Should you eat before or after you exercise?

The answer to the question posed in the title of this article is a single word, “Yes.”

Yes, you should eat before a workout, and, yes, you should also eat afterwards. The way to know just what to eat at those times begins when you discover what eating at such times does for your body.

Charging Up

The reason that you must eat before a workout is simply to be sure you have the energy to burn. While a lot of people want to burn up stored fat during exercise, if you have also starved your body for hours before that you may end up cueing your body to tap into muscle instead of fat. This is a tactic that the human body is programmed to use, and you could be harming your weight loss or exercise goals by allowing precious muscle to be consumed.

Remember too that the more muscle you have the more calories you burn during and after workouts, so it always behooves you to fuel the body appropriately for any workout. The amount of time you’ll want to pass between when you eat and when you workout is based on the quantity of food consumed. A good rule of thumb is:

  • Snack – You can eat up to an hour before working out.
  • Small meal – You can eat up to two to three hours ahead of the workout.
  • Large meal – You should eat a heavy or main meal at least four hours before you plan to exercise.

FOOD CHOICES BEFORE WORKOUTS

And what is it that you’ll want to eat? The goal here is to fuel up and provide yourself with enough energy to get through a workout. If you know that you’ll workout for a very long time and at a heavy pace, be prepared to eat a small energy snack or drink somewhere along the way. However, most people are fine with a meal or snack containing complex carbohydrates along with some simpler ones (i.e. whole wheat toast with banana slices or some other fruit). Energy bars are nice, but anything with whole grains, a bit of protein, and some simpler carbs for a burst of sugar energy work well.

RECHARGE

The reason to eat after a workout is to aid in the recovery process, especially when strength training. Muscles are going to need to replenish glycogen and that means you’ll need more of the complex carbs along with protein. This is often easily accomplished with fruit and yogurt, but a high quality meal of grilled meat (salmon or chicken) along with vegetables is great, so too would be an omelets with vegetables (including a few starchy ones). Energy shakes are great, as well; just watch the sugar content.

The goal is to help the body get the most out of the exercise and then to repair and restore itself. You never want to finish up a workout and just feel like you are sapped of energy. Instead, you want workouts to leave you feeling great and restored, and you need all of the right fuels to make that happen.

Source: MayoClinic. Eating and exercise. 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045506

Dr. Zayed