Should You Eat Before Or After A Workout?

Once you've gotten over the hurdle of deciding exactly how you want to keep fit, another quickly arises – should you eat before or after a workout? Depending on your schedule, sleep pattern, and other factors, it can be a difficult decision to make. But thankfully, there is research out there that can help make that choice easier.

For the early risers, eating before a workout may seem like something you would want to avoid. And if you're doing short-duration/high-intensity exercise, an empty stomach can actually "increase your body's ability to use fat for fuel," according to Healthline. This is due to the primary source of fuel for the body being fat and carbohydrates, with fat being stored as triglycerides in fat tissue and carbs being stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver.

A 2016 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Sports (Scand J Med Sci Sports) found that in a study of 273 participants, fat burning was found to be higher in those that had fasted prior to exercise than those who had eaten a meal. Another study published in the Scand J Med Sci Sports found that the body's ability to "maintain its blood sugars levels" also improved with fasted exercise. However, as Healthline notes, there's "no strong evidence that fasted exercise leads to greater weight or fat loss."

To eat or not eat before a workout generally boils down to personal preference

However, there is evidence to support that eating a meal before a long-duration workout can be more beneficial for your energy levels. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that eating a meal three to four hours before an endurance sport like marathon, triathlon, and road cycling can improve performance. A 2018 analysis published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Sports found that 54% of those who took part "reported better performance when food was consumed before exercise" (via Healthline), especially meals that contained slower-digesting carbs.

So it would seem that eating before or after a workout depends solely on which sort of exercise you're aiming to do. Either way, it's recommended that you always eat after any strenuous workout session (via My Body Tutor), and make sure to stay hydrated (via Time). But as Laura Hoggins, co-host of the "3 PTs & a Cup of Tea" podcast, and the director of Lifted Fitness told My Imperfect Life, "The answer to this very much depends on the individual." Hoggins concluded that "everyone's nutritional needs are different, and a lot comes down to personal preference."

If you're still stumped as to whether you should eat or not eat, My Imperfect Life suggests experimenting by trying "different pre-workout meals before exercising" and give yourself a two-hour window before a workout to test if a meal or no meal is right for you.