Looking to maximize your workouts and use your time most efficiently? One of the first things you should look to optimize is when and what you eat before your workouts. Eating the right food at the right time can lead to more energy and a more effective workout—whereas eating the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time, can sap your energy and make the experience much more difficult. This page covers everything you need to know about exercising after eating so that you can be smarter about your workout eating habits and get the most out of every drop of sweat.
Eating before a workout is not a requirement to have a good workout, but it will reduce the chances of feeling hungry while you exercise. Symptoms of hunger can be exacerbated when working out, so if you feel more than mildly hungry, it may be wise to eat a snack to prevent distractions and improve your stamina. For other individuals, eating before a workout may have undesirable side effects, such as cramping. If that sounds like you, there’s nothing wrong with working out fasted—just be sure to keep in mind how your body is feeling. If you start feeling unwell, consider eating something to put some fuel in the tank.
If you want to have plenty of fuel in the tank before a workout, you may be wondering just how long you should wait after eating before you exercise. Due to higher levels of exertion, rigorous exercise, such as sprinting, generally has a higher potential to cause stomach problems if you don’t wait long enough to perform the activity after eating. In worst-case situations, you may feel nauseous if there’s not enough of a delay, which may prevent you from exerting yourself further. These unwelcome symptoms can ruin your workout and last even after your workout ends. Other activities, such as jogging, are easier to perform after eating. Think about marathon runners—many snack on bananas even while they’re exercising. In general, the heavier your meal, the longer you should wait after eating.“ Simple carbohydrates, such as plain rice, pasta, or simple sugars, average between 30 and 60 minutes in the stomach,” she adds. “But if you put a thick layer of peanut butter on toast, or layer avocado and eggs, it can take upwards of between two to four hours to leave your stomach. Throw in a piece of bacon and it’s even longer,” says gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD.
Is it a dry piece of toast? A Thanksgiving dinner? Or something in between? The type and quantity of food you eat before a workout will affect how you perform. Easy-to-digest foods like bananas are usually the best route to take. In a study of basketball players, those who ate meals consisting solely of carbohydrates, rather than carbohydrates and protein, had fewer side effects from their meals while they exercised. Carbohydrates are also a highly accessible form of calories, which can help with your energy levels during the workout, too. If eating a complete meal before you workout is unavoidable, it goes without saying that you should aim to eat a healthy and balanced meal. For example, a light meal consisting of chicken breast, broccoli, and rice is usually easier to manage while exercising than a meal consisting of cheeseburgers and French fries. Test out different snacks, meals, and categories of foods depending on your schedule and preferences to see which ones make you feel best before a workout.
When you think about eating before a workout, it’s common to focus on what could go wrong. But what about what could go right? One study showed that eating before a workout may lead to more calories burned and an overall more efficient workout. “We found that, compared to skipping breakfast, eating breakfast before exercise increases the speed at which we digest, absorb, and metabolize carbohydrates that we may eat after exercise.” -Dr. Javier Gonzalez, co-lead researcher Another study suggested that eating before a workout may have direct benefits: “Pre-exercise feeding bolsters prolonged aerobic performance, while seminal evidence highlights potential beneficial metabolic adaptations that fasted exercise may induce in peripheral tissues. However, further research is required to fully elucidate the acute and chronic physiological adaptations to fasted vs fed exercise.” -Study Abstract In plain language, that means prolonged aerobic exercise (such as jogging or cycling) benefits from eating beforehand, and like in the other study, there was some evidence that eating before a workout also helped burn more calories—but more research needs to be done before any concrete conclusions regarding improved weight loss can be made.
There are two times when special consideration should be made towards eating before a workout: in the morning and any time you intend on working out for an hour or more .In the morning right after you wake up, your blood sugar is at its lowest. Working out with low blood sugar can lead to fatigue and lightheadedness. Eating a small snack or meal consisting primarily of carbohydrates is a good way to avoid these problems without feeling sluggish afterwards. If you plan on working out for longer than 60 to 90 minutes, it’s wise to consume some form of sustenance either before or while you exercise to allow you to maintain your exertion for an extended period of time. “It’s not just about calories,” says Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, FACSM, a sports nutritionist in the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at HSS and a fellow with the American College of Sports Medicine. “It’s about making sure you’re well fueled to be able to meet the demands of whatever activity you’re doing and maintain intensity.”
The most important thing to consider when thinking about eating before exercising is how your body responds to different eating habits. If you feel good before your workout, you’re more likely to exercise for longer and make more significant headway towards your fitness goals. If your eating habits make you feel poorly and lower your stamina, your workouts will get cut short, and you’re less likely to want to exercise in the first place as well. Keep in mind that what’s right for you might be completely wrong for someone else. So, gather knowledge from sources like this page—but try things out for yourself to see what works for your body in particular. This way of thinking applies to both when you eat and what you eat.
The closer you get to your workout, the more focus on carbohydrates you’ll want to maintain.
If you plan on waiting at least two hours after eating before your workout, you have more flexibility regarding the macronutrient makeup of your meal. Some good types of food to eat during this timeframe include:
A sandwich on healthy (whole grain) bread
Lean chicken breast, white or brown rice, and broccoli (or any other vegetable)
Turkey burgers with sweet potato fries and another cooked vegetable
As your workout approaches, you’ll want to reduce the quantity of food you eat and switch over primarily to carbohydrates. However, a small amount of protein and fat is usually acceptable and may even be ideal to prevent acid reflux. Some good types of food to eat as your workout approaches include:
Toast with a little bit of peanut butter
Oatmeal with fruit or nuts
A pre-packaged nutrition bar
Depending on how much protein and fat your snack has, the food may not be entirely digested by the time you work out. If it makes you feel uncomfortable during your workout, simply add more time after eating before you work out so that the food can digest more completely, or modify your snack to increase carbohydrates and decrease protein and fat.
Whether or not you eat right before or during your workout is a matter of personal preference. If you decide to, very simple carbohydrates like bananas or other fruits are a good way to get fuel into your body without activating your digestive processes to the point where you feel uncomfortable, sluggish, or bloated. You may also look into powders, shakes, or gels that are formulated to be with the intention of being easy to digest right before and during your workout.
Timing exercise after eating depends on the individual
Try to avoid eating larger meals right before a workout
The closer you get to your workout, the more carbs your snack or meal should have
How long you should wait to exercise after eating is mostly a matter of personal preference
Experiment with what you eat and when you eat it to find the right solution for you and your lifestyle in particular