Ask The Expert: How Long Before My Workout Should I Eat?

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Knowing when and what to eat can make a difference in your workouts. When it comes to eating and exercise, everyone is different, so pay attention to what foods you consume and how it makes you feel during and after your workout. Use the following information as a guideline to help you get started in fueling your body for a successful exercise session!

How Long Before My Workout Should I Eat?

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Food is NOT the enemy… it’s your energy. While many articles support exercising in a fasted state, more research points to consuming smart, nutritious snacks prior to exercise can enhance your performance. Exercising on an empty stomach can lead to the breakdown of muscle tissue which isn’t the best thing if you’re looking to get stronger, faster, OR lose weight. Of course, the timing and choice of food will vary from activity to activity, the time of day you’re exercising, and your personal preference. But, to be succinct, you need to eat before you exercise!

WHEN

The timing of your food prior to exercise is a very personal decision. The best rule of thumb… the closer you get to exercise time, the simpler your choices need to be so the body can utilize the energy more efficiently. If you can eat 2-3 hours prior to exercise, a full meal will have time to be absorbed and processed. But, if you need to eat closer to your workout (within an hour), you’ll need to choose a simpler snack.

In short, if it’s been more than 3 hours since your last big meal, you’ll want to have a snack about an hour before you workout. Proper fueling at this time will help you feel satiated during your workout, keep the stomach cramps at bay (if you choose the right food!) and will give you energy for your workout, as well as keep your blood sugar balanced.

WHAT

If you’re eating 2-3 hours prior to a moderate workout, a complex meal should do the trick. For example, a sandwich of lean protein, veggies, and avocado on multi-grain bread would be perfect. However, if your timing is a bit closer to (1-2 hours from your workout), you may want to choose something that’s a bit easier to digest like a bowl of low-fiber, whole grain (healthy!) cereal with skim milk. This would also be a great time for a nutritious energy part or a protein based smoothie.

Got an hour or less before you’re breaking a sweat? Try yogurt or chocolate milk! And, if you forget to eat, wake up late, or you’re walking out the door and you realize you’re starving, grab a piece of fruit like a banana to get you through your workout!

 

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the founder of SFR, a consulting firm for aspiring fitness educators, manufacturers and managers, as well as the owner of Balletone® and GroupEx Pro®. Shannon is a 17 year fitness veteran, freelance writer, as well as an international presenter for Schwinn®, BOSU and ACE. She is a member of the ACE Board of Directors, has helped author portions of the ACE and ACSM Group Fitness manuals, and has starred in over 25 fitness videos. Shannon is a certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach interested in helping fitness professionals navigate the industry and find their place. She's busy improving the self-esteem of the world as the Director of Exercise Programming for the Anytime Fitness Franchise.

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