To eat or not to eat before a workout? A question I often get asked, and although I will share with you tips that I feel can help you, it is not a one shoe fits all, and at the end of the day you need to find what works best for you.
Many feel that if you work out on an empty stomach you will burn more fat. This is a common belief especially amongst those that do workouts in the morning, and weight loss is the aim.
The truth is that you can be doing more damage than good
Without getting too scientific, let’s take a look at the energy system of the body. During your workout the body will burn glucose (sugar) for immediate energy. Next it will use glycogen, which is stored carbohydrates to provide sustained energy. If there is not enough of these, this is when the body will convert muscle tissue to glucose to provide the energy it needs. This means you are breaking down muscle, which is not ideal, as this will have a negative impact on your metabolism.
Plus, your body needs energy to perform at high intensity. If you haven’t eaten anything your workout won’t be as intense simply because your speed, stamina and strength will all be compromised, which means you may end up burning less calories than you could have if you had fueled up properly.
3 Factors To Help You Fuel Up For Your Workouts
1. When to eat
Depending on your last meal, have a pre workout snack 45-60 minutes before your workout.
This means, for instance if you had breakfast around 7.30am and your workout is at 9.30/10am, you most likely will not require a pre workout snack, as long as you had a healthy breakfast consisting of carbohydrates, protein and fat. However, if you skipped your breakfast, it would be advisable to eat something before you head in for your sweat sesh. If you are working out after work and your last main meal was lunch, then have a pre workout snack 1-2 hours before your workout. This will not only fuel your workout but help you to not overeat at dinner.
2. How much to eat
This will require you to assess the intensity of your workout. The amount of effort you put in to your workout will determine what you should be consuming. The higher the intensity, the more fuel you will need. However, if you are snacking within the hour of your workout, you won’t want to eat too much as you don’t want your body to be busy digesting your meal whilst you’re trying to work out, and you may end up with cramps or feeling sick.
3. What to eat before a HIIT workout
2-3 hours before a workout — have a complete meal consisting of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Try these:
- brown rice, lean protein and vegetables
- whole grain sandwich with hummus and salad
- wrap with avocado and grilled chicken
- oats with almond milk and fruit
- eggs on whole grain toast with sautéed spinach
45-60 minutes before a workout — go for a quick, easily to digest snack. Try these:
- rice cake or banana with nut butter
- fruit with Greek yoghurt and crushed nuts
- plant-based protein shake with fruit
Should you eat after a HIIT workout?
HIIT workouts are usually shorter workouts, so you need not worry about an intense refueling plan, unlike endurance athletes. As mentioned above, your body will use glucose and glycogen to fuel your workout, and so your body needs to be replenished.
When your glucose levels are low, you may experience light headedness, mental fatigue or you may even been short tempered due to being “hangry”. This is all because your body is low on sugar and is unable to function properly.
Furthermore, during a workout your body may experience micro tears in the muscle fibers, especially when you are using weights. If the body is unable to repair the muscle, overtime this can compromise your performance as the muscles will get weaker, which leads you to overusing the muscles which may end up in an injury.
If your next meal is more than 90 minutes away — then refuel and recover by having a snack comprising of carbohydrate and protein. Try these:
- a small banana and nut butter
- boiled egg and a few nuts
- smoothie made with almond milk, fruits and scoop of plant-based protein
Remember at the end of the day your energy needs are unique to you. These are guidelines to help you figure out what works best for you. The main thing is to keep yourself from fatigue and to help your body recover so that you can keep smashing your workouts and seeing progress with all that hard work. So you know that starving yourself is not the answer!