Should I eat before I work out?

Wendy Batts
The easy answer to this question is yes.  The type of food and the timing of your meal can impact the quality of your workout.  Carbohydrates are your primary energy source used by your nervous and muscular systems and are essential if you are planning a challenging workout.  A high carbohydrate pre-workout snack with protein, eaten 10 to 40 minutes before you begin, can provide you with enough energy to excel in your routine.   Try to avoid a high protein, fat or fiber snack before the workout because they tend to upset your stomach and can significantly reduce the quality of your workout. 

Yes. Your body needs fuel to maintain energy levels, focus, and body temperature. A good well rounded meal will take care of this. Remember the timing of the meal will be individual. Some people workout well right after their last bite, and some people need a little time to let the meal digest. A good rule of thumb is to let your meal sit about 30 minutes before exercising.

All 3 great responses by very respected people and organizations.

I completely agree with everyone and another thing I would like to add is how much exercise and nutrition has as a placebo effect.  Meaning the person's faith in the situation or preconceptions about what the situation was supposed to do.

Many times people will say their stomach is upset simply because they believe that eating before hand makes their stomach upset.  In reality what Wendy says is true about too much protein, fiber and fat.  I know many people who say they workout best on a empty stomach and I honestly believe it is because of the placebo effect.

So much of what we do is based on what we think or what our faith is in or preconceptions.  I honestly believe that it really is up to the person and what will give them the best workout.  I have always stated that it is much more important to look at a persons nutrition throughout the day than just what they do before and after training.

Yes, moderate and quick carbohydrates that can be used for quick energy before training and then again for recovery after training is the best but many times people will have difficulties on this based on preconceptions.

I have done 2 things that work and 1 thing that does not work, check it out:

  1. Ate a moderate protein and carbohydrate combination about 30-60 minutes before training from simple and readily available sources
  2. Did carb loading the night before (about double a normal meal in carbs) and then 30-60 minutes before exercise took non caloric nutrients such as glutamine and branch chain amino acids and followed up the workout with a quick moderate carb and protein shake and a whole food meal about 1 to 1.5 hrs after the shake
  3. Did not eat before going to the gym and did not eat much the rest of the day with the exception of the one big meal

Option 1 & 2 always work great for me.  Option 3 is death!  

I believe option 1 for most people is the best way to go and it is important for people to be educated on the proper eating patterns before exercise but that Placebo Effect can really play a number on peoples workouts and many times people will feel better and get more productive workouts with training on a empty stomach and eating immediately following training.

Absolutely.  As I tell my clients if you want your car to go anywhere you need to put gas in it.  Your body is no different.  Providing your body fuel to help you workout will go a long way.  Typically 30-60 minutes before you workout will work best for most people.  Try something like a carbohydate rich food to give you the quick energy you need to get you through your workout.  Simple things like a half of a bagel with some almond butter, energy bar or even a smoothie will help you get going until you can have a real meal.  Never workout on a empty stomach as you will lack the energy you need for your session.
Neal Spruce
Neal Spruce on behalf of dotFIT
Yes, you should always eat before a workout, but the timing and size of your meals and snacks will depend on your goal and how long you exercise. If you workout for less than an hour, you don’t need a pre-workout snack as long as your last meal was within 2-3 hours, Otherwise, your energy level may be low, your workout may suffer and you’ll likely be very hungry after the workout. Being overly hungry leads to poor food choices and overeating.
Use the basic timing formula below which can accelerate your progress in any sport and fitness goal including weight loss, performance and/or muscle gain. Try to space your major meals no more than 3-4 hours apart. (The pre and post exercise snacks shown below are not meals).
•       Larger pre and post training/event meals:
–      Pre-event meal to be eaten approximately 2-3 hours before your major activity
–      Post-event meal  to be eaten approximately 1-2 hour following training based on use of a post training supplement as shown below
•       Pre and post-training/event snacks: (nutrition bar or shake)
–      Pre-training snack should be consumed 10-40 minutes before activity
–      Post snack immediately after workout
•       Note for early morning training:
If you train soon after rising and have no time for complete digestion of a large meal consume only the pre-workout snack before exercise.
Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Yes, with one caveat. Food timing is important. Consuming a carbohydrate rich food (such as an energy bar) 30-60 minutes before a workout can help increase muscle energy stores, giving you increased energy for a vigorous workout. However, eating too heavy of a meal, whether rich in carbohydrates or not, can create gastrointestinal issues for many during a program. In other words, too much food in your stomach before a workout may leave you feeling full, overblown and decrease your energy. This would lead to lackluster performance. Determine how much time you need to digest a small carb-rich meal and apply that to your pre-workout regimen. However, I would suggest that you do not skip meals prior to your workout. Your body needs fuel to perform at its best.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Starving yourself before you exercise isn’t only ineffective, it may be harmful. A report published this year concluded that your body burns roughly the same amount of fat regardless of whether you eat before a workout, but you’re likely to lose strength-building muscles by exercising on an empty stomach. Not only that, without food to fuel your workout, exercise intensity and overall calorie burn are reduced. On the other hand, when you exercise with some food in your stomach, you’re burning fat instead of muscle, leaving you with more energy and a higher calorie burn. Be sure to eat 30 minutes before exercise, preferably a liquid-like yogurt or protein shake so your body can make nutrients readily available for your workout.
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Robert DeVito

There are many ways to do anything and eating breakfast or fueling prior to a workout is an age old argument. Let's take a look at reason that Innovation Fitness Solution recommends eating breakfast.

Eating before you workout is mandatory for performance athletes in order to enhance each training bout, recovery and the final outcome. Therefore, it should be intuitive that anyone would ingest part of their energy requirements before they train (even if you go straight from the bed to the workout) for the following reasons:

*Filling energy stores before a workout (not adding daily calories, just redistributing them) so you can perform better and longer

*Breaking the fast to bump the metabolism back up and continue a constant flow of nutrients and powerful hormones

*Increasing workout performance, which will use more calories and allow for a higher intensity workout that will also burn two to three times more fat throughout the day following exercise

*Enhancing recovery to improve maintenance or growth of muscle which also adds to the metabolic rate

*Increasing daily activity so you are never in a fasting, thus “lazy,” state beyond rising in the morning, causing the body to naturally move more and drive the desire to train.

Multiple studies show that people that eat breakfast consistently ultimately eat less total calories in a day, which may help with fat loss.

So, eat before you train. Common sense tells you to consume fuel if you have not eaten for the last 6-12 hours and you are about to perform an activity that requires more energy than anything else you do all day. It takes calories to burn more calories and fill energy systems to perform optimally.

Eating before working out depends on many factors. One consideration is the length and duration of the workout. A prolonged workout of hours may necessitate the ingestion of food both before and sometimes during the workout. If you are planning a standard workout of an hour or so, you will likely have sufficient enough stores that you will not require a meal beforehand. However, everyone's body is different. If you are going to eat before a workout, it is best to give yourself one to two hours to allow for digestion of the food. Foods high in carbohydrates and low in protein are easier to digest in the short term. Experiment with eating before workouts. If you are able to do so without causing stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or discomfort, then it is fine to eat before the workout.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.