We love answering our clients questions. One we are asked frequently is:
Q & A: What Should I Eat Before I Workout?
The short answer is nothing. A pre-workout meal will not increase energy available to your muscles, it might decrease it, and adding a meal to your day makes overeating much more likely. If, for example, you are doing a morning workout, and dragging a$$, try having something with caffeine and no calories. Th will have a positive impact on your workout and it won’t add calories to your day. Let’s break that down.
#1. No benefit. Digestion of some nutrients may start in the mouth, but absorption mostly happens in the small intestines. This means it will be 3 to 5 hours from the time you eat until any of the energy (calories) are available for your muscles to use. Fear not. Our bodies evolved to feast and famine and always keep plenty of fuel on deck. The average human body has about 125,000 kilo calories inside, so, yeah, you’re going to be just fine without an extra meal.
Furthermore, you’d need to eat between midnight and 2:30am to have fuel available from your pre workout meal for a 5:30am workout. Instead of this I would suggest sleeping, and letting your body use some of it’s reserves to fuel your workout instead.
#2. Less energy. Digestion takes resources. If you eat before your workout then blood and energy will be diverted to your digestive system, and these resources will not be available for your workout so you will actually have less energy for your actual workout.
#3. Calories. Our weight is a function of calorie balance: when we eat more than we burn over a day, a week, etc. we gain, and vice versa. The science on consumption is very clear – the more often we eat the more we eat even though the feedings tend to be smaller. Adding a meal to your day means subtracting another meal, or it just means absorbing the extra calories. Given that there is zero performance benefit to eating beforehand it just doesn’t seem worth it.
#4. Dragging A$$? If you are hungry or tired before a workout it’s too late to address that with food because absorption takes 3-5 hours. Instead try getting started with your workout. 10-15 min in you will notice that your hunger has shrunk or disappeared and that your energy has boosted. This is because our bodies mobilize calories (fuel) in response to physical stress and exertion. Notice this is the opposite of what it does in response to sitting. Get started and your body will handle the rest, but only if you get started.
If you are extra dragging, or it is your normal time of day for caffeine then have some minus the calories. A coffee drink, or other milkshake with coffee isn’t a great idea because that’s actually a super high calorie dessert, and there’s only so many of those we can have in a week.
You might be wondering…What about at the Olympics?
Olympians are professional athletes who train for a living. They do multiple, exhausting workouts per day. They benefit from extra meals, and strategies to replenish their glycogen stores between their evening butt-kicking and their morning Olympic workout. They often struggle to eat enough to keep up with their training… they’re pretty much the opposite of you and I.
Maybe the only other caveat might be underweight teenage boys who struggle with gaining weight. My doctor told me I was obese when I was 8, so the “struggle to gain weight” club isn’t something I’ve even been able to relate to.
Bottom line: if you are hungry or tired before your workout just get started and your body will take care of the rest, but it will only do so after you get started… meaning if you wait to feel differently you will be skipping your workout.