- What’s the Best Time to Eat — Before or After Working Out?
- Is It Better to Eat Before or After a Workout?
- You Asked: Should I Eat Before or After a Workout?
- Thank you!
- After a Meal
- When to Snack
- Exercising before breakfast may be most healthful choice
- ‘Profound’ benefits
- A greater burn
- Future focus
What Is A Proper Pre, During, And Post Workout Nutrition Diet?
- How Important Is It to Have a Pre-Workout Meal?
- What to Eat Before A Workout
- How Much Time Should There Be Between Your Pre-Workout Meal and Your Workout?
- What Foods Should You Eat While Working Out?
- What to Drink During Your Workout
- The Importance of Post-Workout Nutrition
- What to Eat or Drink Immediately After Exercise
- What Should Go in A Post-Workout Protein Shake
- When to Eat Your Post-Workout Meal
- Simple Vs. Complex Carbs Post-Workout
- Post-Workout Meals—What to Eat and When to Eat It
- When Should You Eat Your Post-Workout Meal?
- The Nutrients to Eat After Working Out
- Ask Yourself How Much You Sweat
- Eat for Your Individual Needs
- Should I Work Out On An Empty Stomach?
- What is fasted cardio?
- When to workout on an empty stomach
- Pros and cons of fasted workouts
- Should you eat before or after your workout? A dietician weighs in
- Should you eat before a workout?
- The best things to eat before your workout
- Foods to avoid pre-workout
- Is timing important?
- What to you eat after a workout
- How supplements can help
- Bob Harper’s workout advice to get fit this summer and challenge your body
- 3 exercises to tone your glutes
What’s the Best Time to Eat — Before or After Working Out?
We’ve always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet when it comes to exercise and weight loss, this advice might not be right for everyone.
Though weight loss should simply be the result of fewer calories consumed than expended, intriguing new research from Belgium shows there might be more to this simple math equation.
Researchers wanted to determine if exercising on an empty stomach could be more effective at regulating insulin in people eating a diet high in fat than exercising after a meal. Twenty-seven young men were fed a high-calorie, high-fat diet over a period of six weeks and divided into three groups. One group did not exercise. A second group ate a large high-carb breakfast before working out and then also consumed carbs while running or cycling. The third group did not eat before working out and drank only water; after exercising, they ate an equivalent breakfast to the second group.
The Stress-Busting Benefits of Exercise
Not surprisingly, the non-exercising group gained the most weight. Interestingly, however, the breakfast-before-exercise group also put on pounds while the breakfast-after-exercise group had almost no increase in weight despite eating a daily diet that was both high in calories and fat.
Eating Before Working Out: The Pros and Cons
Although this is only one study, the research does seem to indicate that not eating before working out may, at the very least, prevent weight gain — even if you’re eating a lot of calories throughout the day. The study opens the door to the possibility that you might boost weight loss if you break a sweat before breakfast. In addition, it might be more comfortable for some people to exercise on an empty stomach. “If you eat too much right before a workout, blood shifts from your periphery to your mid-section for digestion,” says Manuel Villacorta, R.D., a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and creator of the Eating Free weight management program in San Francisco, Calif. “If you have eaten too much, this could make you sick.”
However, exercising on an empty stomach may not be for everyone. Food is our body’s source of fuel, and if our tank is empty we may struggle. “Some think it’s best to exercise on an empty stomach to maximize fat burning, but if you’re low on energy you may not have a good enough workout to help weight loss,” says Sarah Currie, a registered dietitian at Physical Equilibrium, a provider of personal training and nutrition management services in New York City. “If you eat something that provides energy, you’ll feel good and will be able to work harder, burning more calories.”
What to Eat and When
If you choose to eat before working out first thing in the morning, aim for an easily digestible type of carbohydrate and a small amount of protein about 30 to 60 minutes before exercising. Good choices include an English muffin with peanut butter, a bowl of cereal, or low-fat yogurt or string cheese and a piece of fruit.
When choosing packaged foods, be sure to read the labels. “Many yogurts are too high in sugar,” says Jessica Kupetz, a certified fitness trainer at Active Center for Health & Wellness in Hackensack, N.J. “The same holds true for granola bars. Every ingredient should be one you recognize. If you can’t pronounce it, there’s a really good chance it’s not ‘real,’ so don’t waste your calories.”
Why Morning Workouts Are Best
Keep in mind that finding what works best for you in terms of timing, quantity, and type of food may take some trial and error. Also, what may work for you before going cycling may not be good before running, warns Currie.
Whether or not you choose to eat before working out, make some wise foods choices after exercising. Protein is necessary to rebuild muscles, while carbs will re-stock glycogen, or energy stores, in your muscles. Eating within 15 to 30 minutes post-workout is ideal, but if this isn’t possible, aim for within 60 minutes. A turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread or a banana and plain yogurt are good, easy options.
Ultimately, when it comes to exercise and weight loss, remember that everyone is different so it’s important to do what feels right for you. “Also, it’s best to look at the big picture,” says Currie. “Calories eaten versus calories burned are what matter for weight loss and maintenance.”
One of the most common questions for sports dietitians: “What should I eat before and after a workout?”
Sometimes the answer depends more on the athlete and the specific activity, but there are some common truths that apply for pre- and post-workout nutrition, whether you’re a weekend warrior or a seasoned veteran.
Don’t Skip the Carbs
So you may be asking — how soon before a workout should I eat? It depends.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best not to eat immediately before a workout because while your muscles are trying to do their “thing,” your stomach is trying to simultaneously digest the food in your stomach. These competing demands are a challenge for optimal performance. And, even more of a factor, eating too close to a workout may cause you to experience some GI discomfort while you train or play.
Ideally, you should fuel your body about 1 to 4 hours pre-workout, depending on how your body tolerates food. Experiment and see what time frame works best for your body. If you’re a competitive athlete, this is something you need to explore during your training days and not during game day.
Here are some suggestions for pre-workout fuel:
- A peanut butter and banana or PBJ sandwich
- Greek yogurt with berries
- Oatmeal with low-fat milk and fruit
- Apple and peanut or almond butter
- Handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins: one part nuts)
Notice that each of these suggestions include some protein as well as carbohydrates. Carbs are the fuel. Protein is what rebuilds and repairs, but also “primes the pump” to make the right amino acids available for your muscles. Getting protein and carbs into your system is even more vital post workout.
Post Workout Nutrition
Your body uses stored energy (glycogen) in your muscles to power through your workout or game, but after that workout, you need to replenish the nutrients lost. What to do?
After a competition or workout, focus on getting carbs and protein into your body. This gives your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen they just lost through training and helps your tired muscles rebuild and repair with the available protein and amino acids. Try to eat within an hour of completing an intense workout.
Post-workout meals include:
- Post-workout recovery smoothie (or post-workout smoothie made with low-fat milk and fruit)
- Low-fat chocolate milk
- Turkey on a whole-grain wrap with veggies
- Low-fat yogurt with berries
The above offer mainly carbs, some protein and are convenient — with the first two liquid options also helping to rehydrate the body.
