last longer than two hours, you may want to increase the amount of low-glycemic carbohydrates when fueling up or consider consuming another pre-workout meal during your workout or training. Next month, we will look at “Topping Off” or post-workout refueling.

SCOTT TOMEK MA, EMT-P has been a paramedic for 25 years with 23 of those at Lakeview Hospital EMS in Stillwater, MN. He is a faculty member with the Century College Paramedic Program and wrote the curriculum for and served as the interim director of their public safety degree program. He is a frequent contributor to EMS Magazine, a frequent presenter at EMS conferences in the Midwest and an educational consultant to fire and EMS services. He can be reached at