Should You Eat Before, During, or After a Workout?


You are just a regular citizen who normally works out to keep fit and healthy. You are not a boxer or wrestler and are not involved in any competitive sport. Now, you ask yourself, should you eat before, during, or after a workout?

The short answer? It depends. It depends on the type of exercise, the time of day, and the duration of the exercise. For example, if you are engaging in light or low-impact activity like walking or gentle yoga, you could do it on an empty stomach.

Following are rough guidelines on what to eat (or not to):

If it’s first thing in the morning, and you’re working out for less than an hour…

For this type of workout, you don’t need to eat anything. In fact, experts suggest that there may be an advantage to not eating before early morning lightweight workouts. A glass of water is recommended, but not food. Sports nutrition experts are of the opinion that drinking some water encourages your body to burn more fat to power your workout.

According to research carried out in Japan and the USA, you stand to burn more fat over 24 hours if you exercise before breakfast than if you exercise later in the day. The results of this study were published in the December 2015 issue of EBioMedicine journal.

However, if you experience light-headedness, irritability, or dizziness, then you may be too hungry to exercise. In such cases, you are advised to snack on a quickly digestible carbohydrate like a handful of dry cereal or a small, ripe banana.

More than an hour, soon after waking up …

If you’re going to exercise for more than an hour first thing in the morning, you need energy to sustain you. As such, it’s best to eat a snack of easily digestible carbohydrates as indicated above. However, if you eat a bigger snack or a light breakfast of around 200 calories, give your body at least half an hour to digest it before you start exercising.

A workout later in the day

If you are working out later in the day, give your body at least 90 minutes to digest your last meal or half an hour to digest a snack. This meal or snack should give you enough to fuel your workout.

Cardio workout

To fuel your body for a cardio workout, eat a low fat, high carbohydrate, moderate protein snack. For strength training, take a low fat, high protein, moderate carbohydrate snack.

Recovery food

If you do an hour or less of exercise, you don’t need to eat specific food to recover, as long as you eat a mixture of carbohydrates and proteins afterward. However, if you are involved in a forceful endurance or strength-training physical activity, or if you train multiple times a day, then you need a special recovery diet. That goes into the realms of professional athletics, and your trainer is best placed to advise on this.

To avoid feeling bloated, wait 30 to 90 minutes after eating before engaging in exercise. If you eat a snack, wait for half an hour, but if you eat a larger meal, give yourself the full 90 minutes before moving around. And what should you drink before, during, and after exercise? Water is your best bet.