When is the best time to eat for exercise?
You only use the energy from food once you’ve digested and absorbed it. The time that it takes for this to happen depends on the type and quantity of food you eat. Generally, food that is higher in fat, protein and fibre tends to take longer to digest. Large portions of food would take longer to digest than smaller portions.
Exercising when your stomach is full is not ideal as it could cause stomach discomfort, nausea and cramping during your workout. A general guide is to have a meal about 3-4 hours before exercising or a lighter snack about 1-2 hours before, so that you can fully digest it. Experiment with the timing to determine how your body responds as this could be very individual.
What to do if you exercise early in the morning
If you train early in the morning, you should have a light snack about an hour before exercising. You could have some fruit or a cereal bar on the way to training along with some fluid such as milk or juice. If you carbohydrate intake before your exercise session was small you could make up for it by having carbohydrate during your training session.
What could you eat before you exercise?
The food you eat before exercising should provide energy from carbohydrates, the major source of fuel for active muscles. It should also be low in fat and moderate in fibre so that it is easy to digest and reduces the risk of stomach discomfort. Avoid foods such as meats, doughnuts, fries, potato crisps, and chocolate bars as a pre-exercise meal.
The following snacks are suitable to eat 1-2 hours before exercise:
- Liquid meal supplement
- Fat free or low fat milk shake or fruit smoothie
- Sports bars (check labels for carbohydrate and protein content)
- Breakfast cereal with fat free or low fat milk
- Cereal bars
- Fruit-flavoured yoghurt
The following foods are suitable to eat if there is less than 1 hour before exercise:
- Carbohydrate sports drinks
- Carbohydrate gels
- Sports bars (avoid the protein only bars)
- Jelly sweets
A small number of people experience a drop in blood glucose following the intake of carbohydrate in the hour prior to exercise.
Should you avoid eating before exercise if you’re trying to lose weight?
You could burn a higher percentage of fat if you do moderate intensity-exercise in a fasted state, but you could end up depleted and take longer to recover. If you consume carbohydrate before exercise you’ll probably burn more calories overall since you’ll have the energy to exercise harder and for longer – resulting in greater weight loss.
If you want to lose weight and you’re able to exercise equally hard whether you eat before exercise or not, then eat your meal after the session. If you exercise in a fasted state be sure to track your energy levels, how your body responds, and if you’re able to maintain your exercise intensity throughout the session.
What you eat throughout the week may be more important
Some exercisers focus solely on what they eat before and after exercise, your overall success is also determined by what you’ve been eating and drinking the rest of the week. Use your pre-exercise meals to energise your workout and match your goals but also to maintain a healthy diet the rest of the time.
Photo by Jeannie