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  • Foto van schrijverKevin Clement

What should I eat before working out?

Before training, many of us eat a bread roll or a banana so that we don't suddenly run out of energy. But do we really need to eat something before training to be able to perform athletically?

Jan van Berkel is often asked: "What should I eat before a workout?". My first reaction to this frequently asked question is usually a counter-question, "Why do you need to eat before working out?" Whether a fitness enthusiast, amateur athlete, or professional athlete, the common thinking is that it is mandatory that we eat high-energy foods before any form of exercise.

Advertisements from sports drink manufacturers have taught us that we are more successful with lots of sugar during sports. At competitions such as marathons, we can see runners regularly reaching for their energy gels.

Professional athlete Jan van Berkel also knows this: "I ate 8 times a day to make sure I got enough carbohydrates. Spaghetti and energy gels were the order of the day".

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But the Ironman athlete soon noticed that something wasn't right: "I always had severe drops in performance toward the end of the race. That's why I started looking for ways to optimize."

He found this in a new coach, who showed him that it is possible to perform without all the sugar. By changing his diet to fewer carbohydrates and more fat, Jan van Berkel improved his marathon time by a full 10 minutes.

This was possible because he taught his body what is known as metabolic flexibility. This term refers to the ability to use both carbohydrates and fat as energy sources.

Due to the fact that nowadays we always have access to food and regularly supply our body with energy, even though all the stores have been full for a long time, our body does not have the possibility to use the energy that is already available.

By taking longer breaks between meals, or eating more fat and protein, we can easily achieve very high physical performance without additional food intake.

By teaching his metabolism to be more flexible, Jan van Berkel won the Ironman in Zurich twice in a row and set a new Swiss record at Ironman distance. His daily diet includes many high-fat foods such as eggs, cheese, nuts, oils, and butter. He avoids less good sources of fat such as margarine. He still eats carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes, berries, or beans, but much less.

He eats a maximum of 120 grams of carbohydrates a day. "Carbohydrates are a super gasoline for the human body, which I also eat during competitions."

For him, however, it is no longer conceivable to constantly consume carbohydrates and high-sugar drinks, as he used to do.

Today, he can perform at peak levels even in the morning on an empty stomach, something he couldn't imagine before. "And probably the change in diet has also saved me from type 2 diabetes," adds Jan.

Conclusion: As long as we're not really hungry, we probably don't need to worry about not having enough energy during training. Instead, we'd rather not eat anything before the workout to properly empty our existing energy stores and thus become even more efficient.

And if you do need a little pre-workout pick-me-up, try half an apple and some peanut butter.

Do you also want to reach your optimal weight, lose excess fat, and/or simply have more energy?

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Kevin Clement, Founder Eat better, not perfect.

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