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What to Know About Eating Before a Workout

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Each person approaches exercise in their own unique way. Some can’t wait to get to the gym every day, while others exhibit significantly less enthusiasm about exercise. Some medical professionals say the best approach to exercise is the one that inspires a consistent commitment to physical activity, but various factors, including food, merit consideration when designing a workout routine.
Food provides energy for the body, so it makes sense to eat before a workout. But eating prior to a workout may not be so straightforward for all exercise enthusiasts. An examination of the dynamic between eating and exercise can help athletes find a formula that works for them.

Why eat before exercise?
The Hospital for Special Surgery recommends eating before exercise if it’s been two or more hours since your last meal or snack. Doing so can help to restore energy stores prior to an intense or lengthy workout. The HSS notes this approach is especially beneficial for individuals who work out early in the morning, before lunch or after school or work, each of which are times of day when it’s typically been awhile since a person has eaten.

How much should I eat before exercising?
It’s unlikely anyone is going to want to eat a large meal before a workout. Doing so will undoubtedly affect performance in a negative way, particularly if you’re eating shortly before a workout. The HSS notes that the further away a workout is from the time a person eats, the larger and more mixed that meal can be. According to the HSS, the general guideline around eating and
exercise is:

• A full meal three to four hours before exercising
• A higher carbohydrate snack two hours before exercising and/or a small, easily digested carbohydrate right up until the start of a workout

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What makes for a good pre-workout snack?
If you won’t be eating a full meal before a workout, various mini snacks can provide energy without adversely affecting performance. Pre-workout snacks that are low in fat and fiber are ideal, as the body can digest such foods quickly. The HSS notes half a banana, a small serving of applesauce or a handful of crackers or pretzels are a good pre-workout mini snack. A larger snack eaten a little further away from a workout can include some hummus or peanut butter. The Mayo Clinic notes yogurt, a fruit smoothie or a low-fat granola bar also make good pre-workout snacks.

Should I eat during a workout?
The HSS notes it can help to consume some carbs during workouts that last 60 minutes or longer. Doing so can help individuals prolong their endurance and can even help with their timing and concentration.
The relationship between eating and exercise is complicated. Individuals who want to learn more are urged to work with a nutritionist.

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