Nutrition Articles

What to Eat Before You Work Out

Eating Before Exercise for Maximum Results

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Everyone knows that athletes must plan and time their meals and snacks very carefully to reach their performance goals. But what about the rest of us? You try to squeeze in 30-60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Do you have to be careful about what you eat before and after your workouts, too?

Usually not. If you’re eating a healthy diet and getting enough calories to support your activity level, you can probably rely on your own appetite, energy levels, and experience to tell you whether you need to eat anything before or after exercise and what it should be. The basic rule here is: Find out what works best for you, and do that.

There are some advantages to knowing how your body works and what it needs to perform at its best. The bottom line for healthy weight loss and fitness sounds simple: You have to eat fewer calories than you use up—but not fewer than your body needs to function at its best.

The size, timing, and content of your pre- and post-exercise meals and snacks can play an important role in your energy levels during your workout, how well your body recovers and rebuilds after your workout, and whether the calories you eat will be used as fuel or stored as fat. Here’s what you need to eat and drink to get the results you want!

Your Pre-Exercise Fluid Needs
Being well-hydrated will make your exercise easier and more effective. Try to drink 16-20 ounces of water during the 1-2 hours before starting your workout.

Your Pre-Exercise Meal or Snack
News flash: Most of the fuel you use during exercise doesn’t come from the food you’ve recently eaten! It actually comes from the carbohydrates (called “glycogen”) and fat that’s stored in your muscles, liver, and fat cells. That’s enough to fuel 1-2 hours of very intense exercise or 3-4 hours of moderate intensity exercise.

This means that if your overall diet is adequate to keep your fuel tanks topped off, you may not need to eat anything before you work out. So, if eating before exercise upsets your stomach or you like to exercise first thing in the morning or at a time when eating first isn’t convenient, don’t feel like eating first is a must.

Some people do have a hard time exercising without eating first, especially if it’s been a long time since their last meal or snack. These individuals often are more sensitive to changes in their blood sugar levels, which fall during the first 15-20 minutes of workout. That drop in blood sugar can cause tiredness, mild dizziness, or even faintness—especially if your blood sugar was already low, but eating something beforehand can help prevent this. If you have health issues like diabetes or hypoglycemia that can cause low blood sugar, you’ll probably want to eat before your workout. If you get very hungry during a workout (and it interferes with your energy levels or focus), or become so ravenous after an exercise session that you end up overeating, try eating before you hit the gym to avoid these problems.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • FREDSHELTON19
    What about eating Sardines before working out? - 9/2/2014 8:23:13 PM
  • Whoops, looks like I've seen this one before, and already commented. I apologize for that. I can't edit it, so I have to add another comment just to apologize. :( - 8/27/2014 10:33:44 AM
  • Do NOT eat brand name Fig Newtons! Read the ingredients they contain trans fat. Try to find a knock off brand without the hydrogenated oil, you're working out to help your body, don't harm it with trans fat. - 8/27/2014 10:32:03 AM
  • I can not eat before a workout however I have to consume a good quantity of water before during and after otherwise I get so sick - 6/16/2014 2:44:41 PM
  • Read the label if you like the Fig Newton ideas. Most brands use trans fats, read the ingredients for any hydrogenated oils before buying. - 4/28/2014 11:53:22 AM
  • OMARCOO
    Hey ,I've only just recently been following your program , it's great
    actually , very useful post , and I would like to add my experiences on this topic :
    before exercise, you wish to have to eat carbohydrates to maximize the quantity of glycogen that’s saved for your muscular tissues. you do not need to consume much fat previous to train because it takes too long to digest. A good rule of thumb, is that you do not want your vitality drink or bar to have more than 2g of fat if you will eat it previous to and as regards to exercise time.
    and another thing : all the way through exercise, you must eat lengthy chain polysaccharide carbohydrates. that you can get these in sports activities “gels” and drinks. and for more information you can visit http://goo.gl/6XU
    Quc
    - 4/21/2014 7:35:31 AM
  • I got really bad heartburn today doing turbo jam, 30 day shred, and couch 2 5K . I drink lemon water, so I guess I will cut that out :( - 7/2/2013 7:28:20 PM
  • I end up with heartburn if i eat before i run. it doesn't seem to matter what it is i eat. - 6/26/2013 9:36:22 PM
  • After reading this article and its comments, I decided to eat something this morning before going on my walk. I ate 1/2 leftover sweet potato with Activia Strawberry Greek yogurt (see my Sweet Potato in a Strawberry Patch recipe). I think I ate it about 30-40 mins before I start walking AND I made sure I drank 1 bottle of water, also.

    Remarkable difference. NOT getting scientific or anything and it could be mind over matter but normally within 1/4th of a mile I'm reaching for water or a pick me up. NOT today, I walked my entire course and didn't reach for anything until ending 1/4 mile to finish. I also had more energy.

    NOT saying I'll do this every time BUT I'll do it more often! - 6/15/2013 11:36:48 AM
  • I've ridden 100-mile bike rides on just an energy gel for breakfast, then appropriate nutrition throughout (and no, not carbo-loading the night before!) If it takes at least an hour for food to digest, and longer for whole grains, then there would be no point in eating them right before a workout, correct? As with anything else, experiment and you'll find what's best for you. - 5/8/2013 5:08:22 PM
  • I get up in the morning and take my psyllium and L-Glutamine in a cup of warm water, then apple cider vinegar in another cup of water. Then I eat a hard-boiled egg and take a CLA with another 2 cups of water. Then I either hop on the treadmill or make tea and head to my desk to work, depending on what time I got up. I have dinner at about 3 or 4pm, so I need a protein boost as soon as I get up at 4am. - 4/29/2013 8:35:26 AM
  • I don't eat within 2 hours of working out, or I feel sick. I always take my morning walk on a completely empty stomach. - 4/28/2013 1:04:04 PM
  • First, if you work out in the morning on an empty stomach our body is going to bring out glycogen stored in the liver and take it to muscle to be broken down into glucose.
    Second, exercising in the morning with a piece of fruit and 1 cup of milk, your muscles are going to retrieve glucose that is been there in the blood stream for energy. So by this being said, there is less effort for the muscles to uptake energy for your work out. Consequently, glycogen will only leave the liver when low or no glucose flows in the blood. So stored glycogen and fat will always be in their reservours until later in the work out or even not leave their storage places (liver and adipose tissue) at all.

    p.s. Information based on my human anatomy and physiology class. - 4/4/2013 1:43:34 AM
  • A word of warning. If you are doing high intensity training or running, you may want to avoid milk right before a workout. When exercise stomach acid hits milk, it can cause an upset stomach. People have been known to throw up from exercising too soon after drinking milk. - 11/23/2012 4:42:27 PM
  • I usually eat before my work out otherwise my first thought when I get back in the house is "food" and then I don't make such good choices. So a meal about an hour before and then some fruit or something light within a few hours after works best for me. - 11/23/2012 10:18:09 AM

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