Should I Eat Before I Workout?

Chances are you’ve wondered at some point if you should eat before your workout or not. This topic can be confusing because everybody is different and reacts differently to food choices. But the simple answer is, “Yes!” you should eat something before you work out to fuel your body and boost your performance, even if it’s just to get you through 20 minutes on the elliptical before you head to work.

A.M. Workouts – Should I Eat Breakfast First?

Timing meals and snacks around workouts is important at any time during the day, but especially in the morning when your body is literally wanting to “break the fast” since you haven’t eaten since the night
before. If you typically start your workout at 6 a.m., you might not want to wake up at 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m. to eat a good breakfast first. If you tend to hit snooze until the last second, you’re likely to just grab something quick or not eat at all.

If you are eating within 30 minutes of your workout, make sure it’s something simple and easy to digest, without a lot of sugar or fiber. Often, people grab a high-fiber bar, sugary cereal or (gasp!) a doughnut and then they wonder why they feel nauseous during their workout. It’s not the fact that they ate before the workout that made them feel sick, but rather what they ate. Red Bull and other energy drinks are also a BAD idea for “breakfast”. Such high doses of stimulants on an empty stomach are more likely to leave you feeling
jittery and weak than revved up and energized!

So then what are some good choices? A low-sugar granola bar, some low-sugar yogurt, a banana, a handful of unsalted nuts, wheat toast with natural peanut butter or some low-fiber/low-sugar cereal would be best. Everyone is different, but for most these choices will avoid an upset stomach while giving you the fuel and energy to get in a great workout.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t eat breakfast in the morning because working out on an empty stomach will burn more fat. Well, this is only partly true. Your body will tap into its fat reserves because there is no food to use for fuel. So, the good news is that you might burn a little fat…but not for long because the bad news is that you won’t have much energy to complete the workout.

Studies have shown that those that eat breakfast before a workout can work out longer and harder, thus burning more fat and calories overall. Plus, you are less likely to get nauseas or feel lightheaded, which
happens because your body’s blood sugar is low and you literally don’t have any fuel in your system for your muscles and heart to use. Plus, eating breakfast first thing in the morning is always a good idea, regardless if you are working out early or not. This is mainly because that first meal is breaking your fast and getting your metabolism revved up. Then, to keep your metabolism high, eat small meals and snacks throughout the day. I often use this analogy with my clients: think of a campfire, with the fire as your metabolism and the wood as food/fuel. If you get a good fire started, the best way to keep it going all day is to feed it with many small branches and twigs. If you put a huge log on the fire 3 times a day, you are going to either put
the flame out or it will burn very slowly. One of the best ways to get your internal fire going is to eat breakfast!

Should I Eat Lunch Before Or After A Midday Workout?

If you like to work out during your lunch break, should you eat lunch before or after your workout? The answer is both! You should eat a light snack within the hour before your workout so that you are not
starving afterwards and make bad choices at lunch. Put some nuts in your gym bag or purse and have a few before your workout (maybe with a banana or string cheese). Then, right after your workout have a few
more nuts to tide you over while you shower/change and get back to your desk or to a restaurant for lunch. Eating right after a workout also helps your muscles recover and replace their glycogen stores, so you don’t want to wait 45 minutes until you eat.

I’m Starving, But I Want To Work Out Before Dinner!

If you had a good lunch at noon but want to work out at 5:30 p.m. before dinner, make sure that you eat a good snack about an hour before you hit the gym. You never want to go more than 3 hours without eating,
and if you are planning to train for a race, take a challenging cardio class or do an hour of weight training, that lunch at noon isn’t going to get you through. The same rules for morning workouts apply throughout the day, so select a snack that is easy to digest. Plan ahead and have a snack at your desk or in your car on the way to the gym.

But what if you’ve just finished a large steak dinner and decide that you want to run 5 miles to “work it off”? You might want to think twice! According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), “Vigorous aerobic exercise soon after a full meal can cause the heart to work harder, compromise oxygen and nutrient delivery to the working muscles, and cause gastric discomfort.” So, you should wait at least 90 minutes after a full mean before beginning to engage in any moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise. The higher the intensity of the workout and the higher the number of calories, the longer the individual should wait between eating and exercise. Why is this? Well, large meals before a workout will not get digested as well during the workout because during a workout, your body is focusing on other muscles and pumping oxygen and nutrients to other areas that are working like your heart, lungs and leg muscles. This often leaves the stomach and intestines with less oxygen and this can result in slow digestion and muscle cramps/spasms…not fun!

I hope that you will use this information to fuel your body wisely and, most importantly, start eating breakfast!! You will see your energy levels increase, you will feel less lightheaded and sluggish, and you
will be able sustain your cardio workouts even longer. Just keep in mind that everyone is different, so you may need to experiment with different times to eat and different food choices that work the best for you.

This article originally appeared in Fit’s November newsletter as:

What To Eat Before A Work Out: How To Fuel Your Body For Peak Performance
By Cari Shoemate, ACE-CPT, GFI

You may also like

Comment on this post