When to eat before a workout to maximize exercise benefits

It can feel difficult to decide how to put in the time to eat to maximize exercise benefits. Here, fitness experts share tips that can help you cut stress and discomfort out of the equation and give your body the fuel it needs.

Whether and how fast you should eat before exercising depends on the intensity of the exercise you need to do.

“If you’re looking at a very high-intensity workout, you need fuel to be able to use that glucose, the sugar, for energy,” said physiotherapist Nicholas Rolnick. Glucose, which we mainly get from carbohydrate-rich foods, is our body primary source of fuel.

“If you do not give your body the fuel it needs to exert itself for the short periods of time, along with your body’s ability to synthesize some of that energy during the workout itself, the intensity of your workout will not be as high as it would have been if you had had some carbs to help maintain that workout, “he said.

Important Note: Before starting a new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you feel pain.

Planning your meals and snacks before training

Negative effects of exercising on an empty stomach also include “feeling dizzy, having headaches, feeling weak and feeling weak,” said Stephanie Mansour, personal trainer and weight loss trainer, via email. Conversely, if you eat too early or too much before your workout, digestion will steal some of the energy your muscles need to do their job.

You should eat between one and four hours before exercising, according to consensus among experts, including American Heart Association and Nutrition and Dietetics Academy. Consume enough food and fluids – 16 to 20 ounces of water before exercising, it is also important to balance fluid loss and improve the quality and length of recovery time according to American College of Sports Medicine.
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The harder your muscles work, the more carbohydrates they will need to continue, wrote registered dietitian Christopher Mohr for Eat right, a publication of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To burn your strenuous workout, Mohr suggested eating oatmeal with low-fat milk and fruit or a peanut butter and banana sandwich.
“Note that each of these proposals contains both protein and carbohydrates,” Mohr wrote. “Carbohydrates are the fuel. Protein is what rebuilds and repairs, but also the ‘primer pump’ to make the right amino acids available to your muscles.” Amino acids help the body repairs tissues, grows and breaks down additional food.
Your pre-workout plate should mostly contain carbohydrates and a moderate amount of lean protein, according to Cleveland Clinic. Limit dietary fats and fiber as it takes longer to digest them.

On unique schedules and diets

If early mornings are the time you exercise, you may think it is impossible to eat one to four hours before. If you are not someone who prefers to exercise before eating, what you can do in this case is to have a small easily digestible snack to get a little started in advance, Rolnick said.

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The light morning snack could be apple slices with nut butter, a banana or Greek yogurt and berries. You can also use this advice if you are doing a short, light intensity workout at any time of the day, the Cleveland Clinic advised.

“As a weight loss trainer for women, I recommend that my clients have a hard-boiled egg or a handful of almonds before a workout, even if it is only within 30 minutes of training, so they have enough energy to complete their workout,” Mansour said. You can also drink a protein shake, she added.

“Eating earlier in the day also speeds up the metabolism, which helps speed up weight loss,” Mansour said.

Whether and how fast you should eat before exercising may also depend on your desired results from the exercise: Some people who follow low-carb, ketogenic or intermittent fasting lifestyles try to exercise while their glucose stores are low, so they can burn fat instead of stored calories or food they recently ate.

“If this is part of your protocol, try it and see how you feel,” Mansour said. “Keep in mind that while fasting, lower-intensity training is likely to help you feel more stable and less tired compared to high-intensity training.”

Overall, you should listen to your body. “At the end of the day, you’re your own best trainer and instructor. If it does not feel good to eat before a workout, do not,” Mansour said. “But if you do the same things and are not happy with your results, you need to change it. Eat before the workout, eat after the workout, change the workouts and ultimately listen to your body and modify your strategies to reach your goal.”

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