What and how much should I eat for breakfast before I go to the gym in the morning? How long before I go to the gym should I eat breakfast? If I go to the gym very early in the morning, should I just wait until I get back home to eat? I’ve heard I burn more fat this way. If I work out later in the day, how long do I wait after eating, and how quickly should I eat afterwards, and what should I eat? What about snacks? Is it okay to eat in between meals? Do I need a sports drink while I’m working out? These are questions every fitness professional hears on a regular basis. Chances are, even if you haven’t asked one of these questions out loud, you’ve at least wondered about them.
Questions are good. Asking questions means you’ve given some serious thought about how to fuel your body. You know it’s important to challenge your body on a regular basis, and you also know you need fuel for your body to continue to meet those challenges every day. Keep reading below to find answers to several frequently asked questions.
What and how much should I eat for breakfast before I go to the gym in the morning?
The majority of your pre-workout meal should be carbohydrates because carbohydrates immediately fuel the body. If working out before 7:00 a.m., you can eat about 300-400 calories an hour or so beforehand to give your body enough time to be ready to use that fuel for your activity. You should also have a little protein, but not a lot, since protein takes longer to digest and is not immediately needed to fuel your activity. Your pre-workout breakfast can also include fat and fiber but only a small amount. Too much may cause gastrointestinal issues.
If I go to the gym very early in the morning, should I just wait until I get back home to eat? I’ve heard I burn more fat this way.
While some studies show that vigorous running, swimming, or cycling on an empty stomach can increase your fat burn and promote more weight loss, many experts caution against pre-exercise fasting. Though training hard on an empty stomach may help burn fat faster, it may also cause you to fatigue faster, decreasing your ability to train as vigorously as you intended. Additionally, when we’re fatigued, we’re at greater risk for injuries such as strains, sprains, stress fractures, etc. as we try to push through the fatigue to finish the workout. Another downside to pre-exercise fasting is compensatory eating afterwards, meaning many people end up eating even more afterwards because they’ve become so hungry. Long story short, it’s better to just go head and eat a small breakfast to provide your body steady fuel that will keep your energy levels up and your tummy happy because as the Snickers commercial says, “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.”
If I work out later in the day, how long do I wait after eating?
If working out later in the day, wait 2-4 hours after eating, since you’re usually consuming more calories (up to 1,000) for lunch and need to give yourself enough time for digestion, so that food is now available as fuel for your activity.
How quickly should I eat after exercising, and what should I eat?
After exercising, your energy will be depleted, so it’s important to refuel your body. During your workout, you were busy challenging your body and tearing it down. Now it’s time to rebuild, so you’ll need carbohydrates to replenish depleted fuel stores, protein to repair damaged muscle tissue as well as develop new muscle tissue, and fluids to rehydrate. To quickly and completely recover, begin refueling your body within 30 minutes after you’ve finished your workout.
What about snacks?
Small, healthy, in-between-meal snacks are perfectly fine. In fact, some people call those snacks “mid meals” because they eat 5 or 6 smaller meals per day. This is a way to keep your metabolism burning and insulin levels steady. A small portion of carbs and protein will keep you going. You can also eat some healthy fats such as nuts or seeds, but be sure to keep it to a serving size NOT a handful. Even though plants provide healthy fats, overconsumption will still contribute to weight gain.
Do I need a sports drink while I’m working out?
Unless working out for extended periods of time, sports drinks are not necessary. They provide unnecessary sugar and calories. Dr. Claire McCarthy, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School says children definitely do not need sports drinks. When it comes to adults and sports drinks, Tim Noakes, professor of exercise and sports science at University of Cape Town in South Africa said, “If they avoided the sports drinks they would get thinner and run faster.” Whether working out or not, it is a great rule of thumb to avoid drinking your calories.
When it comes to fuel for fitness, keeping it real, varied, and consistent is the key. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all essential, and so is timing. Eating smaller meals every few hours instead of just three large meals will keep you from becoming ravenously hungry and losing control. Avoiding processed foods while relying heavily on a wide variety of plant foods throughout the day, and drinking plenty of fluids will help you work harder and recover more quickly. Better nutrition means better results. That’s the answer that makes everyone happy!
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