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The order that you either eat or exercise is a common question that many people have. That question often leads to many other points of confusion around the topic of eating in relation to exercise. How long should I wait to exercise after eating? What foods are best to eat before and after exercise? Here’s some clarity around the topic.
[Eating for maximum results] comes down to planning and creating strong routines. Aim to eat at the same time each day and don’t skip meals, even if you’re busy.
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The type of activity and time of day are major factors in what and whether to eat before exercise. I personally don’t like to eat before exercise if I am exercising first thing in the morning. And this is not a bad thing. You might hear that you should eat before exercise to ensure your muscles have ample energy to complete the exercise. But that’s not the case. If you had to run for your life out of bed at 5am, you wouldn’t fix yourself a meal before you took off! Your body utilises the stored energy in the form of muscle glycogen (the storage form of glucose) to get through any physical requirements of exercise. Depending on what you’re doing and for how long, it also utilises other forms of energy such as fat.
You typically need one to two hours for food in your stomach to digest and be absorbed into your bloodstream in order to use that food as an energy source. Therefore, eating less than an hour before exercise won’t result in energy anyway. The body is still processing it. And that will likely result in stomach cramps, depending on the type of exercise you’re doing.
When you exercise, blood moves away from the digestive system where it’s digesting food and towards the muscles, providing those working muscles with oxygen and nutrients, and removing carbon dioxide. If you do have food in your stomach during exercise, the best exercises are those where your body is supported, such as cycling. Other activities such as running, where the body is bouncing, can be quite uncomfortable. Even swimming, where there is a lot of whole body movement, can also be uncomfortable.
If you are going to eat before exercise, aim to not eat for at least an hour beforehand. The types of foods to avoid even as much as two hours before include dairy products such as milk and yoghurt. Even bananas are not a great food to eat before exercise. While they are very healthy, it’s pretty common knowledge in sports such as running, cycling and swimming that you don’t eat bananas before a solid lactate session consisting of highly intense efforts lasting 30-120seconds.
If you have enough time to eat so that your body can digest the food before morning exercise, the best foods to eat are really anything that your body responds well to. Trial different foods and take notice of how your body responds. In the mornings, this is typically fruit, but not citric fruit. The best fruits are apples and berries. The berries have the additional benefit of being high in antioxidants.
If you’re exercising later in the day, so long as you leave enough time for your food to digest and absorb, anything healthy before exercise is fine. This is where a regular healthy diet is important. If you’re exercising during your lunch break, save your lunch for after your workout and eat some nuts, dried fruit or even yoghurt at morning tea. This typically gives you two hours for your food to digest. If exercising after work or in the evening, again, save dinner for after your workout and consume some of the snack type foods from morning tea, for afternoon tea. This gives you about two to three hours to digest your food.
I’ve had a busy day so I haven’t eaten yet and now it’s time for my exercise class I hear you ask. What can I eat? Or should I eat? First of all, yes. You should eat. I’ve seen, and experienced myself, how sick and light-headed people become when they exercise without eating all day. Something light and small is better than nothing at all. In this case, go for something that you would eat before early morning exercise. An apple or berries will digest quickly, give you a quick burst of energy and shouldn’t leave you feeling sick during or after the workout.
So, what about after exercise? It’s much easier to consider what to eat after exercise because you don’t have to worry about how long it takes for that food to digest. And all foods take different lengths of time to digest. With the whole intermittent fasting strategy aside, a smoothie or omelette for breakfast after a morning workout are great. If you’re exercising during your lunch break, a salad with some form of protein such as fish or chicken and some healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil are great for a post-workout lunch. And as for evening workouts, any meal consisting of primarily veggies and supported by healthy fats and protein are great for dinner after an evening workout.
It comes down to planning and creating strong routines. Aim to eat at the same time each day and don’t skip meals, even if you’re busy. At the same time, don’t scoff your food down just because you’re busy. Continue to move throughout the day but keep your designated workouts at the same time each day.
What foods do you eat before and after exercise?
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