Should I eat before I workout?
In short, the answer to this will nearly always be yes. The longer answer goes a little like this: if and what you eat before you train can make or break your session, and therefore gains (both performance and physical gains). The key is consuming enough of the right amount of food to provide your body with the energy you need to have a good training session, without eating too much that you feel sick or bloated, or not enough which will leave you feeling lethargic, hungry and unable to train for very long. What and how much you eat will depend on a few different factors: the time of day you're training, the duration and intensity of training, your personal goals, your preferences of food, and how eating before training makes you feel!
- Time of day: first thing in the morning your body will be in a fasted state, so if you're doing light cardio you might like to stay fasted to keep burning fat, and then re-fuel with breakfast afterwards. However, it is likely that you will be able to work harder and longer if you eat something first, but if you're just wanting to take it easy, light exercise in a fasted state is fine. If you're doing any high intensity training, eating something beforehand will help you get the most out of your workout. This doesn't have to mean eating more food in your day, just re-shuffling when you eat to ensure you have fuel in your tank for training. For example, eating some of your breakfast pre-training (eg. a banana or a piece of toast) and the rest afterwards. If you're training in the afternoon, and it's been 4-5 hours since lunch, eating something light will help with energy during training, and motivation to get there. If it's only been a couple of hours since your last meal or snack you may find that you don't have to eat anything more, but if you're low on energy, something small might help (think fruit or peanut butter on toast).
- Duration and intensity of training: the longer the training session, and the harder you want to be pushing yourself, the more food you are going to need to consume. For example, if you are going for a low intensity walk of 30mins-1 hour, you won't need to eat any additional food prior to this (unless you're hungry of course!). However, if you're doing an hour long bootcamp or pt session where you will be pushed to your limits, consuming some food prior will help you work harder.
- Personal goals: even if your main goal is weight loss, there is still room for eating before exercise. Eating around exercise is extremely beneficial, and a time when your body really needs food and nutrients. Eating before a workout will give you more energy during your training to work harder and get the most of your training session. If your goal is focused on performance then eating something prior to your workout is a must!
- Preference for food: as always you should enjoy the food you're eating, and it should sit comfortably in your stomach. This might take some trial and error to work out what works best for you. For example, first thing in the morning you might only be able to stomach half a banana and a coffee, and that's ok, what works best for you might not be the same as someone else.
When to eat: generally eating 1-2 hours before a workout will give your body enough time to break down the food, and for the energy and nutrients to be available for use. This might not always work, but if you are eating close to a workout you'll need to eat a smaller quantity and focus on carbohydrates as they are broken down the fastest. Protein, fats and fibre all slow gastric emptying and can cause stomach upset if consumed too close to exercise, so it's best to minimise these foods in the hours prior.
The focus on a pre-workout snack is carbohydrates for energy, and perhaps a little protein. Examples of what to eat a few hours before exercise:
- A piece of toast with a boiled egg;
- Fruit with nut butter;
- Vita wheats with ricotta or cottage cheese;
- A coffee and a banana;
- Peanut butter sandwich;
- Greek yoghurt with fruit;
- Oats with honey or fruit;
- Breakfast cereal with milk.
Mix it up, try a few different things. Everyone is different, and will react differently to different foods. The aim is to have a pre-workout meal/snack that ensures you have plenty of energy, aren't hungry, and that sits comfortably in your stomach so you can get the most out of your training. If fat loss is your main goal, you definitely don't have to eat before you workout, but do some trial and error - try training in a fed vs fasted state, you may surprise yourself and find that you work harder and enjoy your training a lot more with some extra fuel in your tank. What's your go-to snacks before you workout?
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