What Does Your Body Need To Function At Maximum Capacity?
by KyoSaNim Eva Vaccaro

Has this happened to you? 
A hot warm up is completed, you have done 10 laps, 100 kicks and punches, 30 push-ups, 30 leg raises, 30 touching toes and are starting your hurricanes with SaBumNim standing right in front of you as you start feeling nauseous - that egg bagel you had on the way to class 30 minutes ago seems to be fighting with the large coffee in your belly… You didn’t give your body enough time to digest your food and make it available to be used as fuel for your workout; now it is a roadblock instead.

Or maybe this is familiar: 
You have had a great start into the class, the warm-up was a breeze, you felt strong and limber and fast, you enjoy the sweat running down your body, you feel exhilarated during the pad work and sparring exercises, the endorphins are pouring through your system. This is one of those tough classes you love! Now at the 45-minute mark SaBumNim switches gears and asks the class to take a knee so he can demonstrate moving grab behinds. You watch intently, your ears are open and you hear the humming of your blood rushing through your body. 

Back on your feet you hope your partner remembers if SaBumNim used his right or his left hand to trap first, and did he step to the inside or outside? You have trouble focusing. Why is this happening? Did you have a really healthy organic fruit cup with a little low fat yogurt for breakfast 4 hours ago? YOU ARE HUNGRY, your body has used up all of that food energy! Your brain does not have sufficient nutrients to be working at top capacity.

So how do you eat correctly before training?

Choosing the pre-training meal that works for you is dependent on a few factors: what time of day do you train? How long and intense is your training? And what foods do you metabolize well and enjoy? We are all unique, so there are a lot of possibilities of optimal pre- training nutrition, however there are a few basic nutrients we all need to function smoothly:

  • Carbohydrates are the main energy source that our body can store and use when needed. High intensity exercise primarily uses carbohydrates for fuel.
  • Fat is primarily used as an energy source during low intensity exercise.
  • Protein is primarily used to rebuild muscle tissue and to form blood cells. Protein isn’t stored in the body as an accessible energy source and only a small amount can be used for energy during exercise and only after carbohydrate and fat sources have been depleted.
  • Water is necessary for all functions of the body, most importantly to regulate body temperature, lubricate joints, and transport nutrients and waste. If you are sufficiently hydrated your urine should be close to color- and odor-less and you should have to urinate about once per hour.

The best sources of nutrients are the closest to the whole, natural state of foods you can find. How do you know if the food is natural? Read the labels: if there are any ingredients that you have a hard time pronouncing, it isn’t close to the natural state.

Whole carbohydrates are colorful (brown, yellow, green, red, blue, purple); the entire plant is used - not just the isolated plant sugar (starch), but also the fiber and all the vitamins and minerals that naturally occur.

Fats can come in form of oils (i.e. olive-, flaxseed-, sunflower-, fish-) or animal sources (meat-, milk-fat), most scientists agree that it is best to limit intake of animal fat sources (saturated fat). Most importantly stay away from transfats: ‘partially hydrogenated’-anything, as it is the main culprit in clogging arteries and leading to heart disease and stroke and types 2 diabetes.

  • Great whole sources of fat are nuts, olives and avocado.

Protein can come from a plant or an animal source. Beans and nuts are the highest protein concentrations in the plant kingdom; whole grains also have substantial protein and most vegetables have some as well. Animal sources are very condensed protein and usable if you so choose, but be aware of high levels of antibiotics and other toxins in non-organic meat/poultry/fish sources, as well as excessive saturated fat, which slows down body functions - and we want to be fast and limber. As protein is not a great source of energy, and mainly used to rebuild muscle cells, it is better suited as an after-training food than a pre-training food.

Water intake should be at least 15-20 oz., or 1 small bottle, 2 hours before exercise and 8 oz. within 20-30 before exercise. Of course these are only guidelines; your body size, level of hydration and the climate change your water needs constantly. Keep in mind that sweetened and caffeinated beverage not only leech important minerals from your body, but also need water to be metabolized - so you are not really getting as much hydration as you think, if you rely on those sources.

Vary portion sizes depending on how much time you have to digest, if breakfast was at 7 am and you take the noon class, or lunch was at 12.30 and you are taking an evening class, make sure to have a small snack about 1 hour before class.

Here are some ideas for breakfasts, lunches or snacks before your workout:


  • yogurt (cow, goat, soy, coconut, almond) and banana
  • peanut/almond butter and fruit spread or banana sandwich
  • fruit and nuts
  • miso soup w/tofu
  • 2 organic eggs/tofu scramble, whole grain bread
  • oatmeal w/raisins or fruit and milk (rice/almond/hemp)
  • savory oatmeal, or barley cereal
  • hummus and baby carrots, celery, bell peppers, tomatoes


  • beans and rice burrito w/ a side salad
  • salad w/grain (quinoa/brown rice/millet) and protein      (tofu/nuts/chicken/fish)
  • sandwich on whole grain with protein (tofu/hummus/chicken/fish) and greens on the side (i.e. mixed salad, steamed kale or spinach)
  • 4-6 oz. protein (meat/chicken/fish/beans/tofu), 1 cup whole grain (brown rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth) and 2+ cups greens (kale, collard greens, spinach, chard, arugula, dandelion)
  • pepper-broccoli-tomato-tofu (or chicken/beef) stir fry w/ brown rice, quinoa, couscous or whole wheat pasta
  • lentil/bean soup w/carrots, celery and peppers, brown rice


  • energy shake (i.e. almond milk, berries, nut butter, spirulina)
  • peanut/almond butter on a rice cake, fruit
  • vegetable soup w/ 1 slice whole grain bread or ½ cup grain
  • handful of nuts and raisins
  • apple/pear/plum and nut butter
  • hummus and fresh veggies

Try new, healthy foods and observe how they affect you. Listen to your body - it will reliably guide you towards what works best for you.

Enjoy your training!

Eva Vaccaro is a certified holistic health coach and a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners