Going to the gym or hyping yourself up for a workout can be difficult on some days. At times like these, you might wish that you could turn to your favorite snack for a quick boost of endorphins and energy. Enter a bar of chocolate sitting in your gym bag. How bad can it be? After all, most energy bars are covered in chocolate anyway.
But eating chocolate before a workout will do more harm than good in the long run, according to health experts. While you may feel a burst of energy because of the sugar content in the chocolate, this is short-lived, per Livestrong. If you’re wondering why you’re suddenly feeling more tired during your workout, you could blame the chocolate bar you munched on a few minutes before starting your workout. How your insulin levels react to the different kinds of food you eat is what causes this tiredness, according to Melissa Prest, dietitian at the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois (via Prevention).
With chocolate, because the sugar content is so high, your insulin will also be working hard to try and bring your blood sugar levels down. What you will experience, invariably, is what most people might call a “sugar crash” — a drop in blood glucose levels which leads to a drop in energy, as explained by Sanford Health. So if chocolate is out of the question, what about dark chocolate? Some science might point toward it being more beneficial as a pre-workout snack.
Cocoa flavanol supplements might be better than dark chocolate
Dark chocolate has always been a health favorite over milk chocolate — mainly because of its rich concentration of plant chemicals called flavanols. Flavanols have been linked with heart health and anti-inflammation. They’re also known to reduce the risk of diabetes and stroke.
A 2016 study done on people of middle age with sedentary lifestyles found that consuming moderate amounts of dark chocolate had a positive effect on the amount of oxygen the body can use during exercise (also known as VO2 peak) and the output in terms of exercise.
But is dark chocolate really as healthy as you think – especially as a pre-workout snack? According to associate professor in sport science at Liverpool Hope University, Simon Marwood (per The Times), “It is preferable to take supplements over eating dark chocolate since potential beneficial effects of cocoa-flavanols occur during exercise when high doses are consumed — greater than 400mg flavanols — and because dark chocolate contains fat and sugar that may negate the beneficial potential of any bioactive constituents.” So what are some alternative pre-workout snacks you can turn to for a boost in mood and performance — without the negative side effects?
Think about balance and good carbs when you think of pre-workout food
Aiming for balance in a pre-workout snack is not a bad thing, according to most health experts. You’re looking for a nice combination of carbs, protein, and fats. After all, a pre-workout snack serves a lot of purposes in addition to giving you energy and boosting your mood. Registered dietician, Jill Corleone (via Verywell Fit) explains that “Eating before your workout keeps you focused and supports your post-workout recovery. Lack of energy, weak muscles, and poor training because you skipped your pre-workout fuel may increase your risk of injury.”
In addition to cocoa-flavored pre-workout supplements, there are a few other quick and easy snacks you can turn to.
Whole-grain crackers or toast, sweet potato, fruits, and even yogurt are the kind of carbs you want to be adding to your body, per Greatist. You want carbs that will digest slowly and not cause spikes and eventual lows in blood sugar levels. As for protein, nuts and seeds might make a good snack before workout. Even a banana, low-fat chocolate milk, or granola bar with considerable amount of protein might be tasty treats to carry with you for an end-of-the day workout session at the gym. Be mindful, however, of store-bought energy or granola bars since these can have a high sugar content. Remember, you want to avoid an energy slump mid-workout and fuel your body with the right nutrients.