Is it better to eat before or after working out?
Morning exercisers are especially guilty of exercising on an empty stomach. If you hit the road without any breakfast, you’ll be running on fumes, not fuel. It’s like choosing not to put gas into your car before driving to work. A few gallons will get you farther than if your tank is on or below empty.
Now, about eating after exercise: if you are a competitive athlete, what you eat after a workout is just as important as what you eat leading up to a workout, because your body needs to recover and replace glycogen stores in time for the next workout. If you are a recreational exerciser and work out 2 – 3 times per week, you need not worry as much about post-exercise foods because your body will have enough time between workouts to recover. It’s common not to want to eat after exercise, because you may not feel hungry and/or don’t have time. Learning to eat right after a workout, though, has benefits.
Studies have shown that 15 – 60 minutes after a workout is the optimal time to eat carbohydrate rich foods and drinks (e.g., banana, bagel, orange juice) because that is when enzymes that make glycogen are most active and will most quickly replace depleted glycogen stores in the muscles. Protein also helps with recovery in that it repairs muscle and helps with glycogen replacement. Eat a few slices of turkey on a wheat bagel, or have a large glass of protein fortified milk. The most important nutritional strategy post workout, though, is fluid replacement. Drink water, juice, or carbohydrate rich sports drinks to replace what you sweat out.
What you choose to eat before you exercise can make or break your workout. Food is fuel, and it’s important to eat at least something prior to a workout. Eating before exercise serves several functions:
- fuels your muscles (both with food eaten in the days before as well as the hour or two before)
- helps settle your stomach and avoid hunger
- helps prevent low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) — symptoms can include dizziness, nausea, and headaches
- fortifies your mental state by knowing that your body is fueled
If you aren’t used to eating before or after exercise, remember that it’s a learned behavior. You can train your body to do almost anything. Teaching your body how to use food for exercise is an important part of building your fitness. Building fitness takes time, and so does learning to eat properly. With practice and patience, you can reap the benefits of good nutrition for exercise.