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Yes or no: Eat before working out?

Should you consume a meal pre-workout?

We all want to get the most out of our workouts. Proper nutrition can make or break our ability to have a great workout. Pre- workout meals play a vital part in how you perform when exercising. Many factors such as workout type, duration, time of day, type of food, and the individual, play a part in workout performance.

 Type of Workout

Vigorous workouts tend to make people feel sensitive to food. This can cause indigestion and nausea during exercise. Give yourself plenty of time to digest food, or have something small before you work out.

Length of Workout

It is important to eat something before exercising, especially for long workouts lasting 60 minutes or longer. Moreover, 90 minutes to 3 hour workouts require a helpful amount of carbohydrates of 45-60 grams per hour to fuel your workout. Trail and error is key to determine what you should eat and when. Those with easily reactive stomachs benefit from extra time between food consumption and exercise. Experimenting with what to eat or drink to see if it will sit well is highly favorable.

Time of Day

Morning Workouts

Eating a pre-workout meal to fuel morning workouts will provide for much needed energy after an overnight fast when energy levels are low. What you should eat depends largely on how much time there is before the workout.

Some individuals cannot tolerate a morning meal before a workout. No problem. Short workouts on an empty stomach are okay as long as there is priority for a post-workout meal to refuel.

Here are a few suggestions of what to eat and when:

  • 30–60 minutes before: Aim for a carbohydrate and a small amount of protein, such as a banana with a little peanut butter, toast with almond butter or a quality protein bar.
  • 1–2 hours before: If you have a bit more time, a more robust meal can give the body more lasting energy and prevent mid-workout hunger pangs. Protein and fat take longer to digest than carbohydrates. Try scrambled eggs, veggies and toast, oatmeal with berries and nuts , or a whole-wheat bagel with a little cream cheese and a side of fruit or yogurt.

Afternoon and Evening Workouts

Fueling strategies before an afternoon or evening workout differ from the morning because we already have some energy in our system from prior meals. The upside is we may have more stamina, while the downside is digestion is happening. Those with sensitive stomachs, in particular, must time eating and workouts accordingly.

  • Early afternoon workouts: If you are working out after lunch, you may not need a snack. This depends almost entirely on the individual in terms of digestion, type of workout and what you had for lunch. For instance, you may not need a snack if the workout is within 1–2 hours after lunch and you are not hungry. If you are feeling hungry, an easily digestible snack like those in the 30–60-minute guidelines above works well.
  • Late afternoon/early evening workouts: If more time has gone by after lunch and you are working out before dinner, a snack may be more necessary so you do not workout on a near-empty stomach. The guidelines above can apply here too.

Regardless of recommendations, ultimately you know your body best. What one person tolerates or needs before a workout can be drastically different from the next. There is no “right” answer because our bodies are unique. Getting to know your body’ s needs is important to help reach your goals.

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