A lot of people ask this question, “Should I eat before or after a morning workout?” This is largely dependent on your goal. However, after reading this article you will know the answer. A lot of people want to get the best results from their morning workout. If you’ve got a big day coming up or want to shed a few pounds before summer, then you need to pay attention to your eating schedule before exercising.
Should you eat before or after a workout?
Whatever your fitness goals, if you’re not fueling your body correctly, you’ll only get so far. But should you eat before or after a workout? And what about eating before or after you head out for a run? Knowing when to eat can sometimes be as important as knowing what to eat, so to help de-bunk the myths, we spoke to a nutritionist.
It’s worth noting here that a lot of the time, it’s about finding out what works best for you and your body. Personally, I prefer to head out for a run without eating anything beforehand, as I find I feel more comfortable and lighter. That said, if I’m training for a marathon and heading out for a run that’s longer than an hour and a half, I might take a gel with me, or eat half a banana before heading out the door. Everyone is different, and if you have any questions, it’s worth chatting to your doctor, or personal trainer.
We asked nutritionist, running coach, and personal trainer, Alex Parren, for her advice. Here’s what she had to say.
Is it better to eat before or after a workout/run?
You should always eat after a workout or run, even if it is late in the evening after dinner. This is because there is something called the ‘anabolic window’ when the body is in the best condition for absorbing nutrients. The anabolic window is open 15-60 minutes after exercise, which means this is the best time to have a balance of protein, fat, and carbs to refuel your body and give it the best chance for optimum recovery. If you have done your workout or run late in the evening, especially after dinner, you should still consume something, even if it’s just a protein shake and a banana. This will reduce the effect of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and allow you to recover faster and be ready for your next workout sooner.
When it comes to eating before a workout, this is still up for debate. A lot of people swear by ‘fasted cardio’ which is when you do a workout or run in the morning before eating anything. The science is inconclusive on whether this method burns more fat than if you were to eat something, however, for runners, there is a notable benefit. Doing a shorter or easier run in a fasted state can be used to train your body to function with little to no fuel in the tank. This would train your body to respond better in the last few miles of a marathon, for example, when you are likely to be running on empty. Definitely save this for shorter, easier workouts though and you only need to do it if there will be a time when it’s useful. For runs that last longer than an hour, you should always eat beforehand.
If you do eat before a gym session, what should you be eating?
If you’re going to eat before a gym session, make sure you eat at least two hours beforehand, to give the food adequate time to digest and absorb into the body. The best thing to eat would be a balanced meal incorporating carbs, fat, and protein — such as porridge with peanut butter, a vegetable omelette, or chicken with brown rice. If you’re going to eat closer to your workout, stick with simple carbs which are easy to digest, such as a banana or some Greek yogurt with a topping of blueberries and honey.
If you do eat after a gym session, what should you be eating?
What you eat post-workout is really important and will make or break your recovery. Prioritize quality food and again you’ll want a balance of protein, carbs and fat. Lean protein such as turkey or chicken with a side of vegetables and brown rice would be ideal, or alternatively, if you are vegan, perhaps a vegan chilli made with kidney beans for protein and a homemade tomato sauce with lots of vegetables. Another tasty idea would be smoked salmon and cream cheese on a wholemeal bagel if it’s lunchtime and you want something quick, easy but still delicious.
How food fuels exercise
One question comes up repeatedly when it comes to food and workouts: Is it better to eat before or after a training session? That’s a tough one to answer, and here’s why: They’re both important, says Patton.
Munching before exercising provides your body with the energy it needs to power through the session. Chowing down afterward helps with recovery.
Not just any old fuel will do, though. It’s important to put the right stuff in your tummy tank. Foods rich in carbohydrates and protein provide the nutritional building blocks your hard-working body needs.
“Carbs supply the energy to carry you through your workout,” says Patton. “Protein provides amino acids that your body uses to repair and build muscle.”
Together, they form a mighty one-two punch that would gain a CrossFit instructor’s approval.
Timing, though, is key.
The Best Foods to Eat Before and After a Run
An effective training schedule isn’t made up of runs alone. If you want to improve both your endurance and your race times, it’s essential to think about what you’re putting into your stomach.
By eating the right foods at the right times, “your body will recover and be able to perform the way you want it to,” says Lauren Antonucci, R.D., a board-certified specialist in sports nutrition and director of Nutrition Energy. “Plus, you’ll reduce your chance of injury and illness.”
Here’s how to fuel up before and after your training runs to maximize results.
Before: For a morning jog of no longer than 30 or 45 minutes at a relaxed pace—that is, one you could talk through—a glass of water might be all you need ahead of time, provided you had a decent dinner the night before. But if last night’s meal wasn’t filling, or if you ate it early, downing a banana will replace glycogen stores in your muscles to stave off sluggishness. If you’re heading out in the afternoon, have a snack with about 50 grams of carbs in it—like a granola bar—an hour or two beforehand, suggests Monique Ryan, R.D., author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes.