Take Home Points
- Your body needs carbs to fuel your working muscles.
- Protein is there to help build and repair.
- Get a combination of the protein and carbs in your body 1 to 4 hours pre-workout and within approximately 60 minutes post-workout.
- Never try anything new on race or game day — it’s always best to experiment during training to learn what works best for your body.
Is It Better to Eat Before or After a Workout?
Figuring out what to eat, whether you’re looking to lose weight or maximize performance, is only one part of the equation. First, you’ve got to tackle the when. Throw exercise into the mix, and the when-to-eat conundrum gets even trickier. Let’s break it down.
There are two camps here: those who don’t eat or drink before morning exercise (save for a cup of coffee because, hello, caffeine) and those who prefer breakfast before a workout. Many in the first group don’t eat to avoid being sidelined with cramps, while the eaters argue their bodies can’t get going without any fuel in the tank. Both are legitimate points.
But there’s more to it than personal preference. Research suggests the breakfast skippers are onto something. In a recently published study, researchers recruited men who were overweight but otherwise healthy. The men completed a one-hour workout walking at a moderate pace, once without eating before and another time after eating breakfast two hours earlier. The guys burned more fat when they skipped breakfast, and the researchers found exercising in that fasted state also had a positive effect on their metabolism. This was a very small study, and more research is needed, but the findings suggest not eating before a workout of 60 minutes or less—or exercising in a fasted state—may be the way to go for fat loss.
If you can handle it, that is. The working-out-on-an-empty-stomach thing is only helpful if you’re able to successfully perform during your workout, rather than phoning it in or tapping out halfway because you feel like you might faint. In general, most of us have enough energy stored in our bodies to complete a moderate-intensity workout of up to 45 minutes first thing in the morning, says Darin Hulslander, a personal trainer, nutritionist, and CEO of DNS Performance & Fitness, though how long and how hard you’re able to go is affected by what and when you last ate the day before.
And it’s worth noting that most people will wake up slightly dehydrated from an overnight fast, so drinking a glass of water (at the very least) is a good idea for all in the morning.
But Doesn’t the Type of Workout Matter?
Yes, it definitely does. You might be able to make it through an hour of yoga without stomach growls interrupting your savasana, but you’d be crazy to set off on a 10-mile run without fueling up before.
“Meal timing and whether or not you should eat definitely depends on the type of training being done,” Hulslander says. “If you’re just walking or getting two or three low- to moderate-intensity miles in, you probably have a reasonable benefit if you don’t eat before.” Anything more than that—resistance training, a tough HIIT session, or a grueling endurance workout—and you’re better off fueling up beforehand, Hulslander says.
OK, So What Should I Eat?
The body taps its fat storage to fuel your empty-stomach workouts (hence the fat burn), but it’s also possible to eat for fat loss. Hulslander suggests fueling up with protein (to help prevent muscle damage) and some carbs (for energy) about two or three hours before exercise. Try something like Greek yogurt with fruit or two eggs with one slice of whole-grain toast in the morning.
Or, if you’re a roll-out-of-bed-and-go person and don’t have that kind of time, try a make-ahead protein shake with half a banana within an hour before exercising, Hulslander says. Aim for 15 to 20 grams of protein—that’ll be a bit easier on the stomach but still give you the energy you need. Even a banana with 3 tablespoons of peanut butter would work.
That rec changes if you’re more concerned about performance than fat loss. When prepping for an endurance session, for instance, your carb intake should go up. A study from the University of Sydney in Australia found taking in between 30 and 80 grams of carbohydrates, or about what’s in a cup of oatmeal and a banana, before working out helps you go longer.
What You Eat After Matters Too
Regardless of whether you eat before, you’ll want to take advantage of the window of recovery, which research has shown to be within 30 to 120 minutes after your cool-down. Aim to take in 16 to 25 grams of protein to refuel the muscles, plus minimally processed carbs such as fruit or starches, Hulslander says.
Don’t worry about eating a plateful of bacon and eggs if you can’t stomach a full meal after exercising. Any protein that contains the nine essential amino acids will do. “There’s no evidence that powders versus whole foods are better after training as long as protein is available,” Hulslander says. And recovery continues 24 to 48 hours after a hard workout, so keep that in mind for your meals throughout the day.
The Bottom Line
The latest research tips in favor of exercising on an empty stomach, so long as your workout is low to medium intensity and your goal is fat loss or maintenance. Just be on the lookout for signs your body isn’t feeling it: feeling dizzy or lightheaded, slowing down significantly in the middle of the workout, a decline in the quality of your movements and form, and/or rapid breathing even if the movements don’t call for it, Hulslander says.
If you’re gearing up for a more rigorous workout, eat some protein and carbs beforehand, because feeling dizzy during a set of burpees is not a great start to the day. Give your body enough time to digest, especially for endurance activities like running, as undigested food in the stomach can lead to gastrointestinal issues (a.k.a. runner’s stomach or sprinting to the bathroom instead of your planned run).
After a workout, replace lost fluids with water and replenish with a ratio of 3:1 carbs and protein to ensure adequate muscle recovery and repair.
At the end of the day, everyone is different, and it’s up to you to experiment with different pre- and post-workout foods to find what works best for you.
You Asked: Should I Eat Before or After a Workout?
Short answer: Both.
Long answer: How and when to fuel your body is the same for all exercisers to some extent, but your routine may warrant a few nutritional tweaks, says Dr. Nancy Cohen, head of the department of nutrition at the University of Massachusetts.
“In general, you’ll want to eat a meal high in carbs and protein and low in fat roughly three to four hours before you exercise,” Cohen says, whether you’re trying to shed pounds or build muscle. Carbohydrates supply your body with the glycogen it needs for your yoga session, gym visit, or jog. Skimp on carbs, and your muscles will sputter when called on to perform, she says.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it may seem weird and counterproductive to eat a carb-heavy meal before you hit the gym. But complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, whole grains and starchy vegetables will provide exercise fuel plus nutrients and fiber. Unlike refined carbohydrates—things like white bread, cookies, soft drinks, or many pre-packaged foods—complex carbs won’t expand your personal equator or supercharge your appetite, research shows.
Cohen recommends avoiding fat in your pre-workout meal because it slows down your digestion. But eating protein supports your muscles. “During and after exercise, your muscle cells break down and rebuild,” Cohen explains. The right proteins contain the amino acids your muscles need to complete that cellular rebuilding process.
Complete protein packages include animal sources like chicken or lean beef, since they have all those amino acids, Cohen says. Grains like quinoa and bulgur as well as beans and some vegetables also contain protein, though probably not the “complete” kind. But if you eat a variety of those food sources, you can skip the meat and still get all the amino acids you need, she adds.
As for post-workout food, Cohen suggests eating or drinking more protein an hour or two after lifting weights for bodybuilders and athletes. But despite what you’ve heard, it’s not necessary (or healthy) to pound a massive protein shake the second you stop pumping iron.
