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Should I Eat Before Exercise?

It depends.


I think it's a common misconception that we must eat or have a pre-workout formula before exercise to ensure we have enough energy or to get the most out of a workout. The truth is, most people will be fine training on an empty tummy if they're exercising for an hour or less. That said, my advice is always to let your body be the guide. If you feel faint and weak exercising on an empty stomach, then have some food beforehand. It's equally important to ensure you're hydrated. I prefer to steer clear of sugary sports drinks and instead opt for a bottle of filtered water or coconut juice with a pinch of coloured salt and a squeeze of lemon.


I don't love pre-workout formulas simply because real food eaten throughout the day really is adequate if you're not a bodybuilder or performance athlete. If you want a little boost consider a good quality organic coffee or matcha instead. Pre-workouts usually contain an array of additives that people with gut issues will not tolerate.



What About For Longer Training Sessions?


If you plan on doing a training session for 60-90 minutes or longer, eating before a workout is certainly something to consider, and the type of food you choose matters.


CARBS

Carbohydrates will fuel a workout and promote recovery but not all carbs are created equal and different types affect our insulin levels in different ways. Muscles use the sugars (glucose) from carbohydrates to drive short and high-intensity exercise, so simple carb-rich meals or snacks (like a banana) can be great for a shorter workout. Complex carbs on the other hand like brown rice, are a good source of energy through the day or for longer workouts.


A combo of carbs and fats provides a nice slower release of energy to fuel those longer sessions and for workouts that focus on building strength and stamina.


FATS

Fats slow digestion which is how they ensure slow release of energy from carbs. Omega three-rich fats are anti-inflammatory so if you're consuming them weekly they will have an overall positive effect on your daily exercise regimen.


PROTEINS

It's well documented that protein before a workout can improve performance, maintain muscle size and/or improve it. Studies also show that proteins can reduce markers of muscle damage. Adequate daily protein is a non-negotiable for healthy body composition.


Suggestions Include:


  • Pot-set yoghurt or chia pudding with a handful of berries

  • An apple with a tbsp of macadamia butter

  • A smoothie with a (no nasties) protein powder, plant-based milk, fruit + spinach

  • A vegie omelette with avocado

  • Sprouted or sourdough bread with nut butter, banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon

  • Brown rice or quinoa, palm size piece of chicken/fish and fist of vegies





When Should I Eat?


Keep your portions moderate (don't gorge) and eat no closer than an hour to your workout time. You want blood flow and energy available for your muscles and heart where you need it most (not for it to be busy with digestive processes).



What About Post-workout Fuel?


We’ve all read that it’s important to eat within thirty minutes to an hour after a workout to prevent muscle breakdown. This makes some sense as exercise puts us in a catabolic state and burns energy, thus we should replenish. But here's something to consider:


Meals can take 24 hours or more to be processed by the body and for nutrients to reach their destination, so likely, the meal you ate yesterday is partly refuelling your training session already so there's no need to rush home or take your protein shaker with you to the gym.


I'm not suggesting you shouldn't re-fuel but rather I want to remind you of the importance of eating a complete and balanced diet all the time, not just after training. This will ensure that the nutrients you need are always available to (a) fuel a workout and (b) repair muscle and promote growth. 


In Conclusion


If you're someone who is healthy, and exercises regularly (but isn't a performance athlete or a bodybuilder) then having a well-balanced meal a few hours before and after your workout will see you meeting your nutritional needs. In other words, I wouldn't bother too much with special diets or timing unless your body is telling you it needs fuel. You can learn more about what a balanced meal looks like here.



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