It’s no secret that diet and exercise go hand in hand. What you eat can determine whether you have a fantastic workout or whether you feel like you’ve been hit by a dump truck. While choosing the right foods is key to fueling your exercise routine, when you eat them also plays a crucial role in your ability to perform and recover after a workout. However, knowing what to eat and when is more nuanced and complex than you might think. That’s why we spoke with a certified personal trainer and dietitian to get a comprehensive look at what happens to your body when you exercise after eating.
Experts debate whether or not to train on an empty stomach (fasted). Research shows that exercising on an empty stomach can provide many health benefits, especially early in the morning. It can kick your metabolism into high gear and help burn calories more efficiently while improving blood sugar control. Conversely, other studies have shown that consuming high-quality carbohydrates and protein-rich foods before and after exercise is crucial for optimal performance, muscle growth, and recovery.
However, deciding what to eat and when will heavily depend on the type, intensity and duration of your workout. For example, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that moderate exercise lasting no more than one hour requires five to seven grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day (g/kg/day), and that high intensity training requires six to 10 g/kg/day. Endurance athletes and very active people may need 8-12 g/kg/day.
To help you optimize your performance and get the most out of your workout, keep reading to find out what happens to your body when you exercise after eating. (And when you’re done, find out which popular foods are destroying your workout.)
Whether it’s hopping on the treadmill or smashing through a HIIT session, jumping straight into a workout after a meal can wreak havoc on your gut. “When you exercise too soon after eating, especially if you ate a high-fiber or high-fat meal, you could end up with stomach pain and nausea,” says Kelsey Lorencz, RDN, Registered Dietitian at Graciously Nourished. “Foods high in fat and fiber take longer to digest than simple carbs. Instead, try eating a light snack or meal that is mostly carbohydrate like a banana or half a peanut butter sandwich. and jelly. Allow your body to digest at least 30-60 minutes before exercising.”
If your training involves aerobic exercise, such as running, swimming, biking, or rowing, eating high-quality carbohydrates and protein beforehand can help you perform longer and stronger than you might. with an empty stomach.
Rachel MacPherson, CPTan ACE-certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Reviews, says Eat this, not that!“If you are doing a high-intensity workout or one that requires heavy exertion like lifting heavy objects, you should wait about two hours after eating a full meal before exercising to optimize your performance. For lighter workouts , you can eat an hour before, as long as it’s not a heavy or high-fat meal.”
You’ve probably heard about the importance of consuming protein after a workout for muscle growth and recovery, but eating protein before a workout can help preserve muscle mass and strength. For example, a study published in Nutrients found that consuming 25 grams of whey protein before exercise resulted in greater muscle growth than a placebo. “While eating protein after workouts can help repair and build muscle mass, eating protein before exercise might also help,” Lorencz says.
Relying on foods high in fat or fiber to fuel your workouts could cause abdominal issues and negatively impact performance. “If you’re hungry before a workout and need something to eat, stick to higher carbs, preferably not too much fiber, and protein-based meals,” advises MacPherson. “Fats and fiber are healthy, but they slow digestion, leading to potential discomfort and nausea during workouts. In extreme cases with high-fat meals and high-intensity workouts such as HIIT or CrossFit, you might potentially vomit.”
The best way to fuel up after a workout is to use high quality protein and carbohydrates. “After your workout, you’ll need plenty of protein to build muscle, because protein is the building block of all tissue. Carbohydrates are also essential for muscle growth. Carbohydrates fuel your activity and boost insulin, an anabolic hormone that builds muscle,” says MacPherson. “Ideally aim for 25-40 grams of protein and 50-100 grams of carbs. The amount will depend on your total calorie intake, which is calculated based on your body weight, muscle mass, and activity level.”
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Learn more about Adam
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