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According to Dr. Rob Danoff, an Aria Health System physician with a focus on sports medicine and nutrition, your body—and especially your kidneys—can only synthesize so much protein. Research suggests roughly one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight is plenty to maximize muscle growth. By that measure, for a person who weighs 175 pounds, 80 grams of protein all day is enough.
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One large chicken breast or cut of red meat can contain 60 grams of protein or more, so slamming a huge protein shake after a workout will only inundate your kidneys with protein it can’t handle and your muscles don’t need, Danoff says. Apart from the risk of kidney damage, there’s evidence that overloading your body with protein can contribute to an imbalance in the acidity of your blood, which in the long run could lead to bone weakening. “It’s a myth that we need all this protein,” Danoff says. “More isn’t always better.”
In your workout-food focus, don’t forget water. If you exercise first thing in the morning, Cohen says dehydration is a big concern because you’ve probably passed much of the night without a sip of H2O. “Your whole cellular metabolism is dependent on fluid,” she says. And everything from your workout performance to your mood and mental acuity will suffer if you’re parched.
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How you space out meals during the course of the day might not make a big difference in the calorie department, but it has huge implications on your workout performance. Not only can ineffectively fueling your body hinder your performance, but also, eating too much before exercise can interfere with your goals. When it comes to eating before exercise, it’s all about timing.
After a Meal
No matter what time of day you choose to exercise, make sure to plan your workout two to three hours after your meal. Going overboard with too much food right before a workout will leave you feeling sluggish and can lead to stomach discomfort. The last thing you want is your workout habits to hinder your digestion process.
When to Snack
If it’s been a few hours since your last meal, then most experts agree that you should eat a small snack one hour before your workout to properly fuel your body. A combination of carbs and a little protein, all under 200 calories, will do the trick. If you’re not sure what constitutes a good choice, then check out these healthy pre-workout snacks for inspiration. And if you’re going for an early workout session, then remember that exercising on an empty stomach — even when you first wake up — isn’t ideal. It might feel tough to eat first thing in the morning, but fueling your body with proper nutrients is essential for your workout. Consider one of these light breakfast snacks you can enjoy an hour before your morning workout.
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Exercising before breakfast may be most healthful choice
Figuring out when to exercise could be just as important as the exercise itself, according to new research on the relationship between meal times and workouts.
Share on PinterestNew research suggests that working out before breakfast has ‘profound’ health benefits.
Some studies suggest that the effectiveness of exercise may be tied to when a person eats.
However, it is rarely possible to translate findings from studies in lean people to those with obesity.
So, scientists from the Universities of Bath and Birmingham, both in the United Kingdom, set out to see if meal and exercise timing had a similar link in people with overweight or obesity.
Having obesity and living a relatively sedentary life can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
This is because insulin sensitivity is reduced, and hyperinsulinemia — a condition characterized by excess insulin levels — is increased.
Finding a way to prevent these insulin-related effects could potentially prove to be life-saving.
The study, which now appears in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, aimed to examine how exercising before and after eating affected muscle fat stores and insulin response. It was the first to look at this relationship in people with overweight or obesity.
The experiment, which lasted for 6 weeks, involved 30 men the researchers categorized as either overweight or obese.
The team split these men into three groups:
- one that ate breakfast before exercising
- one that ate breakfast after exercising
- one that made no lifestyle alterations
“Our results suggest that changing the timing of when you eat in relation to when you exercise can bring about profound and positive changes to your overall health,” says Dr. Javier Gonzalez, from the University of Bath’s Department for Health.
A greater burn
Participants who exercised before breakfast burned twice as much fat as those who exercised after eating the same meal.
There is a simple reason for this: When people fast overnight, they have lower insulin levels during exercise, allowing their body to use up more fat.
“Importantly, while this didn’t have any effect on weight loss, it did dramatically improve their overall health,” notes Dr. Gonzalez.
The muscles of those who exercised before breakfast responded better to insulin, better controlling blood sugar levels in the body.
Dr. Gonzalez says that this effect is “all the more remarkable, given that both exercise groups lost a similar amount of weight and both gained a similar amount of fitness.”
“The only difference was the timing of the food intake,” he adds.
The muscles of those in the group who exercised before breakfast also exhibited bigger increases in certain proteins — especially those responsible for delivering glucose to the muscles.
Even more notable was the fact that those who ate breakfast before exercising were no better off in terms of insulin response after eating than the control group.
“This work suggests that performing exercise in the overnight-fasted state can increase the health benefits of exercise for individuals, without changing the intensity, duration, or perception of their effort,” states study co-author Dr. Gareth Wallis, from the University of Birmingham.
These particular findings are sex-specific, as the researchers only worked with men. Therefore, further studies will need to replicate the conditions in women to see if they, too, benefit from exercising before breakfast.
The breakfast that the participants consumed was high in carbohydrates, so future research may also need to examine whether low carb meals produce the same effects.
Longer studies will also need to take place before researchers can form any solid conclusions.
However, fasting overnight and exercising before breakfast could be the key to increasing the effectiveness of exercise in people with overweight or obesity.
What Is A Proper Pre, During, And Post Workout Nutrition Diet?
Let’s talk about eating. Nutrition is just as important as lifting for improving fitness, looking good, and gaining strength. When the two go hand-in-hand, amazing things are possible.
You already know if you eat too few calories you’ll starve your muscless—and feel awful. If you eat too many you’ll gain extra body fat. But the story doesn’t end there. Although how many calories you eat in a day is important, your ideal nutritional plan for maximizing gains is also about what types of food you eat, as well as meal timing.
How Important Is It to Have a Pre-Workout Meal?
Nutrition is perhaps the most important factor in the fitness lifestyle. The right vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, calorie levels, and meal timing are needed for the body to function at its very best. Quality nutrition fuels our bodies for maximum performance.
What you eat before a workout determines whether or not you will have the energy to achieve your greatest potential during each session. It can make a big effect in getting a extra couple reps, or increasing the amount of weight during your lifts.
Pre-workout nutrition is very underrated. Plenty of lifters see the importance of the post-workout meal, getting in the fast-digesting protein and carbs, when in fact the pre-workout meal is just as important—and for many of us, completely nonexistent.
Eating before training fuels your body for ideal performance. Failing to eat before you work out means you are missing a huge opportunity to keep your body in an anabolic (muscle-building) state.
By paying special attention to nutrition before you train, you can also maximize how much of your food is used to build lean mass, and minimize how much of it becomes body fat.
What to Eat Before A Workout
Eating the right foods before a workout makes all the difference. The idea of pre-workout nutrition is to give your body what it needs to perform at maximum intensity, and prepare your muscles for growth.
A pre-workout meal should increase glycogen levels in the body and help prevent catabolism.
