Should I eat before or after working out?

15 January 2021 Sophie Scott
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The short answer is that it depends. The long answer is that the type of workout you are doing and the length of time you are planning to exercise is what will ultimately define when you should eat.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid eating at least half an hour before intense exercise, like running or a HIIT class, but to have a snack 15 mins post-workout.

What is nutrient timing?

When you plan eating periods around your workouts, it’s important to keep in mind the importance of nutrient timing – which is the deliberate intake of specific nutrients in and around exercise sessions. For example, intense resistance training depletes stored fuels and causes damage to muscle fibres. This means that eating in the post-exercise period is the most critical for repletion of these energy reserves and rebuilding damaged muscle.

To help you start to implement nutrient timing into your next workout, we’ve outlined a couple of considerations below:

Pre-workout

Top Tips

It’s important to leave a good half an hour gap after eating before you exercise to avoid cramps. If you are planning on eating a large meal, make sure to eat this at least three to four hours before your workout. However, for a smaller snack, you can eat this anywhere from 30 mins to two hours before you exercise.

Snack Ideas

  1. Energy ball + ½ banana
  2. Greek yoghurt (2 Tbs) + ¼ cup berries + 1 tsp honey
  3. Rye toast + ricotta (2 Tbs) and ½ banana
  4. 6 brown rice crackers + hummus (2Tbs)
  5. 10 sultanas + 10 almonds

During workout

If your workout is between 90 – 120 minutes, you will have enough fuel stored in your body to perform optimally. Beyond that, refuelling is important. However, the average person will not be completing more than this so eating or refuelling with intra-workout supplements is unnecessary.

However, dehydration can significantly impact exercise performance. In the case of high-intensity training, not drinking enough water can result in up to as much as a 45 per cent reduction in performance. If you’re training for longer than 60 minutes, or in a hot environment, sports drinks can be beneficial to replace lost fluid and electrolytes. But for the average gym go-er, water is perfectly fine for hydration.

Make sure to hydrate well during the hour before exercise by drinking 1 cup of water every 20 minutes. During exercise, it’s important to keep drinking however make sure it is frequent small amounts as opposed to big gulps of water at once. Large amounts of water will slosh around in the stomach and make exercise uncomfortable.

Post-workout

Eating post-workout essentially means you are eating in your anabolic window. But what is that? Anabolic is a fancy word for muscle building and is likely to be a goal for many gym junkies. There is still much debate about whether an anabolic window exists post-workout and for how long. However, what is generally agreed upon is that when you eat a meal that is rich in carbohydrate and protein after you exercise, the glycogen stores can be replenished much more efficiently compared to when a meal is eaten two hours or more post-exercise.

We’ve outlined our top five post-workout meals which will optimise your anabolic window and are designed to aid recovery.

Snack ideas

  1. Smoothie with banana, milk, nut butter, protein powder, honey, and ice
  2. Banana & blueberry muffin with 1 Tbs Greek yoghurt, coconut yoghurt or ricotta
  3. Egg, spinach and avocado on a wrap
  4. Tin of tuna + roasted veggies
  5. Rice cakes (3) with nut butter, honey and banana

Summary

When you are trying to decide whether to eat before or after your workout, it’s important to listen to your body and experiment with timing to see what feels right for you. Some people will need to eat prior to a workout to maximise their performance, but some feel icky if they eat before. We recommend keeping a journal to monitor how your body reacts to meals and snacks so that you can adjust your diet for optimal performance.

Links:

Pre-workout energy ball recipe

Post-workout smoothie recipe

Post-workout muffin recipe

Thinking about adding Nutrition Coaching to your routine? Check out our popular fully online Nutrition Coach course.

Sophie Scott

Senior Trainer/Assessor – Nutrition and Dietetics

Sophie is passionate about nutrition, fitness and behaviour change coaching. As a Registered Nutritionist, Sophie takes a wholistic approach to nutrition, focusing on people’s relationship with food, driving a shift to a healthier approach to eating.

Sophie has worked as Personal Trainer and Group Ex Instructor for many years. She has taught a range of group fitness classes from yoga and pilates to Zumba™ and bootcamp. She started teaching at a gym in Vanuatu, then moved to Wellington, New Zealand to launch her own business, fitandfed, focusing on women’s health and fitness, before moving back home to Australia.

Now the Head Trainer - Nutrition at FIAFitnation, Sophie inspires the next wave of fitness professionals and nutrition coaches.

She has extensive experience in the education field, initially working in the area of environmental education, assisting people green up their lives, before moving into the health and fitness industry. Sophie has also presented and written scripts for a number of media outlets including the Eco Reno series on Channel 7’s Sunrise program.

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