Pre-Workout Prep – Y’all ready for this?

I will never forget the first and only time I’ve ever thrown up and passed out due to exercise because it was such a strange and random experience.  I was in the 3rd year of my Kinesiology degree in Calgary.  At this stage in my school I was back at Mount Royal College completing the Athletic Therapy program for my major.  In our “Clinical Rehabilitation” class we were studying various cardio programs that could be implemented for people who wanted to maintain their fitness while rehabilitating their injuries.

As a little background, this year was probably the most stressful of my university days due to the demanding curriculum and practicum commitments.  Classes, studying, clinical hours and working with varsity teams consumed days, evenings and weekends.  Needless to say, my personal health was not a top priority but I still managed to make time for a few workouts here and there…this was definitely a year of maintenance in the health and fitness department!

Back to class, 8am sharp we met at the gym with our lab partners (yes, in Kinesiology many of our “labs” were in the gym) ready to take each other through the paces.  On the docket that day were sprints on the stationary bike.  We were learning to challenge our anaerobic systems so the drill was short, only 10 minutes-ish, but during that 10 minutes we completed 10sec all-out sprints with 30sec recovery periods.  Now you have to understand, in a class full of individuals who love physical activity, almost every activity is an unspoken competition.  I think this is particularly true among girls… “Ohhhh, I think I’m only going to go about 80% today”  HAH. Fooled you!!! I sprinted my brains out for this 10 minute “lab” exercise.  Anyhow, the drill wasn’t so bad but about 15 minutes afterward I suddenly felt a wave of nausea come over me.  I cool-ly, “I’m feeling great” made my way over to the bathroom where the bagel I consumed about 30 minutes prior made a reappearance.  Interestingly enough, after this I felt completely fine.  First time that ever happened to me, I swear.  But I felt fine after so I carried on, business as usual!

The second half of the class was in the exercise studio where we stood in a group watching our prof give instructions.  Suddenly I started seeing stars and felt wobbly so I just put my hand on the shoulder of a friend standing next to me when all of a sudden BAM.. lights out!  I don’t think I was out for long and lucky for me the only thing truly wounded was my pride 🙂

tired runner

At the time I’m thinking what the heck??? This never happens to me and it felt so random!  But here’s the thing, was it really random? Could it have been prevented?

Enter the REAL physiology lesson of the day – fuel your workouts! Today’s lesson specifically dives into the details of why your body needs this fuel, preceded by a clear example of what can happen if you don’t give your body what it needs to exercise efficiently!  Here are a few reasons why my body reacted the way it did that day:

1) Insufficient time between eating and exercising:

I chose a high fiber bagel that morning and scarfed it down 30 minutes before rushing to class.  Though they are not a bad choice, high fiber foods are not ideal pre-workout (less than 60 minutes prior to exercise) snacks because your body takes a long time to digest them.  They’re going to sit in your stomach for longer than say, a piece of fruit or a glass of juice, which are considered simple carbohydrates and very easy to digest.   My tummy was hard at work trying to process the carbohydrates in that bagel, but it just didn’t have enough time!  By the time I had hopped on the bike to start my sprints there was a sudden demand for blood flow to my muscles so they could receive the nutrients they needed to perform, taking away from the blood flow sent to help with digestion.  So where did this leave my bagel? Lonely and half-digested in the pit of my stomach.  Post-workout my body was in recovery mode, working hard to clear the lactate and hydrogen that were causing an acidic state in my body.  Digesting food was no longer at the top of my body’s priority list – no energy to digest the bagel meant my body needed to get rid of it ASAP!

2) Low blood sugar:

By the time you wake up in the morning, your body has been fasting for as long as you’ve been sleeping – for most people that’s at least 6-8 hours.  To say your energy stores are depleted would be an understatement.  My blood sugars were low when I arrived to class as my digestive system was still working hard at getting the energy from my bagel into my blood stream.  The main fuel source for short-burst anaerobic exercise is carbohydrate, something my body was severly lacking prior to that workout.  So I was starting my workout running on empty, a problem in itself that aggravated another issue:

3) High cortisol levels:

Cortisol is a hormone released when your body is under stress (physical or emotional) and too much of this stress causes your body to break down amino acids (protein!) and convert them to carbohydrate, it’s a catabolic hormone.  Under the stress of school and more acutely, the stress of the sprinting, my cortisol levels were likely rampant.  The result? Cortisol was breaking down the protein in my muscles, desperate to synthesize fuel to restore the catabolic state I had suddenly created.  I had my body running at full steam doing everything it could to bring me back to a resting state but I just didn’t have enough in me, sending me crashing, literally!

This is a bit of an extreme case, but every now and again we find ourselves in varying levels of this situation!  Maybe you’re not throwing up or passing out per se, but your body might be working overtime, depleting your energy stores and sending you into survival mode. A stressful week at work or at home, combined with lack of sleep, sends you to the gym to give ‘er guns in hopes of reducing that stress.  If your body is improperly fueled and run down like mine was, you’re going to send it crashing.  This is why pre-workout nutrition, proper rest and stress management are so important not only to our general health, but also to achieving the results we’re hoping for when we exercise!

Here are your take-aways to FEEL your BEST in any workout:

1) Rest up!  Especially the night before a workout you know is going to be pushing your upper limits.

2) Fuel up! Ensure you have something to eat prior to working out.  If you’re working out early in the morning with little time between eating and exercise, choose simple carbohydrates like fruit, blended juices or smoothies. These foods are easy for your body to digest quickly and will provide you with the fuel you need. If you are working out later during the day, aim for a pre-workout meal 2-3 hours before working out including a serving of veggies, a serving of protein, a serving of carbohydrate and a small serving of healthy fat.

3) Lighten up! Make time for rest and rejuvenation throughout the day, this is quiet time for your body to slow down. It doesn’t have to be a long rest, even taking 5 minutes away from your desk, computer, cell phone, television, or whatever you’re doing can make an impact on your stress levels and cortisol release.  Think simple things like stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, read a few pages in a book, mediate, look out the window, anything that takes you into la-la land and away from your current situation.  You’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel going back to whatever you’re doing.

Here’s to a week of keeping your food down and staying vertical at the gym!!! 🙂





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