Protein is made up of individual amino acids. These are the building blocks of muscle, help prevent catabolism, and fight off hunger cravings. Calories from carbohydrates affect your blood-sugar levels, giving you a quick burst of energy if they are simple and quick-digesting, and lasting energy if they are more complex. Fats help maintain optimal hormone levels and provide slow-burning fuel for longer sessions.
Your pre-workout fuel should be composed of medium- to fast-digesting proteins and slower-digesting carbs.
Pre-Workout Meals to Burn Fat and Build Muscle:
- Egg Whites and Whole Grain Bread: Egg whites are quick-digesting, and whole grain bread is a quick and convenient medium-digesting carb.
- Low-Fat Milk and Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a good pre-workout meal, especially when you add protein. Milk contains whey, which is an ideal pre-workout protein, and the slow-digesting oats keep you feeling full and focused as you pump out those reps!
- Chicken and Yams: A bodybuilder classic, chicken and yams are the perfect pre-workout combo. You can also eat them post-workout to cut down on meal prep!
- Tuna and Brown Rice: Any light, low-fat fish will do, but nothing beats tuna for convenience, and the brown rice adds flavor and fuel for your lifts.
- Ground Turkey and Black Beans: Add a bit of seasoning to the ground turkey and a couple of corn tortillas, and you have a low-fat, high-energy, pre-workout snack you can eat on the go.
Since fat delays food leaving the stomach, known as “gastric emptying” it can slow down your body’s uptake of nutrients and should be avoided pre- and post-workout. The only exception would be if you plan on working out intensely for longer than 90 minutes, in which case your body could use that fat calories as fuel.
How Much Time Should There Be Between Your Pre-Workout Meal and Your Workout?
Pre-workout meal timing is an important piece of the picture. For most people, the perfect time for a pre-workout snack or meal is 1-2 hours before training. This depends on your metabolism, how big the meal is, and perhaps what type of exercise you’re doing.
The fuel you ingest before training will only be available in your bloodstream for a few hours, so you don’t want to wait too long—like 4-5 hours—before working out or you’ll lose those pre-workout nutrients. However, you also don’t want to cram down a huge, veggie-packed meal right before Tabata cycle sprints.
Eating an hour or two before you work out provides the perfect opportunity to feed your muscles strategically while you work out. During resistance exercise, your muscles will fill or “pump up” with blood and become extremely sensitive to the nutrients you’ve consumed.
This is why pre-workout nutrition is so important. What you ingest can go straight to the areas being trained.
What Foods Should You Eat While Working Out?
Eating mid-workout doesn’t make much sense, not only because it’s inconvenient, but also because your body would expend energy digesting food when it should be focused on the workout.
That said, you definitely burn fuel during intense training. During a heavy training session your body uses up plenty of carbs, which are broken down into glycogen. That’s the fuel your muscles need for exercise, and without it performance suffers.
You also need amino acids, which is why your body breaks down any available protein when you lift. Topping up your stores while training helps spare glycogen, and decreases catabolism by providing a steady source of amino acids.
A proper pre-workout nutrition plan can take care of all of this. By timing the pre-workout meal appropriately, you should already have these essential macronutrients for growth entering your bloodstream when you walk into the gym, ready to feed those hungry muscles. If this is the case, then all you need during your session is water.
What to Drink During Your Workout
If you know you’ll be training longer than an hour and a half, it might make sense to drink something during your workout to keep your energy levels up and maintain steady blood-sugar levels.
When you exercise for long periods of time, your body can enter a catabolic state and end up breaking down the muscle tissue you’re trying to build. Sipping a protein shake during your workout helps counteract this protein breakdown, because it provides the body with exactly what it needs. During long training sessions, consuming a shake can be anti-catabolic.
When you exercise, blood rushes into your muscles and they become more receptive to nutrients.
This is why BCAAs are a popular intra-workout drink. They immediately provide you with essential amino acids and energy, and do not require any digesting. Remember, the last thing you want is to unnecessarily divert blood to your digestive tract! They also usually have low or no calories.
While it is not necessary to eat during a workout if your pre-workout strategy is in check, there’s nothing wrong with consuming a shake or amino acids during your session, provided your stomach can handle it and the amount you consume does not require a lot of digesting. This is especially true if you prefer longer, more intense training sessions.
While it is not necessary to eat during a workout if your pre-workout strategy is in check, there’s nothing wrong with consuming a shake or amino acids during your workout, provided your stomach can handle it and the amount you consume does not require a lot of digesting. This is especially true if you prefer longer, more intense workouts.
The Importance of Post-Workout Nutrition
If you are serious about lifting and you want the best results, proper post-workout nutrition is essential. Refueling your body after a workout is one of the most important parts of building muscle and recovering.
If you don’t eat the right foods after training, or you don’t eat them at the right time, your performance the next time will suffer, your gains will not be as good as they could be, and you could end up losing mass along the way. Plus, you’re setting yourself up for extra soreness—not fun.
The most important reason to eat something after you work out is to elicit an insulin response. Insulin is a highly anabolic hormone, and spiking it halts protein breakdown and helps encourage protein synthesis.
Skipping this meal means you will miss out on these anabolic effects. You will only encourage further protein breakdown, which over time leads to a loss of mass.
To put it simply: Eating after you work out helps builds muscle and end protein breakdown for better recovery.
What to Eat or Drink Immediately After Exercise
After an intense training session, your glycogen stores are depleted. Refilling them halts protein breakdown and increases protein synthesis.
As opposed to pre-workout nutrition, where complex carbohydrates are preferred, your carbs here should be simple and easy to digest in order to illicit an insulin response to build muscle, stave off soreness, and recover more quickly.
The best choices for immediately after the gym are fast-digesting proteins and faster-digesting, moderate-to-high-glycemic carbs.
Fats should be largely avoided here, as they were during the pre-workout meal. They slow down the digestive process, and this is the one time you don’t want to slow the flow of nutrients into your body.
What Should Go in A Post-Workout Protein Shake
The goal of here is to replenish glycogen levels and give your body what it needs to recover. Carbohydrates alone can accomplish the first goal, but the response is greater when you consume carbs and protein together.
This is why a recovery protein shake is used almost universally by serious gym goers. Liquid nutrients are the most readily digestible form—exactly what you are looking for immediately after you lift. If you are serious about your gains, an after-workout shake is a no-brainer.
No, it doesn’t have to be right after you finish in the so-called “anabolic window,” but it doesn’t hurt to have it right after a workout. Why? The sooner you get that shake down, the sooner it can do its work, and the sooner you can eat again.
Whey is perhaps the best after-training protein because it is the quickest and most readily digestible protein available. Many companies have specific “gainer” protein blends with the ideal ratio of carbs and protein. A good ratio is 2:1 carbs-to-protein when gaining weight, and 1:1 or lower when cutting fat.
If you don’t want to have a pantry full of protein powders, you could always add simple carbs such as dextrose to your protein shake to increase the carb to protein ratio and promote a stronger insulin response. But it’s easy to go overboard on the carbs, so adding dextrose to your shake is usually not necessary unless you have some serious bulking to do. You can also just eat a banana with a whey protein shake.
