What should I eat before exercise?

Trying to figure out the ideal pre-training meal or snack can seem a little overwhelming with all the different information bombarding us all the time. Some in the high fat, low carb camp say you can fuel a workout entirely off your body stores and fasting is the way to go. Others swear by chugging back pre workout drinks or coffee to get an energy boost. The truth - as with many things - is, it’s entirely individual.  As our bodies all work slightly differently there is not one perfect answer, but we can help guide you to make some educated choices so you can find out what works best for you.

What you need will depend on what type of exercise you’re doing. If you’re just off for a walk around the block, 20 mins on the bike or a yoga class you probably don’t need anything. However a 15km run or heavy weights session is a different scenario altogether!

Unsplash /  Jacob Postuma

Unsplash / Jacob Postuma

Steady state cardio

As a general rule for steady state cardio like walking, jogging or swimming, training on an empty stomach is suitable as your body can easily pull from its own fat stores to use as fuel. If your goal is to lose body fat, doing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach can help with fat loss.

If you’re exercising for longer than 60 minutes, or you’re someone who does best with something in your stomach, easily digestible carbs such as banana or some oat cakes could be a good option. Pairing these with a small amount of protein like some cheese or greek yoghurt can help sustain energy for a longer period of time.

Resistance training or high intensity cardio

If your training involves anything where your heart rate spikes, like HIIT training, sprinting or resistance training, your body will demand stored glucose to use for energy. This means, it is important to have a pre-workout snack or meal prior to your training session.

Ideally it‘s best to have a proper meal (breakfast or lunch) around 1-2 hours before exercise to leave time for digestion. The meal should contain a source of complex carbohydrates, protein and good fats for optimal performance and energy. Things like sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa or oats served with eggs, chicken, fish, tofu and sprinkled with seeds or olive oil are really easy and really effective options.

Sometime it isn’t possible to have a meal two hours before, especially if you train first thing in the morning. So that’s when a pre-workout snack is essential to ensure you have enough energy to have a great session for example half a banana or a kiwifruit, or even a few crackers.

Similar rules again. Ideally getting a source of complex carbohydrates with protein and/or fats, but just on a smaller scale and ensure you chose easy to digest foods. Also as you are training soon after you want carbohydrates that release energy into your system faster like fruits and some vegetables. Great examples are apple slices with peanut butter, banana and yogurt, blueberries mixed in with protein powder, or banana and peanut butter on a rice cracker.

Unsplash /  Lavi Perchik

Unsplash / Lavi Perchik


Something to keep in mind though.  If you aren’t following a strict and specific training program, as long as you are eating a balanced and healthy diet you should be sufficiently fuelled for most workouts. So don’t worry if you haven’t had the perfect pre-training snack but still have bundles of energy to exercise, just go for it. Listen to your body and see what works best for you.

What should I eat afterwards?

If you take anything away from this article - please make sure this is it! Always try and time a normal meal as your post workout snack so you are not introducing extra energy from food into your daily diet. For example if you train in the morning - your post workout meal is breakfast. Going to the gym after work? Your dinner is your post workout meal.

Post workout should always contain some carbohydrates to refuel your depleted blood glucose (and thus energy) along with some protein, especially if resistance training has occurred. For those following a low carb, high fat approach your body is most insulin sensitive immediately following resistance training. So, rather than forgoing carbs and having an energy crash, time them around training for optimal benefits.

There are plenty of studies theorising the correct ratio of protein to carbs, and the relevant timing of the intake of these macronutrients. However, so long as you’re including some carbs and some protein the ratios will be individual. Play around with quantities and see what works best for you. Far too often we see clients under fuelling around training and then being surprised when energy, weight and performance plateaus. Often eating more, especially more quality foods, is what’s needed to see results!

Thanks, from the team! 

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