Tuesday, 19 July 2022
The short answer is that it depends on the type of workout you’ll be doing and for how long. A good rule of thumb is to avoid eating at least half an hour before intense exercise (like running or a HIIT class), but to have a snack 15 minutes post-workout. This is called nutrient timing, which we’ll get into below.
Nutrient timing is deliberately consuming specific nutrients around exercise sessions. As we mentioned above, when you should time your meals or snacks depends on the type of workout, intensity level, and duration. If you want to introduce nutrient timing into your exercise routine, we’ve outlined a couple of things to consider below.
If you eat before working out, make sure to leave enough time for your body to digest it — this helps to avoid cramps. If you’re having a snack, give yourself at least 30 minutes before you start exercising. For a larger meal, we recommend 3 to 4 hours.
As for what to have, carbs are a good place to start! They provide the body with energy because carbs break down into glucose, which then enters our muscle cells — this gives our body fuel for maximum performance.
The average person tends to work out between 90 and 120 minutes. If this is the case, you’ll have enough fuel stored in your body to perform well without a mid-workout snack. For anything beyond this timeframe, refer to the post-workout section below.
We’ve covered fuel, but what about hydration? We’re glad you asked, as this is an important one. For high-intensity training, being dehydrated can result in up to a 45% reduction in performance. The average gym-goer will do just fine with some H2O, but if you’re training in a hot environment or longer than 60 minutes, a sports drink* is better to replace lost fluid and electrolytes. *When it comes to finding a sports drink, look for one with around 5 grams of sugar per 100ml and no artificial flavours or colours – the fewer the ingredients, the better!
Make sure to hydrate well during the hour before exercise (e.g., 1 cup of water every 20 minutes). During exercise, it’s important to keep drinking, but make sure you’re having small, frequent sips rather than big gulps in one go. Why? Large amounts of water will slosh around in the stomach and make exercise uncomfortable.
Eating post-workout means you’re eating during your anabolic window. Anabolic is a fancy word for muscle building and is likely to be a goal for many gym junkies. There’s still debate around whether a post-workout anabolic window exists and how long it lasts. One thing that is generally agreed upon is that when you eat a carb or protein-rich meal after you exercise, the glycogen stores can be replenished more efficiently compared to eating a meal two hours or more after exercising.
There are certain foods that are superstars when it comes to optimising your anabolic window and aiding recovery. We’ve outlined a few of our favourites below:
When you’re trying to decide whether to eat before or after your workout, it’s important to listen to your body and experiment with timing to see what feels right for you. Some people will need to eat before a workout to maximise performance, but others don’t and feel uncomfortable if they do. Keep a journal to monitor how your body reacts to meals and snacks, so you can keep track and adjust as you go!
Sophie Scott is passionate about nutrition, fitness and behaviour change coaching. As a Registered Nutritionist and Environmental Scientist, she takes a wholistic approach to nutrition, focusing on people’s relationship with food and driving a shift to a healthier approach to eating.
With more than 12 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, Sophie has supported hundreds of women along their health journey through her business, fitandfed.
Sophie is an enthusiastic nutrition teacher and accomplished course creator at Endeavour College of Natural Health, inspiring the next wave of nutrition and wellness professionals.
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