How Should I Time My Meals?
I wake up hungry, usually. Should I eat before I work out, let my food digest and use it for energy -- or exercise, then eat? Is it safe to exercise just after eating? If not, how long should one wait?Question:
Well, it is safe in the sense that nothing bad will happen, but it isn't optimal. Having food in your stomach while exercising may make you feel uncomfortable, especially if you are running. It also makes it harder for your body to digest.
How much time you wait should depend on the size and content of the meal, the type of activity you will perform, and the intensity of your workout. The larger the meal and the higher the protein and fat content, the longer it will take to digest; you might want to wait three or four hours after a large meal. That's why it's good to skip the bacon cheeseburger with fries and a shake before a workout.
A smaller, high carbohydrate meal is a better choice for pre- or post-workout nutrition. Yogurt and fruit or skim milk and cereal are good ways to fuel your tank without bogging you down -- and you still should leave a couple of hours before working out. I myself can't exercise less than an hour after eating, even something as small as a single piece of fruit. I think it's best to run on a completely empty stomach, so I used to skip breakfast before my morning run. If I'm cycling, I eat a light breakfast one to two hours before the ride, unless I have a hard interval workout planned. The harder you're going to train, the longer you need to give yourself before starting your workout.
If you wake up hungry, but exercise immediately, it is probably best not to eat anything. Otherwise, keep it light. A glass of diluted apple juice (stay away from citrus juice; your stomach already has plenty of acid in it) or a couple of teaspoons of yogurt might make your craving go away without bogging you down. A small blender drink or a slice of bread might also do the trick.
Make sure you eat a good breakfast after your workout, preferably within two hours. There is a window of opportunity following a workout when your body can replenish the glycogen (the fuel we burn while exercising) in your muscles more efficiently -- that is, as long as the meal is high in carbohydrates, which get broken down and eventually stored as glycogen. This carbohydrate replacement helps speed your recovery and ensures that you're fueled for the next workout. Your metabolism is also elevated after exercising, so eating after your workout is a way to take in calories while burning them at an accelerated rate.
If you want to learn more about eating well to support your training and weight loss goals, get "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook", by Nancy Clark.