Should You Eat Before or After Working Out? 

Two men after a workout

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Fueling and recovering from exercise requires proper nutrition. Some people prefer to eat more before their workout, while others fuel up on a larger meal post-workout. Either choice (or both) are smart ways to support your training performance and goals.

Whether to eat before or after a workout is a personal choice, but it is also wise to understand how your meal timing can affect your workouts and recovery. Some types of training are best performed with some fuel before starting, and others will require a top-up of nutrients post-workout for best results.

Fasted vs Fed Exercise

Fasted exercise is performed on an empty stomach, usually in the morning before your first meal of the day. Proponents often claim fasted training can tap into fat stores.

While exercising in a fasted state may indeed increase fat oxidation, it does not necessarily lead to more significant overall fat loss. The lack of fat loss from fasted exercise is partly due to an overall decrease in energy expenditure when exercising without fuel.

If you are underfed, you are unlikely to be able to perform at the same intensities you could if you'd had a meal. This means less energy is expended during your training and, likely, reduced results. Moreover, you'll be more likely to feel extreme hunger and possibly, eat more during the rest of the day than you would if you'd consumed a pre-workout meal.

Researchers acknowledge a lack of studies done correctly on this topic; further research is needed.

Athletic Performance

When it comes to using fasted training for improving performance in endurance exercise, as some proponents claim, the evidence suggests this is not recommended.

When you perform fed exercise, you have eaten a meal or snack at least 2 to 3 hours before training. Eating before you train will mean you have more fuel and energy for your workout. Research shows that fed exercise increases your ability to perform compared to fasted training.

This increase in performance can lead to more significant calorie expenditure and a better chance of reaching workout goals, including being faster, stronger, and gaining muscle.

Post-Workout Nutrition

After your workout, consuming a shake or meal within an hour may provide enhanced benefits for those hoping to increase muscle mass. After strength training, your muscles are more sensitive to muscle protein synthesis. Consuming carbohydrates and protein after a workout can boost your ability to grow muscle.

If you performed your workout fasted, it is even more crucial to ensure you consume a balanced post-workout shake or meal. Directly after training, consuming carbohydrates with protein is best.

However, after an hour or so, consuming a complete, balanced meal with protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats is essential for recovery. Fats increase the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients and are vital for hormone production, including the hormones that help increase muscle mass, support fat loss, and boost athletic performance.

What This Means for You

Personal preference is often the deciding factor in choosing when to eat in relation to a workout. The most important factor is for nutrients to be replenished and that you take care of your body with proper fuel and hydration. 

While there may be potential increased fat oxidation when training fasted, you will more likely experience more significant results by fueling your workouts to train more intensely. You'll also be less likely to experience extreme hunger during the rest of your day.

If performance or muscle gain is your goal, consuming enough food before and after training is best. Gaining muscle requires you to eat in a calorie surplus while performing a higher volume of weight-bearing exercise. Fuel is necessary to properly train and support the muscles.

Endurance exercise requires a lot of energy, especially glycogen, which comes primarily from consuming carbohydrates before a meal. Being sure to replenish this glycogen and protein to heal muscles is essential for performance and recovery from this type of exercise.

A Word From Verywell

Nutrition is essential for health, and supporting your workouts and eating before or after a meal is a personal choice that fits into a larger picture of your goals and health. Certain types of training will see improved results if you fuel before or after exercise. Seek advice from a registered dietitian if you have any questions or concerns about your nutrition habits or if you find yourself feeling poorly during your workouts. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best time to exercise? 

    The best time to exercise is whenever you can fit it into your schedule consistently. This may differ from day to day, but sticking to a regular time often helps consistency.

  • Should I eat less on rest days? 

    Eating less on rest days is a personal choice. If your training is long or intense, structuring your calorie intake so that you eat more on workout days and less on rest days may support your energy levels and performance. It's important to understand that recovery also requires nutrients, so do not decrease your calories too much on rest days. Try consuming less on rest days if you feel you need more food on training days and see how you feel.

  • Why do I weigh less in the morning than at night?

    It's important to note that it's very natural for weight to fluctuate several pounds over the course of a day. In the morning, your stomach is typically emptier due to food being broken down and digested and liquids being eliminated. Once you've eaten, the food in your stomach will add weight to the scale. Additionally, carbohydrate intake increases the water you hold in your tissues, adding weight. When you haven't eating carbs in a while, this effect will be reduced.

  • Is it OK to fast after a workout? 

    It is unlikely that you will be harmed by fasting after a workout but it is not ideal. Your body requires nutrients to repair and recover. However, waiting a few hours after a workout before you eat is acceptable as long as you consume enough food overall during the day.

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8 Sources
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