Nutrition Articles

What to Eat Before You Work Out

Eating Before Exercise for Maximum Results

7.9KSHARES
Page 1 of 2
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.
Continued ›
Page 1 of 2   Next Page ›
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
7.9KSHARES

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

  • LAMYNNJORLZ
    See, right now. I am kinda wanting to build my body up! I see other guys and they are built up and i feel insecure. With what you said about calories maintainance, i think i will watching out on this. Thank you so much! I am Lamynn From www.thespnz.com. I really like your motivational articles more. - 5/22/2016 1:52:18 AM
  • Thanks some good tips and ideas to relieve eating boredom. - 5/18/2016 11:11:44 AM
  • MS_GODDESS
    Since most of the time I exercise after work, I need a little snack to keep me from focusing on dinner! I find I do well with a little bit of protein and a little bit of complex carbs about 1 hours before. My favorite pre-workout snack is a small Fuji apple and a stick of string cheese.

    On Sundays, I do yoga/stretching in the morning and usually do that before breakfast. - 5/18/2016 11:05:58 AM
  • I'm not a "morning" person, and I don't even think of food until I've been awake for at least 40 minutes. Since I'm diabetic I test first thing, then have my morning "drink" of warm lemon water and a cup of coffee containing 1 tsp. coconut oil and 1 ounce of low-fat milk. I make it a point to eat at least an hour before I go to Zumba and I find that I do best with eating an egg and toast or 1/2 c non-fat cottage cheese with a serving of fruit and a slice of toast along with a cup of black coffee. I also normally drink 16 oz of water when I take my vitamins, metformin, etc.

    I also discovered that a 15-minute warm-up on a stationary bike helps prepare me for the class. My routine works for me, and it took a lot of trial and error before I hit on the perfect combination of breakfast foods and exercise warm-up. Bottom line: find an exercise you love (so that you'll continue to do it) and really pay attention to how your body reacts to your pre-exercise routine so you can tweak your routine for an optimal performance. - 5/18/2016 10:09:51 AM
  • CLAY10237 - "I guess if you do a 100 mile bike ride, you need to know all that stuff. Most of us don't."

    Everyone is different so you really shouldn't make a general statement like that. Some people, like myself, have issues with their energy level during mid to high intensity workouts.

    I take a 1 hour Zumba class twice a week. I had the hardest time with my energy level dropping after the first 15-20 minutes of class (exactly what the article above mentions). I also can't drink a lot before the class because all the jumping makes me need to pee! ha ha

    I've figured out that *what works best for ME* is to eat a small meal and a banana about an hour before class starts. The meal keeps me from becoming hungry during class and the banana keeps my energy level up for the full hour. I also drink 16-24 ounces of water throughout the class. - 3/13/2016 3:12:04 PM
  • When I used to go to the gym, I ate oatmeal about 1-2 hours before my workout which seemed to keep me going for workouts of up to one hour. I am now working out at home and find getting in the exercise first thing after I get up ensures that I don't get sidetracked. I am finding that a big glass (about 24 oz) of warm lemon water and a small orange or 1-2 small clementines are enough to see me through my exercise session which will usually last 30-60 minutes. I do eat breakfast immediately after working out - I'm more than ready for it then! - 2/7/2016 6:47:00 PM
  • CLAY10237
    That's a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo here for me. I have a normal healthy breakfast before going to the gym for a 50 minute moderate work out and drink water during. Also I have a "Tums" before starting for the heartburn, a little calcium, 5 calories. A normal healthy lunch about 2 hours later. I guess if you do a 100 mile bike ride, you need to know all that stuff. Most of us don't. - 10/13/2015 2:00:13 AM
  • 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
  • LIFESTYLEWITCH
    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

x Lose 10 Pounds by July 9! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.