Choosing when and what to eat before a workout can be tricky. On one hand, you want to feel energized during your workout. However, you don’t want to feel like you have a brick in your stomach while you run.
Fortunately, there are some guidelines below to inform when and what to eat before you exercise. Keep reading to learn how long to wait to workout after eating.
Why Is It Important To Eat Before A Workout?
Food is your body’s primary fuel source. Those bites you have before a workout get converted into energy during exercise. Providing adequate fuel helps support healthy blood glucose levels, maximizes your workout performance, and supports muscle recovery. Some fitness experts compare working out without eating beforehand to driving a car without enough gas.1
Foods To Focus On Before A Workout
Get the most from your pre-workout snack by choosing healthy, nutritious foods. Your body tends to thrive on meals rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fats, and protein. Learn more about how each of these nutrients can potentially help you with exercise.
Carbs are dietary all-stars. Studies suggest that carbohydrates help support your exercise session more than any other macronutrient.2
Your body quickly and easily digests carbs, which makes them great for quick, intense workouts. They may also help lend a hand when your body recovers after exercise.3
Typically, you want to consume complex carbs that come from fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Compared to simple carbohydrates — white bread, breakfast cereal, etc. — complex carbs break down slower. This makes them more digestible carbohydrates that provide a constant and reliable energy source.4
Outside of carbs, dietary fats are your body’s second favorite source of energy. The more you workout, the more your body relies on fat for energy. This increased dependence means that you may begin to burn more fat as fuel over time, which could help support weight loss efforts.5
As a general rule of thumb, try to consume healthy fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are found in things like olive oil, avocados, or salmon.6,7
Protein may offer your physical performance a big energy boost before a strenuous workout. And, your body relies on protein heavily after a workout to help support muscle repair and recovery.8
You can eat a protein bar or have a protein shake before your workout. Ideally, though, you’ll want to get your protein from whole foods, like nuts and beans.9
Pre-Workout Snack Ideas
All this talk about eating would hardly be complete without a few snack ideas for your pre-workout meal. These are some commonly suggested foods and meals for athletes of all levels.
- Banana with peanut butter
- Toast with peanut butter
- Greek yogurt with fruit
- Homemade smoothie
- A piece of fruit
- Turkey sandwich
- Salad with chicken breast10
Choosing The Optimal Time To Workout After Eating
Now that you know a little more about what to eat, it’s time to discuss how long to wait to exercise after eating.
The typical recommended wait time is anywhere between 30-minutes to three hours. This gives your body time for digestion while maintaining sufficient energy stores for exercise.11
This is a wide window of time, but you can narrow it down a bit by following a few guidelines. Take notes on how you feel after you workout and what you ate beforehand. This way, you can use some trial and error to pinpoint that ideal time and meal for your workouts.
The Extent And Type Of Your Workout
The type of workout you do can change what and when you should eat. A runner preparing for a 15 mile jog has different dietary needs than someone lifting weights for 30 minutes. In general, cardio workouts tend to last longer than strength training. So, these endurance workouts may benefit from some extra carbs about an hour before your exercise.12
The Time Of Your Workout
The time of day when you workout can alter how long you need to wait to workout. If you’re the morning type, you can probably get away with heading straight to the gym after a light meal. As the day progresses you will most likely eat more and more. So, that workout after lunch may have a longer wait time than your morning session.13
Food Quantity Before A Workout
What you eat can influence your workout time just as much as when you eat. A giant steak before a big run will have a totally different effect on your body than a banana.
Generally, you should wait one to two hours after a light snack. Those bigger meals, like a whole sandwich, require three to four hours of wait time. So, factor in your meal size when determining a good start time for your workout.14
What Can Happen If You Exercise Too Soon?
Making a meal and exercise plan is all about helping you achieve your optimal performance. Allowing enough time between a meal and your workout may help you avoid common digestive discomforts, including stomach cramps. For the most part, this fitness plan is about keeping you comfortable as you log the miles or rack up the weights.15
However, for those with any serious medical conditions, timing your meal can be critical. Speak to a doctor if you have any dietary or medical concerns before making any changes to your diet or exercise.16
Foods To Avoid
There are some foods which may compound some of the undesired effects above. Try to avoid these types of foods before working out:
- High-fat foods
- Foods with refined sugar
- Spicy foods
- Alcohol (or too much caffeine)
- High-fiber foods
- Overly salty food17
Listen To Your Body
As you can see, there is no magic number for how long to wait to workout after eating. The general recommendation is around three hours, but this number changes based on when and what you eat. You should also take into account the intensity and length of your workout. Using the information above, you should be able to come up with a plan for how long to wait to exercise after eating.
At the end of the day, the best advice will probably come from your own body. That will always be the best gauge for achieving the delicate balance between food and exercise. Listen to the cues, and you’ll be eating and working out like a champ in no time.
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