In most cases, it’s fine to mix your whey protein with water, since the fat in milk can delay absorption of nutrients in the stomach. If you subscribe to the “gallon of milk a day” bulking method, try to plan your dairy consumption so it won’t interfere with absorption around your training sessions.
And this isn’t the time for your almond butter, chocolate, and chia smoothie. All that fat and fiber will just make the protein and carbs take longer to get where they’re needed.
When to Eat Your Post-Workout Meal
Time your post-workout meal for no longer than 1-2 hours after you work out. If you consumed a shake during your workout, skip the shake immediately afterward and eat a meal about 30-45 minutes after that last sip of your intra-workout shake.
Your post-workout meal should include veggies and other whole foods, and not be just another protein shake. Your body needs fiber and vitamins from real foods!
Once again, pay attention to protein, fat, and carbohydrate content as this will have an effect on how your body recovers and rebuilds tissue. Since you’ve already consumed the nutrients your body needs quickly with your shake, you can include a little bit of fat in this meal.
Examples of Post-Workout Meals
- Pork Loin and Baked Red Potatoes: “The other white meat” gives you a blast of protein, and the starchy potatoes are a source of fast-digesting carbs.
- Chicken Breast and Pasta: Toss with tomato sauce or season with herbs to add more flavor to this simple meal. Adding a little olive oil isn’t a bad idea, either.
- Salmon, Carrots, and Green Beans: Salmon is a natural source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids that fight exercise-related soreness. Veggies like carrots and green beans are low-calorie and high in vitamins for optimum gains.
- Lean Beef Patty, Whole-Wheat Bun, and Sliced Avocado: Lean beef is an iron-rich protein source, the whole-wheat bun is a healthy source of carbs, and the natural healthy fats of the avocado also add delicious flavor!
- Smoothie with Greek Yogurt and Fruit: A great breakfast if you train early in the morning, the whey and casein combo of the yogurt helps support protein synthesis, and the sugar in the fruit helps raise insulin.
Simple Vs. Complex Carbs Post-Workout
After your training session, you can either create another insulin spike with fast-digesting, simple carbohydrates, or use complex, slow-burning carbs to stabilize blood sugar and prevent unwanted fat gain.
Insulin is anti-catabolic when raised right after exercise, and anabolic when raised at rest. Put simply, an insulin spike stops protein breakdown right after working out, and you can encourage anabolism by creating another spike with your post-workout meal.
Of course, you have to work out for insulin to help you build muscle. You can’t just slam a shake and sit on the couch expecting massive gains.
Your other option would be to include complex carbs like oatmeal, rather than simple carbs like candy. Insulin is as much a fat-storing hormone as it is an anabolic hormone, so if you want to avoid gaining extra body fat while you build mass, it makes sense to keep your blood-sugar levels stable after you train and not spike them a second time.
Many people claim they experience “leaner gains” when they switch to slow-burning complex carbohydrates.
The arguments for fast-burning, simple carbs versus slow-burning, complex carbs both have merit, so ultimately it depends on your goals, and what you feel your body best responds to.
For more information on which carbohydrates may be right for you, check out “Post-Workout Carbs: Best Choices to Grow and Recover.”
Post-Workout Meals—What to Eat and When to Eat It
Taking the time and effort to exercise is an important first step. But, that’s only half the battle. Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, or compete in your first triathlon, your diet is critical for success. The food you eat serves as the fuel for your workout and building blocks for your muscles. It would be a waste to follow the perfect fitness routine and ignore nutrition. The saying is true—“You are what you eat”—especially with your pre- and post-workout meal.
Before you exercise, it’s all about fueling your fitness. But if you’ve looked into what to eat after working out or read about post-workout meals, it’s a different conversation. You might run across concepts like nutrient timing and carbohydrate-to-protein ratios. This article will highlight the research on when you should eat your post-workout meal, and the nutrients that you should focus on.
Nutrition for the Rest of the Day
- Pre-workout nutrition and fueling your workout
- Diets for weight loss
- Turning a diet into a lifestyle
- An introduction to macro- and micronutrients
When Should You Eat Your Post-Workout Meal?
Eating after exercise can be pretty intuitive. That comes mostly for one reason, you’re likely to be hungry. This is because your body just used a bunch of calories and wants to refuel itself. Exercise also breaks down muscle, and you need to eat protein to rebuild it.
The hunger you may feel after exercise isn’t the only guiding force for your post-work meal. Science also shows you should eat after exercise.
Some of the first researchers on the subject gave athletes chocolate milk post-workout (more about the nutrients in this “ideal” drink later). Chocolate milk improved energy and muscle recovery compared to those who had nothing after exercise. The timing of the milk was key to these benefits.
The window you have to eat after a workout for maximum benefit is referred to as “nutrient timing.” Most of the early research had test subjects eating their post-workout meal immediately after exercise, 15 minutes after, or 30 minutes after. This is why you might have heard people say you should eat within 30 minutes of your workout. However, most of these early studies didn’t do a comparison to more delayed time periods.
Recent studies have expanded on the early studies. Researchers tested eating one hour and up to two hours after exercise. They also examined the difference between fasted exercisers compared to those who had a pre-workout meal. The results turn out to be more involved than “eat within 30 minutes of your workout.”
What the Research Says
The results show a post-workout meal is more important in certain situations. It’s most important if you start your workout fasting or with only a small pre-workout meal. Like if you exercise in the morning, before breakfast.
A post-workout meal is also more critical if you’re on a calorie-deficit diet (losing weight). This means those trying to lose weight, should ration some calories for immediately before and after a workout.
The benefits are less pronounced if you started with a large pre-workout meal or your diet has a calorie surplus (gaining weight). But you still see some benefits from eating a post-workout meal, and should plan one.
The newer studies remove the urgency on the timing of your post-workout meal, though. So, you don’t need to rush straight from the gym to the kitchen. You can eat immediately, or wait up to two hours after exercise and still receive the benefits of a post-workout meal.
The Nutrients to Eat After Working Out
As you already know, your body needs food for energy and to use as building blocks. Physical activity increases those needs. But those needs don’t increase equally for all nutrients. Some play a much larger role in recovery and muscle growth than others.
Protein is the building block for the muscles in your body. Muscle is broken down when you exercise, and your body needs dietary protein to rebuild itself. Exercise also triggers extra muscle growth. That’s why weightlifting makes you stronger. This creates an even greater need to eat more protein and makes it one your top priorities after exercise.
Your protein needs depend on your size and the amount of protein you eat throughout the rest of the day. Aim for 20–40 grams (0.25-0.40 g/kg body mass) of protein after exercise. If you’re a smaller person, aim for 20 grams. A larger person would need closer to 40 grams of protein after exercise.
In addition to protein after your workout, you should try to eat that same amount of protein (20-40 grams) four to five more times throughout the day.
Focus on high-quality protein sources that contain all the essential amino acids. Some of the best sources of complete protein are milk, eggs, soy protein, and meat. Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) is a tool for measuring protein quality. It will help you know which protein-rich foods to focus on.