After: There’s no need to take in calories immediately, but try to eat a snack or your next meal within an hour or two. Skipping a solid post-run meal could lead to lethargy or sugar cravings later in the day—or down the road, even sickness or injury. It’s also a good idea to get some fiber and some protein to continue helping your muscles rebuild from prior hard training days.
Before: It doesn’t matter whether you’re tackling hill repeats or a fartlek—any kind of speed work will zap your energy stores, so some pre-run chow is a must. “This is not the time to skimp on calories,” says Antonucci, who advises taking in 200 to 400 calories (depending on your size and how long before the run you’re snacking) of easily digestible carbs, such as toast with jelly. And Ryan suggests replenishing your fast-twitch muscles with a sports drink or gels between intervals. It’s been shown to improve performance up through the last rep.
After: Unlike with those easy runs, you’ve got no time to waste after speed work. “It’s absolutely crucial to eat something within 30 minutes,” says Antonucci, to supply your muscles with fluid, carbs and some protein. Aim for a 4-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein (ultra-easy source: chocolate milk) to best aid recovery.
Long Training Runs
Before: It’s most beneficial to eat a full meal three or four hours before you head out to slog through many miles. But “there’s ideal, and then there’s practical,” Antonucci says. If the idea of setting your alarm for 3 AM sounds, well, insane, just have that meal an hour or two ahead of the run. But adjust the menu if breakfast gets close to the outing: Go for something easily digestible, like a banana with peanut butter and a high-calorie sports drink. “Even more important,” says Ryan, “is to have a good hydration and fueling plan for the run.” Try to take in between 150 and 300 calories per hour during extra-long bouts—with gels, sports drinks, or whatever snack that you can carry and your body can handle.
After: As with speed work, make sure to eat within half an hour of your finish. Go for 200 to 300 calories and try to include an avocado or walnuts, which have been shown to reduce inflammation caused by all that pounding the pavement. Then sit down to a bigger meal a few hours later and continue snacking every two hours or so for the rest of the day, suggests Ryan: “Your muscles can’t bounce back from one feeding; eating more often jump-starts recovery.”
Eating and exercise: 5 tips to maximize your workouts
Eating and exercise go hand in hand. When and what you eat can be important to how you feel when you exercise, whether it’s a casual workout or training for a competition. Consider these eating and exercise tips.
1. Eat a healthy breakfast
If you exercise in the morning, get up early enough to finish breakfast at least one hour before your workout. Be well fueled going into a workout. Studies suggest that eating or drinking carbohydrates before exercise can improve workout performance and may allow you to work out for a longer time or at a higher intensity. If you don’t eat, you might feel sluggish or lightheaded when you exercise.
If you plan to exercise within an hour after breakfast, eat a light breakfast or drink something such as a sports drink. Focus on carbohydrates for maximum energy.
Good breakfast options include:
- Whole-grain cereals or bread
- Low-fat milk
- A banana
And remember, if you normally have coffee in the mornings, a cup before your workout is probably OK. Also know that anytime you try a food or drink for the first time before a workout, you risk an upset stomach.
2. Watch the portion size
Be careful not to overdo it when it comes to how much you eat before exercise. The general guidelines suggest:
- Large meals. Eat these at least 3 to 4 hours before exercising.
- Small meals or snacks. Eat these about 1 to 3 hours before exercising.
Eating too much before you exercise can leave you feeling sluggish. Eating too little might not give you the energy you need to keep feeling strong throughout your workout.
3. Snack well
Most people can eat small snacks right before and during exercise. The key is how you feel. Do what works best for you. Snacks eaten soon before exercise probably won’t give you added energy if your workout lasts less than 60 minutes, but they may prevent distracting hunger pangs. If your workout is longer than 60 minutes, you may benefit by including a carbohydrate-rich food or beverage during the workout. Good snack options include:
- An energy bar
- A banana, an apple or other fresh fruit
- A fruit smoothie
- A whole-grain bagel or crackers
- A low-fat granola bar
- A peanut butter sandwich
- Sports drink or diluted juice
A healthy snack is especially important if you plan a workout several hours after a meal.
4. Eat after you exercise
Yogurt and fruit
Fuel your body for everyday performance
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To help your muscles recover and to replace their glycogen stores, eat a meal that contains both carbohydrates and protein within two hours of your exercise session if possible. Consider a snack if your meal is more than two hours away. Good post-workout food choices include:
- Yogurt and fruit
- Peanut butter sandwich
- Low-fat chocolate milk and pretzels
- Post-workout recovery smoothie
- Turkey on whole-grain bread with vegetables
5. Drink up
Don’t forget to drink fluids. You need adequate fluids before, during and after exercise to help prevent dehydration.
To stay well hydrated for exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you:
- Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (473 to 710 milliliters) of water during the 2 to 3 hours before your workout.
- Drink about 1/2 to 1 cup (118 to 237 milliliters) of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. Adjust amounts related to your body size and the weather.
- Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (473 to 710 milliliters) of water after your workout for every pound (0.5 kilogram) of weight you lose during the workout.
Water is generally the best way to replace lost fluids. But if you’re exercising for more than 60 minutes, use a sports drink. Sports drinks can help maintain your body’s electrolyte balance and give you a bit more energy because they contain carbohydrates.