We all know that warming up and cooling down are essential for a good workout experience, but what about the things you do before hitting the gym? From eating right to stretching, those few minutes before you power on the treadmill can help you make the most out of your workout. Whether you’re a varsity athlete or a recreational gym girl, keep these tips in mind for the best workout you can have!
1 hour before your workout: Eat right!
Should you eat before working out, or just not eat at all? Should you scarf down a meal or just settle for a small snack? Among the biggest dilemmas we face before working out is the question of how much, when and what we should eat. While your food intake ultimately depends on your own body’s needs and the intensity of your workout routine, make sure you get enough sustenance prior to your workout.
“Never work out on an empty stomach, you won’t have enough energy and you’ll most likely feel sick,” says Jessica John, head personal trainer at the University of Chicago. “About an hour or so before you work out, eat a snack or a small meal, especially one that’s got carbohydrates and protein.”
Carbohydrates, whether simple or complex, give you the energy you need to last through your workout. John suggests stocking up on fruits and grains, both of which are good sources of carbohydrates, as they’re light and provide you with energy. Couple this with protein-rich foods, which help build muscle while keeping you full, and you’re well on your way to a great workout!
“What I have found works for me before any kind of workout is having Greek yogurt,” says Kelsey Damassa, a 4-time half-marathon and Boston marathon runner and recent grad of Boston College. “If I don’t have Greek yogurt lying around, some other good pre-workout snacks are bananas with one teaspoon of peanut butter, toast with peanut butter, or a protein bar.”
30 minutes before your workout: Hydrate!
Drinking enough water, as we all know, is essential to maintaining good health during a workout. But instead of replenishing as you go, make a point of hydrating before your workout as well!
Generally, one glass of water prior is enough to get you started. While you want to make sure you’re well-hydrated, you also want to make sure that you don’t over-drink, which can leave you feeling bloated. Depending on the intensity of your workout, you may want to adjust the amount of water you take in before diving into any physical activity, so long as you can strike a balance between too little and too much liquid.
For those of you looking for a little more flavor for your pre-workout beverages, there are also options for you! While water serves as a staple for any workout, it doesn’t hurt to try new recipes that give you the same hydration factor, but with a little more oomph.
“Hydrating is all about getting those electrolytes, and there’s definitely a few healthy ways to go about this,” says John. “Smoothies with vegetables are great. There are tons of recipes you can check out that will fill you up and give you enough electrolytes for your workout.”
But, John cautions, try to stay clear of energy drinks like Gatorade and Powerade. They may offer the necessary electrolytes for you to stay hydrated, but they also come with their own pitfalls.
“What a lot of people don’t notice with energy drinks is that they’ve got so many calories. This means that you won’t be burning as many calories as you would like to and, in fact, you’re actually going to end up with an excess of unburned calories in your body.”
15 minutes before your workout: Get dressed!
No matter how intense your workout routine is, never neglect to wear proper workout attire for your activities. Before you step out the door, make sure you’ve selected workout gear that is comfortable and sensitive to your body’s needs!
Breathable shirts and shorts are good choices, along with tanks and sports bras that give enough support. Stretchy materials also allow for movement and breathability, letting you push and extend your muscles enough to fully exercise.
“Something else that you may want to look into is moisture wicking shirts,” adds John. “Cotton shirts really trap sweat, which doesn’t allow you to cool down as much, but with wick shirts you can really get that cooling effect.”
Most sportswear brands carry moisture wicking shirts, which usually cost around $20-$60. If you’re a fan of moisture wicking fabric, it’s also possible to buy tanks, shorts, and jackets within the same price range, all of which allow your body to breathe and cool down as much as you need it to.
But comfort aside, the right selection of workout attire can also prevent injuries from popping up in the long-run. For instance, a good pair of shoes can save your heels and knees from sustained injury. So when you next shop for workout attire, it doesn’t hurt to research products you’re interested in or, if you’re in the store, don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Though it’s easy to dress for a workout, it’s still worth the time to think about what clothes will give you the most moving and breathing space. You may not need to have a closet-full collection of yoga pants and running tanks, but ensuring that you have suitable options for every routine you plan will let you feel your best going through it!
10 minutes before your workout: Stretch out!
You probably incorporate some stretches into your warm-ups and cool-downs, but having a set stretching routine is essential for making sure that your muscles are well-prepared for the task at hand. To prevent any serious injuries, put in a solid few minutes, even before you warm up, dedicated solely to stretching out.
Stretching relaxes your muscles, leaving you much more able to move around as opposed to having tight muscles, which restrict movement. What’s more, stretching before a workout also decreases your chances of pulling or, worse, tearing a muscle, a risk that increases the tighter your muscles are.
“I always spend five minutes stretching before I run, mainly focusing on my legs and torso,” says Kelsey. “[So think] quad stretches, ankle rolls, hip openers, and torso twists.”
Depending on your workout, be sure to concentrate on other parts of your body as well. Back, side, and shoulder stretches will also help reduce the chance of injury while you work out. But like any physical warm-up, make sure you don’t push yourself too hard! Overstretching also leaves your muscles at risk of injury so stretch out, but be gentle.
2-3 minutes before your workout: Get in “The Zone”!
Physical preparation for a workout may be important, but having the right mentality before hitting the gym will help just as much in letting you get the most out of your workout. In order to achieve the intensity level you want, take some time to motivate and inspire yourself prior to exercising.
Kelsey suggests going through your playlist and selecting one “pump up” song for the occasion that will get you into the mindset of working out. While the song choice is completely in your hands, try listening to something upbeat and fast rather than a slower song, which could mellow you out. Not sure which song to pick? Look around fitness websites like FitSugar where you can find music suggestions along with workout tips.
But most of all, make sure to also take the time to evaluate your workout objectives. Before the workout even begins, set your own personal goals and consider how you’re going to achieve them. Visualize your routine in your head, go through the motions, and mentally tell yourself how you will go about your workout. That way, you’ll be in the right mindset by the time you begin.
Being well-prepared before any sort of physical activity can really help you settle in to your workout, leaving you satisfied long after you’ve finished your cool-down. The right food, drink, gear, muscle preparation and mentality will let you maximize the intensity of your workout while still remaining comfortable. Keep these tips in mind, prepare well and we guarantee you’ll get the most out of your next trip to the gym!