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Paige Waehner

Eating Before Exercise

By October 24, 2012

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In last week's post about becoming a morning exerciser, one commenter asked: "How do you address the question of when to eat...before exercise because you have fasted all night or after exercise as rewards and preparation for the day?"

That is a very good question and an important one; the wrong choice could backfire - and if you've ever eaten too much before a high intensity, high impact, jiggly kind of workout, you probably know what I'm talking about...ahem.

However, gastrointestinal issues aren't the only things to think about. You do want proper fueling for your workouts because, contrary to popular belief, you don't always burn more fat on an empty stomach. The problem is, morning, by its very definition, tends to come very early and most of us don't have a lot of time to lounge around digesting a large breakfast before a workout.

The trick is to experiment a little to find what will work for you and to keep a few things in mind:

  • Avoid too much fat or protein right before your workout. These take longer to digest and could cause stomach problems.
  • Keep it small and simple, if you're working out within an hour of getting up, say something between 100-300 calories. Juice, a sports drink, a small energy bar, yogurt, etc.

My favorite is a glass of water, a cup of coffee and a small yogurt or a Mini LUNA bar about 20 minutes before I exercise. Shereen, our Nutrition Guide says her favorites are: Cereal (not the sugary stuff - plain whole grain cereal) with non-fat milk and strawberries, Greek yogurt with blueberries, a slice of whole grain toast with almond butter and a cup of orange juice or, if she's in a hurry, breakfast bar or a small banana muffin.

I offer more thoughts in my article, Nutrition for Weight Loss and Exercise and you'll find more great ideas from Shereen at Should I Eat Before I Exercise?

And, of course, I want to hear from you. Do you eat before you workout? If so, what works best for you? Leave a comment and tell us about your exercise and eating habits.

October 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm
(1) David says:

I eat breakfast before my morning cardio workout, because I have a better workout when I’ve had my usual meal. Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t handle food in the stomach well when running, but I’ve found that I can run just fine if I wait about 15 minutes after eating.

October 24, 2012 at 10:45 pm
(2) lahope says:

Lately either a locally grown mango and a puffed quinoa bar with a bit of almost bitter dark chocolate on top from Cafe Gratitude or puffed quinoa cereal with fresh blueberries, raspberries, pomegranate seeds and hemp milk. Green ice tea always.

October 26, 2012 at 12:29 pm
(3) Anne says:

Lately, I have taken to eating nothing before my workout. I make sure I have a carb dinner or snack in the evening. I go to bed, wake up, drink water and then do about 30 min of endurance exercise. It’s like carb-loading for non athletes.

Since I started this routine, I sleep much more soundly, and I so far have kept up with it almost daily. (Usually, I try a new pattern for a few days then abandon.)

I think this works for me because it’s based on the fact that the body prefers glucose as fuel. Somehow it’s making my body cooperate with adherence, sleep, and other important aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

October 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm
(4) Linda says:

Before I work out in the afternoon, I have a cold green tea drink with a Kind bar. Works for me!

October 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm
(5) Frank H. says:

One banana and a 6 oz. glass of OJ.

October 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm
(6) CAD says:

I like to have a ‘little’ something at least an hour before I workout in the morning…a yogurt with fruit, and sometimes my vice…coffee, followed by juice or water. I don’t like working out on an empty stomach. It works for me.

October 29, 2012 at 7:59 pm
(7) sara says:

I am retired and get up early, so i have a cup of coffee,then about an hour later i either eat acup of yogat or lately a cup of multigrain cereal with almond milk about 1 to 2 hrs before i go to gym. Works for me.

October 29, 2012 at 9:00 pm
(8) Shannon says:

I exercise at 530 am and it’s hard enough to get up and get out the door on time before that workout. I’ve taken to eating either half a protein bar or a banana as I walk out the door. It takes me about 15 minutes to get to the park and it seems like just the right amount of food without makin the workout hard.

October 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm
(9) Lisa says:

I usually have some oatmeal and fruit along with my coffee and tons of water before my workout. I eat every 2 1/2 to 3 hours, so after i exercise down goes the protein shake, some chobani yogurt, and more fruit

October 29, 2012 at 10:18 pm
(10) pattigirl65 says:

I just wante to say I use to workout every morning M-F and I walked 3miles 5days a week every week up until 2002 I was hit with a back problem and now have been unable to walk or workout. I was also in a bad car wreck in 1985 I have had 16 surgery’s and will have one on Nov7 next week… Ok I’m just wanting to ask if anyone can give me some help as to what I can o now to help me , mental,health and just getting back into something that will help me feel better…Patti

October 30, 2012 at 2:24 am
(11) Saroja says:

i take medication for hypothyroidism first thing in the morning. that prevents me from having anything after it for about 40 mins. to get up in th e morning and wait an hour ten minutes before getting around to exercising so that i can get to work by 930 is impossible. banking on exercising in the evening is also dicey. so i choose the lesser evil and exercise immediately after my medicine and eat breakfast about half hour after finishing the workout.

October 30, 2012 at 8:53 am
(12) Carla says:

I have a 6:00 a.m. high intensity cardio/weight class that I attend. I love the class because it pushes me. I have tried both eating (old fashion raw oats, low fat milk) 40 minutes before the class and I have tried not eating before the class. While on occasion I feel like I may toss my cookies during the class, I still feel for me eating beforehand is better than not eating at all. If I don’t eat, I don’t have the energy I need to perform at my peak. I feel drained half-way through the class, I can’t do as many reps or I can’t hold a pose, like a plank, for as long.

October 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm
(13) K G Rao says:

I take what I call my bfast before my regular morning workout, 2-3 fruits only. Regularly an apple and a abanana, sometimes an orange as well. Seems to work. Used to be doing it on an empty stomach, i.e 2 cups of tea w/o milk or sugar, but tried this out on the theory that there needs to be some glycogen in the muscles before working out. Am I on the right track?

November 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm
(14) Kelcey says:

I have to be very careful eating just prior to a workout; it also totally depends on the workout I will be doing. If I am doing a really early workout, and especially if it’s a run, I may skip breakfast if it’s not an intense or super long session and if I’ve eaten a good dinner the night before. If it is a more intense workout (and not a run) I can eat a small banana with a small glass of almond milk with about 10 grams protein (pea, whey) or some branch chains. Fine for a longer (1-2 hours) or more intense bike, swim or elliptical workout. Sometimes I will do a run on an empty stomach, then eat/drink after the run is done, and then continue with the rest of my workout. Any time I am doing an extended workout (2 hours +) I may start the workout on an empty stomach or a small glass of almond milk and branch chains, and then fuel as I go along. Favs are coconut water and/or a hammer bar.

November 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm
(15) faiza chinoy says:

i always eat a wholesome breakfast around 7am. Two whole wheat toast with fried egg or low fat cottage cheese plus coffee. I do my workout two hours later.
I have xtreme low energy on empty stomach. A few dates or almonds or a banana preworkout again instills energy for long intense strength training alongwith 20min fast paced cardio. Food builds better muscles.

February 20, 2014 at 12:28 am
(16) iqbal says:

How about a cup of green tea, almonds, two dates and a glass of milk pre work out

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