Just as protein is needed to repair broken-down muscle, carbohydrates are required to replenish expended energy. Glycogen—stored glucose—is your primary source of energy for the first hour of exercise. The longer and harder you work out, the more your glycogen storage deplete. You will have to eat more carbohydrates to replenish it.
The research conducted 15+ years ago suggested consuming carbohydrates in 3:1 to 6:1 ratio compared to protein. While this is still valid, more recent research suggests you should take into account the exercise done and your overall daily diet.
Eating carbs can start before and during your workout. Eating them before exercise will help fuel your workout and maximize its potential. If you plan a long, difficult workout, also add some carbs along the way.
For post-workout carbs, you need to look at how many calories you plan to eat for the day. Refueling with carbs is important after a workout. But eating too many carbs right after a workout could quickly use up your day’s calories. This is especially true if you’re trying to lose weight. Prioritize protein first, then add carbohydrates as your calorie budget allows.
If you aren’t trying to lose weight and just finished a really hard workout, a few hundred grams of carbs might be appropriate. But you should eat fewer carbs (less than 50g) if your workout wasn’t particularly hard and you’re trying to lose weight.
Fat doesn’t play as direct of a role in exercise recovery as protein or carbohydrates. Too much fat can, in fact, slow down the absorption of the protein and carbs your body needs. That doesn’t mean you should avoid it, though.
Feel free to eat a mixture of high-protein and high-carbohydrate foods that also contain fat. Just don’t overdo it or worry about targeting a set amount of fat.
As mentioned above, some of the earliest research on recovery nutrition used chocolate milk. This research showed positive results in muscle and energy recovery. This lead many to turn to chocolate milk for their recovery meal.
Chocolate milk became so frequently used and referenced that many began to call it the “ideal” post-workout drink. It was also stated to have the “ideal ratio” of carbohydrates to protein. When you look into this ideal ratio, though, sometimes it is stated as 3:1 (carbs to protein), other times 4:1, and even as high as 6:1.
Why all the confusion? Well, different mixes of chocolate milk have different ratios of carbs to protein. The various researchers, nutritionists, and trainers also each had slightly different formulas they were using. And finally, as we have learned from additional research, there is no “ideal ratio.” Your post-workout needs are individual, and depend on your body, exercise, and diet.
Ask Yourself How Much You Sweat
Water is an important part of keeping your body running well. When you exercise, you lose some water through sweat. And it’s important to replenish it.
Make sure to drink plenty of water during your workout. The body can lose one to three liters of fluid per hour through sweat. Your post-workout goal is to replace any fluid lost that you didn’t drink during your workout.
And you lose more than water when you sweat. It also contains a large amount of sodium, which needs to be replenished.
The Salt in Your Sweat
Sweat rate: 1-3 L/hour
Sodium in sweat: 0.5-2 g/L
Sodium lost: 0.5-6 g sodium/hour
You can lose 0.5-6 grams of sodium per hour through sweat. You should replace that post-workout through the food eaten to get your protein and carbs. If your workout is longer, you should start replacing the essential mineral during exercise. This is why most sports drinks have sodium added.
Eat for Your Individual Needs
When deciding on your post-workout meal, it’s important to decide how much you will eat. And the amount is individual to you. That’s why the science moved away from simply telling you to drink a glass of chocolate milk. There is nothing wrong with chocolate milk post-workout, and it can be a part of your plan. But you might need something more or even something less.
Your protein needs are mostly determined by your body size. Your carb needs are decided by how many calories you eat each day, and what you ate before and during your workout. Water should be consumed throughout your workout, and continued through your post-workout meal.
All of these factors are different for you than others at the gym. So, consider these elements and listen to your body. That way you can maximize the hard work you’ve just done.
Should I Work Out On An Empty Stomach?
Working out on an empty stomach, or ‘fasted cardio’, may work for some people, but it isn’t for everyone.
I know that many of the BBG ladies have wondered if intermittent fasting might help them get results faster. For anyone who has tried intermittent fasting, you’ve probably done a cardio workout on an empty stomach, and you might already have an opinion about it!
- What Is Fasted Cardio?
- When To Workout On An Empty Stomach
- Pros & Cons of Fasted Cardio
- How Does Our Body Burn Fat
- Should I Do Fasted Cardio?
To help you to decide if you want to try fasted cardio, here are the pros and cons of working out in a fasted state, and whether fasting can make your cardio more effective.
What is fasted cardio?
Fasted cardio is exercise that you do when your body is in a fasted state. You enter a ‘fasted state’ when your body is no longer processing food, around 3-6 hours after eating.
When you do fasted cardio, you are working out on an empty stomach. Your levels of insulin (the hormone that is produced in the body when you eat) are low or at your baseline level.
When insulin levels are low, there isn’t readily available energy in the form of glucose in your bloodstream.
When you do fasted cardio, your body must rely on stored energy such as glycogen and fat to fuel muscle movement.
Fasted cardio doesn’t just have to be done first thing, it can be done at any time of day when your body is in a fasted state.
When to workout on an empty stomach
For anyone who finds that the best time of day to work out is first thing in the morning, it’s likely that you do your workout before breakfast!
Whether you are doing cardio or weights training, you probably want to know whether working out on an empty stomach can get you faster results or lose fat faster.
Some of us can eat before a workout and feel amazing, whereas others might feel nauseous or uncomfortable when they work out after eating.
Let’s take a look at why you might consider trying fasted cardio.
Pros and cons of fasted workouts
There are both cons and benefits to working out on an empty stomach.
But there’s a catch—well, a few of them. For starters, your body isn’t a fan of being starved, and it likes having fat stores. When you burn fat rapidly, your body begins to adjust your metabolism to compensate for that loss. Basically, it goes into a kind of survival mode and starts to burn fewer calories, says Pritchett. By burning so much fat, your body thinks it needs to store more of it when eat your next meal, completely counteracting those fat burning benefits. And as another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found, extended periods of fasting can lead to a drop in resting metabolic rates. So there’s no real upsides to foregoing food in this type of scenario.
Pre-fueled exercise may also suppress your appetite more than fasted exercise, according to one study published in the journal Appetite. All in all, participants expended the same amount of energy per day, but those who ate before working out felt less of an urge to eat more later. Considering the fact that weight loss largely comes down to how you eat, not what you do, this can be an important factor for those exercising to lose weight.
Furthermore, fasted exercise can cause you to shed some muscle in addition to fat under some circumstances. If your body has burned through its glycogen fuel stores, it may also obtain energy by breaking down muscle proteins in addition to those fats. Intense training always breaks down muscle so it can get stronger through protein synthesis, but doing so while fasted harvests more muscle sooner, making it more difficult to recuperate the lost mass.
