Many people who are beginning their workout journey often wonder, “should I eat before my workout or after my workout?”
This question is essential to consider as the answer you choose could lead to unwanted consequences. However, the answer to “should I eat before my workout or after my workout” depends on an important variable: Time.
Eating Before You Workout
Let’s start with eating before you workout, as this can have unwanted side effects.
You should not be going into a workout starving; let’s clear that up right away. However, you also do not want to go into a training session after eating a huge meal. The key is planning ahead; you must know when you are working out and how much food you have already eaten.
Let’s say that you are at work and you have more than 3 hours before you start exercising. You can comfortably assume that you can eat just about anything and feel fine during the workout. The reason is that whatever you eat will mostly be digested by the time you begin your activity and should not lead to stomach discomfort or lack of energy.
However, eating a Big Mac from McDonald’s isn’t a good idea if you plan to be at the gym in the next 30 minutes. Why? Because within that 30-minute timeframe, your body will not have had adequate time to move that food through your stomach. Nothing says “I’m going to puke” like a Big Mac sloshing around in your stomach while trying to nail a hard workout!
If you are to start training within an hour, I recommend eating something small that can be digested quickly and take up very little space in your stomach. The key here is to satisfy your craving for food without stuffing yourself. If you want a complete list of good pre-workout foods to have based on how long you have before you start working out, check out this here.
Eating After a Workout
We’ve discussed that you do not want to go into a workout starving. Now let’s talk about what to do when the work is done: post-workout.
After your workout, it is just as important to eat as it is before your workout.
During hard training sessions, you deplete your body of critical nutrients, nutrients that your body spends fueling your activity. However, time is not so much of a concern now as it was before you went to the gym.
The main goal of eating after a workout is to replenish the nutrients you lose so that you can recover from the workout and be ready for the next day.
To do this, you should try to have a large meal that consists of the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These three macronutrients are the primary nutrients that your body needs to recover. Without them, your body may be unable to rebuild the muscle tissues you worked on, and your body will be slow to see the desired results.
A great way to ensure that you are getting what you need after a workout is to split your plate into thirds:
• 1/3 is for meat or non-meat protein.
• 1/3 is for vegetables.
• The remaining 1/3 is for whole grains, like brown rice.
This simple meal format covers all bases and is simple enough that many variations can be made to fit any budget or taste.
To answer the questions simply, you want to ensure that you have eaten before AND after a workout.
Exercising is hard on the body. We must ensure we have adequately fueled ourselves before trying to hit a new personal best in the gym.
The consequences of not eating before you workout are things like:
1. feeling jittery or shaky
2. low blood sugar
4. lack of energy
We can all agree that such feelings are unwanted and will hinder us from becoming the people we want to be through exercise.
Timing is the most important thing to remember when eating before a workout. You do not want to be eating a big meal right before you head out to do your exercise, nor do you want to be starving. Make sure you have had a big meal at least 3 hours before working out and a light snack before heading to the gym.
After your workout, ensure you get a big meal covering all three macronutrients. Eating a big meal will ensure that you give your body what it needs to recover from the workout and be ready to go for the next day. Many fear that if they eat a big meal after they exercise, they will have negated all the work they just did. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Suppose you do not refuel after your workout. In that case, your body will not have the resources it needs to recover, and your progress will only be hindered.
Jordan Tank is a certified personal trainer in Columbus, Ohio, and a certified fitness nutrition specialist. He has been training since 2014 and focuses his training on longevity, being able to live actively late into your life. He has trained over 100 people from youth athletes, division 1 college athletes and everyday men and women.