Should You Eat Before You Exercise?

December 21, 2015

Should You Eat Before Working Out?

When you eat before you exercise, you fuel your tissues and prepare yourself for exertion.

We hear a lot of conflicting things about food. Beyond making healthy choices regarding the food we consume, we also have to decide what we’re going to consume when. Things can get especially confusing when we’re trying to figure out if we should eat before we workout, and, if so, with that foods should we fuel ourselves in order to get the most out of our workouts? This article will explore how to time your pre-workout snacks and select the best foods for your level of activity.

Yes, it is good to have a snack before your workout—but timing is key if you have a sensitive stomach. If you’re like many people, you may even avoid eating anything at all before you hit the gym or the barre studio to avoid upset stomach or indigestion. According to professional fitness trainer Jillian Michaels, however, fueling yourself before a workout is as necessary as charging your iPhone before using it. If you have a snack roughly 45 minutes before your workout, you can workout more intensely than if you were working out on an empty stomach. Eating a small snack (like half a banana or a handful of berries) and then waiting a bit to workout will give your body easy-to-digest sugars without taxing your digestive system, resulting in a decreased likelihood of experiencing upset stomach during your exercise. If you have no appetite before your workout—or if you’re still concerned about digestive issues, a green juice sweetened with a piece of fruit may do the trick since these are light on the stomach and take such little work to digest.

You heard that correctly—you need sugar before your workouts! Just make sure it’s the right kind. When your blood sugar is low (i.e. if you’re working out on an empty stomach), then your body will convert muscle tissue to energy. This is not what we what we want! Working out on an empty stomach and working out after consuming food actually burns roughly the same amount of fat, so you might as well have a few bites of food and protect yourself from muscle loss in the process. According to Brendan Brazier, creator of Vega and the Thrive way of eating, for a high-intensity workout you’ll want to snack on simple sugars (like those from fruit as opposed to complex carbs—such as those found in oatmeal and other whole grains) in order to give your body an easily absorbable form of energy. Simple sugars found in processed foods (like candy and store-bought fruit juice), however, are best avoided.

If you’ll be working out for more than one hour, include a mix of protein, simple sugars, and healthy fat in your pre-workout snack.  If you’re doing a moderate- to low-intensity workout (like a hike and bike ride), you can have more slower digesting foods to help you hang in for the long haul. A homemade trail mix with unsweetened dried fruit and raw (or sprouted nuts) will provide a healthy form of slow-burning energy.

Don’t forget to eat after your workout, too! It’s a commonly held belief that if you avoid eating after your workout, you’ll burn more calories and lose more weight. Fortunately, you don’t have to deprive yourself after exercising. In fact, you’re better off eating a piece of fruit within 20 minutes of working out in order to keep your blood sugar from dipping too low—your body needs fast fuel to rebuild muscle tissue, after all. Brazier explains that forty-five minutes to an hour after your workout is the best time to treat your body to a plant-based protein-rich meal focused on leafy green, quinoa, and/or legumes. Making sure you eat within a reasonable timeframe of your workout helps ensure that your body has the nutritional resources to rebuild muscles and prevent muscle loss.

How do you fuel up for a workout?

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Photo: Francesco Gallarotti via Unsplash

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Peaceful Dumpling Beauty Editor and creator of Bisou du Jour, Mary Hood Luttrell lives with her husband in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mary is a freelance writer and writing and blogging consultant. A lover of whole foods, Mary delights in learning new ways to prepare vegan dishes. Mary also enjoys reading and writing poetry, art journaling, running, and practicing yoga and ballet. Follow Mary on her blog Bisou du Jour, Instagram and Pinterest.

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