How Long Should I Wait to Exercise After Eating?

How long should I wait to exercise after I eat? I'm wondering if what I eat and when I eat will affect my workouts.


Depending on how heavy a meal you eat, you should wait 30 minutes to two hours before exercising. The bigger the meal, the longer you will need to wait. If you just eat a light, high-carbohydrate snack like half a bagel or a few low-fat crackers, you should be good to go almost immediately.


The best type of foods to eat before exercise depends on the time of day you workout. If you exercise first thing in the morning some fruit or a small amount of juice and water should suffice. If you exercise mid-morning then a breakfast high in carbohydrates will help give you the energy you need to get through your workout. A bowl of oatmeal, whole grain toast and jam or a few pancakes are all good choices. If you exercise in the late morning before lunch, you may want to try eating a light snack before working out and a carb-and-protein rich lunch such as a turkey sandwich afterwards to replenish your body stores. Exercisers who work out later in the afternoon -- say from 12:30 to 3:00 -- probably don't have to eat anything before a workout provided they have eaten lunch and breakfast. However, if you exercise later in the afternoon, closer to dinner time, a light snack (like a yogurt or a handful of pretzels) is a good energy provider. If you exercise after dinner, just make sure to wait an appropriate amount of time related to the size of your meal.


But these are just general guidelines. There is a highly personal, delicate dance that goes on between your digestive system and the rest of your body. You have to figure out what works for you. Case in point: I went for a run yesterday morning after eating a small bowl of cereal and skim milk and thought I was gonna die. My stomach really hurt. I felt nauseous. My legs felt like lead. It just wasn't happening. Yet I've eaten a large stack of pancakes, run ten miles shortly afterwards, and felt great. Go figure.


I highly recommend experimenting to see which foods you tolerate before exercise and, better yet, which foods help enhance your performance. You'll find certain foods work for you and others, no matter how good for you nutritionally, just don't cut it. If you're prone to cramps or feel sluggish during your workouts, try keeping a food and exercise diary. Write down what you eat, when you eat it, and how you feel during your workouts. This will help you pinpoint the foods that rev you up and the ones that make you feel like you're dragging around a truck tire.


Liz Neporent, Fit by Friday correspondent