That said, this only occurs when you increase the intensity of your workout beyond your normal routine. If, say, you were to do a normal workout first thing in the morning, your muscles would probably still have sufficient glycogen stores leftover from your previous meal. And according to one study from the Journal of Applied Physiology, being in a fasted state doesn’t increase or decrease your physical output or exertion during typical, submaximal exercise. Essentially, whether you workout hungry or not, you can do your usual thing at the usual intensity without worrying about muscle loss.
That can lead to another problem, though. While you could get through a workout fasted, you won’t have the energy to push yourself harder, and thus, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to improve at the same rate were you to eat first. A separate study, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine In Sport, suggests that fasted training significantly underperforms fed training when it comes to maximal exercise, or reaching for new personal bests. Pushing yourself is what leads to increased muscle mass and faster run times, so you want to do it as much as you can. When it’s all said and done, eating before a workout can actually increase your metabolism in the long run.
In short, yes, it’s feasible to work out on an empty stomach and get by just fine. Some people prefer it because they feel lighter, are more alert, and experience increased focus. But beyond personal preference, there’s not many benefits. You’re better off eating a carb-dense meal about an hour before your workout, and following it up with a high-protein, light-carb meal afterward. Plus, not eating puts in you in a crappy mood. Nobody wants to deal with a jerk at the gym. And you’re better off finishing your workouts feeling happy and refreshed, not miserable and ready to kill for food.
Should you eat before or after your workout? A dietician weighs in
In the age of intermittent fasting, diet trends, keto and more, nutrition information can get confusing really fast. And that makes it even more challenging to decide what to eat before a workout. Should it be a keto low-carb snack? Or maybe a high-protein paleo one? No matter what nutrition philosophy you subscribe to, you want to eat something that will fuel you through your workout session to give you energy and help you reach your fitness goals.
So how do you know what’s best for you? I turned to an expert that knows a thing or two about fueling for performance: Rasa Troup, a former Olympian turned dietician who specializes in sports and performance nutrition. Even if you’re not an athlete, the tips and scientific findings below will help you better understand how to fuel and recover from your workouts with food.
Should you eat before a workout?
Eating before a workout is unappetizing some people, while others rather have food in their system to help them power through a workout session. But even though what (or if) you eat before a workout depends on the person, there are some key guidelines everyone should keep in mind when it comes to deciding if you should eat or not.
First, if you work out really early in the morning, chances are you may not even have time to think about food, let alone prepare something before you head out the door. But exercising on an empty stomach may not be doing you any favors.
According to Troup, the science on fasted workouts is inconclusive, and she doesn’t necessarily recommend it to her clients. According to her experience with clients, they aren’t able to work out as intensely then if they have some fuel first. She says that shorter or less intense workouts won’t give you much of an “after-burn” effect, which helps your body burn more fat even after you’re done exercising.
Nevertheless, Troup says that some people choose to workout on an empty stomach because there is some evidence that it helps your body burn about 20 percent more fat during the workout. But while that sounds promising, Troup says that if you find that fasted workouts make you feel bad or are harder for you to recover from, it’s not worth that potentially higher fat-burning benefit.
The best things to eat before your workout
Greek yogurt and fruit is one example of a pre-workout snack that is a source of protein and carbs.
Fueling your workout isn’t an exact science. Although there are some foods known to give you more energy and support your muscles (e.g., protein and carbs), you want to choose foods that you know are easy for you to digest and don’t cause stomach issues (unless you like to stop mid-workout for a bathroom break… said no one ever).
Protein and carbs are your go-to nutrients when it comes to fueling workouts because carbs give your muscles energy, and protein helps your muscles repair faster. The best way to fuel a workout is with a protein- and carb-rich meal that you eat about three to four hours before a workout, according to Troup.
If it’s been a while since your last meal and you want to boost your energy with a snack before a workout, try to time it about one to two hours before you exercise. That snack should contain easy-to-digest carbs like grains, fruits or veggies, and protein from sources like dairy, meat or protein powder (like collagen peptides or whey protein isolate). Troup offered a banana with peanut butter or greek yogurt with some fruit as examples.
Foods to avoid pre-workout
The fiber in broccoli makes it harder to digest, which means you may want to avoid it before a workout.
One thing that’s really good for your health, but not for your workout? Fiber. “Try to avoid bulky, fibrous foods that can sit in your stomach (like broccoli, cruciferous veggies, or beans). You want to have some foods that don’t weigh you down in the stomach so the blood flow goes into your stomach — you want the blood flow to go into your muscle tissue,” Troup said.
The same goes for high-fat foods (even those of the healthy variety) since fat takes longer to digest, which means your stomach will compromise blood flow that you want to go to your muscles to aid your workout performance.
Is timing important?
The “30-minute” rule is the idea that drinking protein within 30 minutes of a workout is best for muscle repair and recovery.
If you’ve ever seen someone down a protein shake as they leave the gym, then they probably subscribe to the popular “30-minute rule,” which many think is the ideal window of time to consume protein after working out. But is it that important to pound protein immediately after a workout?
According to Troup, there is science behind this timing window (she has her pro-athlete clients consume 25 grams of protein 15-30 minutes after training) but for the average person who’s not a professional athlete or training for an endurance marathon or triathlon, it’s not as crucial. “Most of us have 24 hours to recover from session to session, so that particular 30-minute window is not as crucial,” Troup said.
Not that protein isn’t important after your workout — it definitely is. But Troup says it’s more beneficial to make sure you’re getting enough protein through balanced meals throughout the day than worrying about hitting the 30-minute window. This is because consuming adequate protein throughout the day can help encourage muscle repair and promote good muscle composition. Troup recommends 20-50 grams of protein per meal (depending on your height, muscle mass and weight).
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What to you eat after a workout
Your post-workout meals should look similar to a pre-workout meal: heavy on veggies and fruits, and include healthy proteins and fat. As Troup mentioned before, protein is highly important for muscle repair, so consuming it after a workout will encourage the recovery process. And consuming carbs is important too, since you just likely depleted them from your energy stores during your workout.
“You need both protein and carbs to repair the damage on the muscle,” Troup says.
How supplements can help
Supplementing with a protein powder can be helpful when you’re short on time and need quick fuel.
Although Troup has a “food first” approach when it comes to nutrition, she notes that supplements can be a helpful tool. In particular, collagen peptides, nitrates (derived from beets) and whey protein.
Consuming collagen peptides before a workout, like adding them to your coffee, can be particularly helpful since they provide protein that aids in muscle development. Collagen can also help with injury prevention during a workout. Nitrates (found in beets) are shown to improve performance and endurance, but there’s no need to chug tons of beet juice since supplements or concentrated shots can help you get nitrates more efficiently.
Troup also recommends whey protein in a pinch, since milk is helpful for muscle growth. “We also know that milk seems to be the biggest stimulator of muscle protein synthesis, so consuming chocolate milk or whey protein isolate could be a good way of enhancing muscle protein,” Troup said.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
How you space out meals during the course of the day might not make a big difference in the calorie department, but it has huge implications on your workout performance. Not only can ineffectively fueling your body hinder your performance, but also, eating too much before exercise can also interfere with your goals. When it comes to eating before exercise, it’s all about timing. No matter what time of day you choose to exercise, make sure to plan your workout two to three hours after your meal.
