When and What to Eat Before (and After) Your Workout

Effective eating before a workout
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Exercise is an essential part of any health and fitness program, so it's good to know the foods you eat can have an impact on your workout success. In fact, the right foods can get you through your workout and help you recover after your exercises are finished. And, of course, eating the wrong foods, or too much of anything might undo all the calories you burned. So, here's my guide on when and what to eat before and after your workout:

Eating Before You Work Out

It's best to eat a small snack before your exercise session, but don't overdo it. You don't want to have a full stomach when you work out, but you don't want to be hungry either. If you eat a large meal just before strenuous physical activity, you may experience nausea, feel sluggish or end up with muscle cramps.

All that discomfort can happen because your body needs to burn energy to digest all the food you just ate, so blood flow to your digestive system is increased just when your muscles need it the most. Keep any pre-workout meals nice and light.

And don't go to the other extreme and starve yourself. Exercising on an empty stomach isn't good either. Skipping meals can cause you to fell sluggish, weak and light-headed. Eating a light snack before exercise may actually increase your fat-burning potential. Pick a small snack like a piece of fruit, a sports beverage or some 100-percent fruit juice.

Exercise and Meal Timing Is Important

If you eat a large meal, wait about four hours before you exercise. If you eat a regular-sized meal, you only have to wait about two hours to start your workout. Your body prefers to use carbohydrates as fuel, so your pre-workout meal should include plenty of complex carbohydrates from 100-percent whole grain bread or pasta and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

You don't need to avoid protein and fat, however, don't choose large portions of meats and high-fat foods if you will be exercising within the next hour or two.

Eating After Your Workout

Eating after exercise is important as well. Your muscles need the raw materials to recuperate after a heavy workout, such as carbs, protein, and electrolytes including potassium and sodium. A light meal or snack within two hours after exercise is perfect. Try a Balance Bar or a lean turkey sandwich on 100-percent whole grain bread. According to some experts, chocolate milk has the best proportions of carbohydrates, protein, and fats for recovering after a workout.

And Don't Forget -- Drink Plenty of Water

Hydration is always important. Exercise will cause a depletion of water when you sweat. Drink a glass of water an hour or so before your workout and again after your workout. You can also sip water throughout your workout. Carry a water bottle with you or look for the drinking fountains.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Eating Before Exercise." Accessed March 10, 2016. www.eatright.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=6442451295.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "How to Eat for Recovery After Exercise." Accessed March 10, 2016. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=7082.

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