Should I Eat Before or After the Gym?
Whether you’re exercising for the first time or just reevaluating an old fitness routine, you’ve probably wondered how your mealtimes affect your workout. If you’re not sure whether it’s best to hit the gym on an empty stomach or fuel up your body with the right food, there are a few key factors to consider.
More than anything else, how you should schedule your meals and exercise is based on personal preference. There is no one best way to plan your meal times — it really depends on your own fitness goals, as well as your body and health. However, there are some guidelines that may be helpful to follow.
Some fitness professionals, like Gold’s Gym registered dietician Kritikaa Agnani, are adamant about going to the gym with something in your stomach — as long as you’ve given your body enough time to digest.
“It’s best to eat one to three hours before a workout,” she told The Active Times via email. “Research shows that fueling before exercise improves performance and aids in muscle building.”
Studies have shown that eating before exercising helps your body endure longer aerobic workouts, such as cycling, stair climbing and elliptical exercise, and Agnani believes that fasting before any workout can do more than hinder your performance. She says exercising without eating first may sabotage your whole workout.
“It’s possible that intense exercise or weight lifting on an empty stomach could put you at risk for utilizing your protein stored for energy,” she wrote. “I like to err on the side of caution and say it’s best to eat something to retain the most muscle mass.”
Although eating a full meal several hours before your workout may have some benefits, those who exercise in the morning may not have this kind of time.
“It’s better to eat several hours before workouts so that your body is not busy digesting the whole time; however, most people aren’t willing to get up several hours early to eat before exercise,” Jeanette DePatie, a certified fitness trainer and the founder of Every BODY Can Exercise, told us in an email.
In these cases, DePatie suggests having a snack that is “high in protein and complex carbs.” Some of the options she listed include a boiled egg, toast and peanut butter, a small serving of oatmeal or a protein bar.
Some people believe that fasted workouts are more effective at burning fat, and would advise that you don’t eat anything before a workout. However, research has not shown a clear enough relationship between exercising on an empty stomach and weight loss.
You may just want to skip a pre-workout meal to avoid nausea or discomfort, but this is a personal choice more than anything else.
As for your eating after your workout, there is really no time constraint — but you should definitely eat when you’re hungry. According to Agnani, the notion that there is a narrow “anabolic window” in which you should consume protein for maximum muscle gains is one of the many health myths that have been debunked. A 2013 review of research on the issue found insufficient evidence to conclude that the timing of a post-workout meal matters.
Whether you decide to eat 30 minutes or two hours after your workout, Agnani stressed that this meal is just as important as the one you had before hitting the gym.
“Eating after your workout is important, as muscle repair continues,” she wrote. “We know protein is important for muscle repair, but post-workout carbohydrates are just as important to help protein do its job.” Choosing the right post-workout food should be an important part of your fitness routine.
Although timing your diet and eating the right food is an important part of your workout routine, you have autonomy over these choices. But no matter what you choose to eat, you need to make sure you are hydrated and pay attention to the signs you’re not drinking enough water.