Many of us grew up with the old adage advice to wait at least 30 minutes after eating to hop in the pool-- or else we’d be stricken with severe cramps and inevitably sink to the bottom.
Now that we’ve grown, many of us are still holding on to the notion that we shouldn’t eat anything right before we exercise. Meanwhile, many of us don’t take the time to stop and grab a quick bite after we workout either -- but should we?
Read on to find out!
Should You Eat Before You Exercise?
In order to crush a vigorous workout, your body needs fuel (i.e., food), but it gets a bit tricky because too much of it can actually slow you down. So when it comes to eating before your workout, quantity, timing, and the type of exercise you’re doing make all the difference.
Here are a few golden rules to keep in mind when it comes to eating and exercise:
- If you like to exercise first thing in the morning, try to give yourself enough time-- two to three hours -- to eat a full, hearty breakfast before your workout. If you only have roughly an hour to spare, you should still put something in your stomach -- just make it a light meal or quick snack.
- You should wait to work out if you’ve eaten a large meal (at least 600 calories) for at least two to three hours. This is because it takes your body a little bit of time to digest a large meal, but intense exercise slows your digestion -- and instead diverts energy to your muscles instead. The result could leave you with an upset stomach and cramping. If you’ve eaten a small meal or snack, you should still wait roughly 30 to 60 minutes before working out intensely.
- Experiment with healthy snacks. For some, a small snack like a banana or nuts right before -- or even during -- exercise provides an energy boost. For others, it can make them feel a little lightheaded. Everyone is different, and you should do whatever feels good to you.
If you’re thinking about eating something before you exercise, what you eat and the kind of workout you do are important. If you’re going to engage in high-intensity activities, such as aerobics or kickboxing, for example, you need to give yourself a longer lead time for your food to digest.
On the flip side, if your workout isn’t going to be as strenuous, you can get away with eating something closer to your workout time.
You should refrain from eating foods really high in fat prior to your workout because these foods will stay in your stomach much longer, potentially causing it to become upset -- and no one wants to workout with an upset stomach! Foods that are high in fiber are also best to be avoided because they could stimulate your digestive system when your energy is needed elsewhere (like when you’re about to beat your 1RM).
If you want to eat something, stick with foods that are high in complex carbs and moderate in protein as that will satisfy your hunger, be digested easily, and help normalize your blood sugar, to help you feel at the top of your game when it comes to workout time.
Should You Eat During Your Workout?
If you plan on exercising intensely for an extended period of time (over one hour), it’s a good idea to replenish your body to avoid getting tired. A small piece of fruit, a granola bar, a few nuts, or a sport’s drink would all be a great choice because they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals. However, most of the time, just drinking good ol’ H2O is enough to keep your body going during your workout.
What To Eat After A Workout
It’s really important to eat within 30 to 60 minutes after your workout so that you can boost your body’s recovery process. What foods are best, you ask? Go for simple carbs, which help quickly refuel your muscles and proteins, which help rebuild your muscles. Believe it or not, chocolate milk is a really great post-workout treat as it combines both macronutrients and it’s super hydrating. Other good workout bets include:
- Fruit or bar with a protein shake
- Raisin bread with cottage cheese and a few sliced bananas
- Greek yogurt with fruit
- Granola and toast
- A couple of eggs with wheat toast and fruit
- A lean protein burger with avocado, and a side of salad or fruit
- A veggie and quinoa bowl, a cup of soy milk, and a piece of fruit.
Make sure you hydrate post-workout, too. And if you happened to get super sweaty during your workout, be sure to consume electrolytes to replace what you lost. Bananas -- which contain the electrolyte potassium -- are a solid pick.
If your workout was brief and low-intensity, on the other hand, you don’t necessarily need a recovery snack or meal. Instead, think back to when you last ate. If it’s been three to four hours -- or if you actually feel hungry -- then find something to snack on. But if not, don’t feel obligated to chow down on something.
A Final Word
So, how long should you wait after eating before your workout, you ask?
Ultimately, it’s up to you to pay close attention to how food affects your workout performance, and you also should take note of how you feel with varying lengths of time in between eating and exercising.
That said, a good rule of thumb to go by is:
- After a large meal (more than 600 calories), you should wait at least two to three hours to allow your digestive process to finish.
- After a light meal or snack, you should wait 30 minutes to 60 minutes before your workout.
If you plan on exercising for more than 60 minutes, it’s a good idea to eat a small snack or sip on a sports drink during your workout to replenish the lost vitamins and minerals that you lose naturally when you sweat. This will help to keep your body going strong throughout your entire workout.
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