Going overboard with too much food right before a workout will leave you feeling sluggish and can lead to stomach discomfort. The last thing you want is your workout habits to hinder your digestion process. If it’s been a few hours since your last meal, however, then most experts agree that you should eat a small snack one hour before your workout to properly fuel your body. A combination of carbs and a little protein, all under 200 calories, will do the trick. If you’re not sure what constitutes a good choice, then check out these healthy pre-workout snacks for inspiration. And if you’re going for an early workout session, then remember that exercising on an empty stomach — even when you first wake up — is a bad idea. It might feel tough to eat first thing in the morning, but fueling your body with proper nutrients is essential for your workout. Consider one of these light breakfast snacks you can enjoy an hour before your morning workout.
You want to have enough energy to really push in your after-lunch workout, but worry that a meal might make you nauseous. Is it OK to exercise after you eat, or should you fast until your workout is over?
For many people, exercising strenuously on a full stomach can lead to reflux, hiccups, nausea and vomiting, said Dr. Daniel Vigil, health sciences associate clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. But there are some people who can eat a big meal and experience no issues when they exercise afterward, Vigil said.
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Research, on the other hand, shows that eating before exercising is not ideal. The best time to work out, Vigil said, is before you eat. A post-exercise nutrition program helps recovery and minimizes muscle damage, Virgil said. Plus, a recent study published in The American Journal of Physiology found that men who exercised without eating beforehand burned more fat.
However, if your schedule demands you eat first, Vigil suggestsed waiting an hour or two after your meal before exercising. That will allow the stomach to empty out.
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Of course, that rule changes if you’ve overeaten.
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“If you’re going to sit down to a Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast, it’s going to be in your stomach for a lot longer,” said Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “My general rule of thumb for my athletes is to wait an hour before exercising. And you want to keep the amount of food to about the size of your fist, not the size of a football.”
Bonci suggested tailoring what you eat to the kind of exercise you’ll be performing. So, if you’re going to be running, drink about 20 ounces of liquid an hour beforehand, she says. And eat something small and carbohydrate-based, such as a granola bar, a banana or some dry cereal.
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If you’ll be doing hot yoga, “you don’t want to start dehydrated,” Bonci said. “It’s not so energy expending as running, so you could do 8 ounces of juice and 12 ounces of water,” she said.
“If you’re going to be doing some degree of strength training — and that’s not just weight lifting, but also swimming since that’s got a strength component — it’s critical to have some protein. I’m not talking about a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs. The maximum should be 20 grams of protein. That could be 8 ounces of yogurt or 6 ounces of yogurt with some cereal on top of it.”
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Swimmers, she says, should get a combination of protein and carbohydrates. “You might try a bagel thin or sandwich thin with two eggs and a little cheese,” she suggested. “It’s not a huge volume, but it provides some protein and carbohydrates.”
Those who will be biking “need to take the gut into account and think about what it’s going to feel like to be crouched over for a long time,” Bonci said. “You may not feel comfortable with an omelet in your stomach and even a 6-inch sub may be pushing it.”
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If you’re hoping to get a little extra fuel in the tank right before working out, or, say, between two halves of a soccer game, Vigil said it’s generally OK to boost your energy with 100-200 calorie sports bar.
Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to NBCNews.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of “The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic” and the recently published “Duel for the Crown: Affirmed, Alydar, and Racing’s Greatest Rivalry”
- According to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, working out before eating breakfast can help you burn fat and respond to insulin better.
- However, it’s important to note that doing what works best with your personality, lifestyle, and schedule is key. In other words, don’t force yourself to exercise before breakfast if you truly can’t—working out at any point of the day is better than not working out at all.
It seems that people generally tend to fall into one of two camps: those who head out the door for their morning run without eating anything and those who need something in their stomachs first. But is one more beneficial to your health than the other? It’s a possibility, according to new research out of England.
In the six-week study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 30 overweight, inactive men were split into three groups:
- No exercise at all
- Ate a carb-only breakfast before exercise
- Ate a carb-only breakfast after exercise
Those in the exercise groups cycled at a moderate intensity three times per week at 50 percent of their peak power output during weeks 1 through 3, and at 55 percent of their peak power output during weeks 4 through 6. During week 1, participants cycled for 30 minutes; during week 2, participants cycled for 40 minutes; and during weeks 3 through 6, participants cycled for 50 minutes.
Participants consuming a carb-only breakfast (either two hours before or after working out) were given a drink that contained 1.3 grams of carbs per kilogram of body mass with vanilla flavoring that was a 20 percent carb solution. Participants who didn’t exercise at all throughout the study were given the same carb-rich drinks three days a week for breakfast and a placebo to drink with their lunch.
The researchers found that those who exercised before breakfast burned two times the amount of fat than those who exercised after breakfast. They also responded better to insulin—“all the more remarkable given that both exercise groups lost a similar amount of weight and both gained a similar amount of fitness,” Javier Gonzalez, Ph.D., study author and lecturer of human and applied physiology at the University of Bath, said in a press release.
One possible reason why exercising before breakfast leads to greater fat burn, according to Gonzalez, is due to availability of fatty acids—which, among other functions, fuel your cells if glucose isn’t available.
“When we exercise, we increase the number of fatty acids that the muscle is exposed to, and when the muscle sees these, it causes a cascade of signals that lead to adaptation,” Gonzalez told Runner’s World. “By exercising in the overnight fasted state, we increase the amount of fatty acids that the muscle is exposed to.”
And that can lead to greater health benefits: By burning more fat within your muscles, your muscles will adapt more to the exercise, Gonzalez said. That’s important because the more your muscles adapt, the stronger they’ll get.
Gonzalez and his colleagues also saw the muscles produce more of a key protein that helps take sugar out of the bloodstream, leading to lower insulin levels, which contributes to improving health, he said.
“High levels of insulin are linked to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, so a lower insulin level is thought to reduce future risk of these diseases,” Gonzalez said.
Still, there are some limitations of the study to take into consideration. For one, this study was only in men with who were overweight or obese, so it’s not entirely clear whether the same results would be seen in women, or in those who are a normal weight. More research needs to be done on those populations before a firm conclusion can be reached.
Plus, even if you are trying to exercise to shed some extra pounds or improve your health, you shouldn’t look to early, prebreakfast workouts as the definitive answer. The results aren’t enough that you absolutely have to force yourself to wake up early and get your runs or workouts in before breakfast if you don’t have time to do so, or simply aren’t a morning person.
Exercising at another time of day is better than not exercising at all, according to Gonzalez. While the results of this study could help those struggling to lose weight, everyone is different, and ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you personally.
Danielle Zickl Associate Health & Fitness Editor Danielle specializes in interpreting and reporting the latest health research and also writes and edits in-depth service pieces about fitness, training, and nutrition.