Choosing what to eat is just one part of the puzzle, whether you’re trying to lose weight or boost your performance. The other challenge is deciding when to eat, and it gets even trickier when exercise is involved. Let’s break it down.
Should you eat before exercising?
There are two main sides to the debate about whether you should eat before working out.
One group prefers not to eat anything before their morning workout, except for a cup of coffee because of the caffeine. The other group can’t imagine working out without having a good breakfast. Both sides have good points.
Exercising on an empty stomach might make you feel lighter and avoid needing the bathroom at the gym. But eating ensures you have enough energy to get through your workout.
Benefits of not eating before a workout But there’s more to consider than just personal preference. Studies suggest that those who skip breakfast before exercising might be onto something, although the science isn’t completely clear.
One study with 273 people found that burning fat was higher during exercise on an empty stomach, while insulin and glucose levels were higher when not fasting. But overall, science hasn’t definitively shown that fasting is better for exercise, as some research shows no difference between the two methods.
Drawbacks of skipping food before a workout However, this idea of working out without eating only works if you can still perform well during your workout. If you start feeling dizzy or like you might faint, it’s not a good idea.
How well you can perform depends on what and when you ate the day before. If you had a meal heavy in carbohydrates the night before, you’ll likely have enough energy for your morning run.
Remember, most people wake up a bit dehydrated from not drinking overnight. So, at the very least, have a glass of water before your morning workout.
Think about the type of exercise
When deciding whether to eat before a workout, think about the kind of exercise you’re doing. You might be able to do an hour of yoga without any issues. But a 10-mile run is a different story – you’ll need some kind of nutrition.
For longer endurance exercises, like marathon training, having a meal with lots of carbs 3 to 4 hours before can help. For shorter workouts, there’s still debate. Most studies show that whether you eat or not doesn’t make a big difference if your workout is under an hour.
Your best bet? If you’re planning a longer or intense workout, have a small meal a few hours before to make sure you have enough energy.
What to eat before a workout
For the best performance, your body needs protein and carbs before you work out.
Carbs help stock up your body’s energy stores, which your liver and muscles use when you’re running low on energy. Protein helps prevent muscle damage and helps you recover after your workout.
Complex carbs like oatmeal, veggies, brown rice, and beans are great. And protein doesn’t always have to come from meat – eggs, almonds, chicken, nut butters, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, lentils, and quinoa are also good sources.
To keep it simple, pair proteins and carbs together, like Greek yogurt with fruit or eggs and spinach on whole-grain toast. If you’re in a hurry, a protein shake you’ve prepared ahead of time with half a banana can work.
Timing matters too. Eating 2 to 3 hours before your workout gives you the best performance, according to research. Give your body enough time to digest, especially if you’re doing a long run. Having undigested food in your stomach can lead to stomach problems during exercise.
Recovering after your workout After you work out, your goals are refueling and recovery. Carbs help replace the energy you’ve used up, and protein helps repair your muscles. A good ratio is 3 parts carbs to 1 part protein.
Take advantage of the hour after your workout for recovery. Have a smoothie, a wrap with turkey and veggies, or yogurt with berries.
Don’t forget to drink enough fluids too. You need to replace what you’ve sweated out. Water is great for hydration, but milk is also good – it adds protein and electrolytes that can help with recovery.
And remember, your recovery process goes on for 24 to 48 hours after a tough workout. So, make sure you’re still eating nutritious meals during that time.
In a nutshell Research is still mixed about whether working out on an empty stomach is better. It might work if you’re doing light to moderate exercise and your goal is weight loss or maintenance.
But pay attention to your body. If you start feeling dizzy, slow down a lot, lose your form, or breathe rapidly even when you shouldn’t, your body might be telling you it needs fuel. For more intense workouts, make sure you eat some protein and carbs before you start. Feeling dizzy while doing burpees isn’t the best way to start your day.
Remember, everyone’s different when it comes to fitness. You’ll need to try different foods before and after workouts to figure out what works best for you.