What to Eat Before and After Exercise

Exercise is crucial for good health, and can aid in weight loss. Exercise helps the immune system work more efficiently, and will help someone feel good each and every day if they stay on a good program. Whether exercising to lose weight, maintain weight, to build muscle, or just for the sake of health, it is important to do it right and also to make sure the right foods are ingested before and after exercise for the best possible benefit from your activity.

Choosing the right foods to eat before and after exercise can improve health and weight loss.

Choosing the right foods to eat before and after exercise can improve health and weight loss.

The foods you eat before and after exercise can help you or hinder you, depending on your goals. This is very important for losing weight or for men trying to build muscle, but it is a good idea for anyone on an exercise program to know what they should and should not be eating when physically active. If you are an athlete, eating the right things can be essential for your performance and may even mean the difference between being good and being great at what you do.

When thinking about eating before exercise, use what you already know. If you have a huge meal before you exercise, some of your energy is going to be used to digest rather than exercise and you could feel sluggish. Fats and proteins are digested rather slowly, so they are not the best food choices right before you work out. Thus, if you are on a low-carb diet that is higher in proteins and fats, eat at least three to four hours before exercising.

Carbohydrates consumed in meals will move through your body quickly and give a burst of energy that is of great help during a workout. Even then, however, try to limit eating carbohydrate-type foods to at least an hour before exercise, or longer if you can.

While proteins are essential for building muscle, they should not be eaten right after exercise. Save protein for a meal later in the day and be sure to get enough (See this blog post Daily Protein Requirements for more information). Instead, focus on carbohydrates after exercise to replenish both the glucose and water that was lost during exercise. It is recommended that you wait an hour before eating any type of meal after exercise.

Anyone participating in a regular exercise program should include carbohydrates in their diet, but choose healthy carbs such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. For those who wish to take on an intense workout routine, one of the best places to get food and eating information would be from a doctor or a dietitian. A doctor should give you a physical to make sure you are healthy enough for the program that you have in mind. A dietitian can tell what to eat before and after exercise and what foods best benefit your program when eating throughout the rest of your day.


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5 comments to What to Eat Before and After Exercise

  • Chris

    Hi Guinea, another article appeared in iVillage the author argues that you should eat within 45/60 minutes after the workout. What’s your opinion on that? Do you have some academic research/results for the views presented in your article?

  • Chris – Thank you for providing the link to the article on ivillage. It mentions a couple of good points about when and what to eat after exercise. I don’t think our articles opposed one another. The only difference is that she recommends eating 45 minutes to an hour after exercise, whereas I just mention an hour after as being OK. There are many nutritional resources online, however, that say that we should consume some carbohydrates and proteins within 2 hours following exercise. I think that the time window isn’t really strict and as long as you eat within an hour or two following exercise you should be fine.

    One piece of the puzzle that I have been learning more about is the amount of carbohydrates and protein should be included in post-workout foods. I have read a few good articles on this subject (such as Eating After Exercise – Post-Exercise Meal) that recommend people eat a ratio of 4:1 carbs to protein in a post-workout meal. I have been trying this myself by eating fruit with a protein, or having a bowl of whole grain cereal with low-fat milk. If anything, eating after exercise has kept me from being ravenous at my next meal and overeating. My body also feels replenished and I have more energy.

  • Chris

    Hi Guinea, thanks for the comments. Eating after the exercise is as important as eating before the exercise – that helps the body to recover after a workout.

    Eating 4 to 1 of carbs to protein is a good one – let’s aim for good health!

  • Elle

    Chris, it really depends on how quickly your body digests food, how well you masticate,etc and it differs from person to person. I always take the longest period because I have digestive problems.

  • Clarence Jasionowski

    You not going to believe it but I have lost all day scrounging for some info about this. You’re a lifesaver, it was a wonderful read and really helped me out. Have a good one.

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