Ally Stacher, 25, is a professional cyclist with Team Specialized-lululemon—but she doesn’t let her intense training and travel schedule interfere with her personal pledge to eat “clean.” “When you eat right, you just feel better, your body really operates better, and you ‘glow’ inside and out,” she says.
The California-native grew up on fresh vegetables from her family’s garden and game meat. Now she makes most of her meals from scratch—including sauces, juices, smoothies and even her own power bars. “When I’m not riding, I’m cooking,” Stacher says.
Whether you’re a pro cyclist like Stacher, or a workout junkie who just wants to stay fit, fueling properly before exercise is crucial to performance. You may not need as much fuel as she would before a 50-mile workout, but these pre-workout meals and snacks (which Stacher eats on the regular), are RD-approved for the average athlete as well. Here, Stacher’s top five ways to fuel before a workout:
THE FUEL: Fresh fruit and vegetable juice
Stacher brings her juicer with her everywhere she travels—even to the team’s recent training camp in Portugal!—and she makes fresh juice for anyone on the team who contributes to the produce fund. “Fresh juices made from raw veggies can add healthy nutrients such as vitamins and antioxidants to an athlete’s diet,” says Sotiria Tzakas-Everett, RD, a sports nutritionist at the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Tzakas-Everett suggests blending combos of berries, kiwi, citrus fruits, leafy greens, and carrots. And don’t forget the beets! One study found that beetroot juice can increase endurance. One of Stacher’s fave mixes: beets, ginger, carrots, and red peppers. (Just be sure to consume juice well before your workout, since raw veggies take longer to digest, says Tzakas-Everett.)
THE FUEL: Bars
Stacher makes her own power bars, which she says make a great pre-workout snack. (She’s in the process of patenting her recipe, so we can’t divulge all the yummy details just yet—but stay tuned.) You can get a good mix of carbs and protein from many store-bought bars, too. “They’re portable, so they’re great for on-the-go workouts,” says Tzakas-Everett, who adds that bars with a high carb content (like PowerBar Energy bars) are good fuel choices immediately before your sweat sesh.
THE FUEL: Breakfast Burritos
A well-balanced breakfast (think: a mix of carbs, healthy fat, and lean protein) is super important, even if you don’t plan to hit the gym until later in the day, says Tzakas-Everett. It supplies nutrients that will sustain energy levels throughout the day, helps you to avoid overeating later, and maintains lean muscle. That’s why Stacher’s healthy version of a breakfast burrito (which includes eggs, quinoa, kale, avocado, hummus, and goat cheese) is a good choice. “You can eat it on the go, it’s a great mix of essential nutrients, and it tastes great,” Stacher says.
THE FUEL: “Ninja” Smoothies
“I like to mix three fruits into what I call a ‘ninja’ smoothie,” says Stacher. “I look for nutritious, refreshing ingredients that don’t break the bank, like pears, bananas, and kiwi,” she says. Add Greek yogurt, nuts, oats, or flax seeds for an extra boost—but be careful not to go overboard on the fiber-rich foods if you’re planning to work out sooner rather than later—they take longer to digest and can make you gassy, says Tzakas-Everett.
THE FUEL: Rice cake sandwich with cream cheese and honey or jam
This is a great source of energy if you’re planning a short workout first thing in the morning, says Tzakas-Everett. But if your workout is slated for later in the day—or you’re planning a long, intense sweat session—stick to something higher in carbs and protein (like the above options) since this one won’t provide sustained energy. Your body will digest the sugar rapidly—great for a quick boost, not so much for lasting energy or satiety.
*This story was originally published on WomensHealth.com.