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When and What to Eat Before You Exercise

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Updated July 15, 2014

Effective eating before a workout
Roy Hsu Collection/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

 It's best to eat a small snack before your exercise session, but don't overdo it. You don't want to have a full stomach when you work out, but you don't want to be hungry either. If you eat a large meal just before strenuous physical activity, you may experience nausea, feel sluggish or end up with muscle cramps.

This happens because your body needs energy to digest the foods you eat. Blood flow to your digestive system is increased just when your muscles need it the most. But exercising on an empty stomach isn't good either. Skipping meals can cause you to fell sluggish, weak and light-headed. Eating a light snack before exercise may actually increase your fat-burning potential. Pick a small snack like piece of fruit, a sports beverage or some 100-percent fruit juice.

If you eat a large meal, wait about four hours before you exercise. If you eat a regular meal, you only have to wait about two hours to start your workout. Your body prefers to use carbohydrates as fuel, so your pre-workout meal should include plenty of complex carbohydrates from 100-percent whole grain bread or pasta, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. You don't need to avoid protein and fat, however don't choose large portions of meats and fat foods if you will be exercising with the next hour or two.

After Your Workout

Eating after exercise is important as well. Your muscles need the raw materials to recuperate after a heavy workout, such as carbs, protein and electrolytes including potassium and sodium. A light meal or snack within two hours after exercise is perfect.

This post-work out meal should contain some protein, some complex carbohydrates and some healthy fats too. Try a Balance Bar or a lean turkey sandwich on 100-percent whole grain bread. According to some experts, chocolate milk has the best proportions of carbohydrates, protein and fats for recovering after a workout.

Drink Plenty of Water

Hydration is important too. Exercise will cause a depletion of water when you sweat. Drink a glass of water an hour or so before your workout and again after your workout. You can also sip water throughout your workout. Carry a water bottle with you or look for the drinking fountains.

Sources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Eating Before Exercise." Accessed February 5, 2010. www.eatright.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=6442451295.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "How to Eat for Recovery After Exercise." Accessed February 5, 2012. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=7082.

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