Eating around exercise
by Reema Patel
Reema is a Registered Dietitian (RD) with degrees in Dietetics and Sports & Exercise Nutrition (BSc, MSc). Her interests lie within weight management, Type 2 Diabetes and exercise nutrition. She enjoys debunking nutrition myths and helping people to reach their journey, to improve on their overall health and wellbeing. In her spare time, Reema loves lifting weights at the gym or kickboxing as well as going for country walks. Though her favourite hobby is cooking for her friends and family, as well as trying out new foods whenever she can!
Have you ever thought about the effect that food has on your performance when you work out? There is a lot of conflicting information available about what we should be eating when we are exercising, it can get really confusing!
Whilst eating an overall healthy, balanced diet is important to help provide energy to our daily activities, there are certain areas that we can keep in mind to optimise our overall health and exercise performance, as well as helping our body to recover and adapt.
Knowing a bit more about when and what to eat around exercise can really make a difference to your workouts.
It’s up to you when you want to exercise- you might feel better getting up early and doing a workout before work or prefer going to the gym or for a run after the day is over to clear your head. Either way, there is no right answer except what works best for you.
Do you find that you prefer working out early in the morning, before work? If so, you are likely going to be working out on an empty stomach (before having breakfast). Some people can happily exercise ‘fasted’, whereas others find that they do need to eat something before exercising to give them some energy. In terms of burning calories or fat, it makes very little difference if we eat something before exercising or exercise without eating.
So, what might we consider eating or drinking before exercising?
This can depend on what time of the day you work out, and when you had your last meal.
If you like to exercise early in the morning but can’t face working out on an empty stomach, eating a small snack is ideal. Generally, if you have not eaten for around 3 hours or more, but are planning to exercise within the next hour, a small snack containing both carbohydrates and protein, will provide you with some energy during exercise.
Some options are:
- 1-2 boiled eggs with half a banana
- A piece of fruit with a teaspoon of peanut butter
- 150g Greek yogurt with a handful berries (or other fruit)
- 100g cottage cheese and a chopped apple (or other fruit)
If you find that you prefer to work out later on in the day and have at least 2-3 hours until you plan to exercise, then having a more substantial meal is better. Again, this meal should provide you with both carbohydrates and protein.
There is no real right or wrong when it comes to what exactly you should eat before exercising, but having something that provides you with energy, as well as being tasty and convenient is important, so you are more likely to stick to it. For some people, all they might need is a cup of coffee to provide them with the energy they need for a workout first thing in the morning. Maybe you could try out different techniques over the week to see what works best for you!
What should we be eating or drinking after exercising?
When we exercise, our muscles use their glycogen stores to provide energy. The proteins in our muscles also get broken down. This means that after exercising, we need to replace this glycogen and help aid muscle repair, through what we eat. Making sure that what we eat after exercising contains the right nutrients to help our bodies repair, can aid us with restoring our energy levels as well as reducing our recovery time.
Try to eat within 30-90 minutes of exercising. It is a myth that you have to eat protein immediately after a workout otherwise you will lose your ‘gains’! As long as your overall protein intake is adequate throughout the day, this is great. A balanced meal containing protein and carbohydrates will help to provide energy and aid in recovery, help restore your bodies glycogen stores (energy from carbohydrates), as well as helping with protein synthesis (repair and growth of muscle tissue).
- Chicken and salad wrap
- Tuna, cucumber and sweetcorn bagel
- Grilled salmon fillet with green beans and potatoes
- Spinach and mushroom omelette with baked beans
Again, there is no one size fits all answer- it is just important to not go hungry but to fuel yourself with nutrients to help with recovery. Keeping a note of how you feel and how your body reacts to certain meals can be helpful to find your ideal routine.
Unless you are an elite athlete, training for long hours or taking part in an intense exercise event, most people can meet their nutritional requirements by having a well-balanced meal before and after exercising, without the need for supplements or sugary sports drinks.1
And one last thing- it is very important to drink enough water throughout the day, especially when we are losing a lot of water through sweating when exercising. Most of us should aim for around 2 litres of water a day. Treat yourself to a lovely BPA-free reusable water bottle so that this can help encourage you to drink plenty of water.
Remember to speak with your Healthcare Professional before undertaking changes to your diet or exercise routine.