Why You Must Eat Before a Workout

Exercise and diets are so confusing: should you treat yourself from time to time or stave off carbs altogether? Is sugar the root of all evil or can it give you some much-needed energy?

With so much conflicting information out there about what we should and shouldn’t be doing, it’s easy to see why so many of us get confused when it comes to understanding what our body’s really need. And what they need is the right foods, both before and after you exercise.

It’s easy to think you shouldn’t eat before working out to avoid getting heartburn and there are even myths that eating before exercise will slow your metabolism and hinder your weight loss during your workout. However, having a pre-workout meal will not affect how much fat you burn and will actually benefit your body, as working out on an empty stomach can cause muscle-loss.  

And here’s the science behind it: Normally your body pulls protein from your liver and kidneys but when you are hungry, it draws protein from your muscles instead, which will lead to loss in muscle mass and cause your metabolism to slow.

The other reason why it is important to eat before working out is that your body needs fuel to help you power through your exercise session and you will quickly run out of energy and motivation if you exercise on an empty tummy.

From pre-workout snacks to meals, knowing what to eat before a workout is important, so let’s take a look at what you should and shouldn’t be eating to become a fat-burning gym bunny!

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What to Eat Before Hitting the Gym

Want to know what to eat before a workout?

The key to eating before and after exercise is to ensure that you are putting the right types of food into your body. Food gives us energy and as well as acting like fuel, it also provides nourishment and learning what to eat before a workout is just as important as doing the workout itself.

Forget what you think you know, stop going on fad diets, ignore all the conflicting information and check out the following for some handy ideas on what you really should be eating before you hit the gym:

  • Couscous and chicken
  • Fruit smoothies or a piece of fruit
  • Tuna salad, with boiled eggs and vinaigrette dressing
  • Poached eggs on wholemeal toast, with avocado
  • Salmon and sweet potatoes
  • Greek yogurt or porridge with banana
  • Nutrition bar
  • Brown rice with a grilled chicken breast

Most personal trainers advise that you should eat about 60-90 minutes before you exercise and you will sabotage your fitness objectives if you continually skip your pre and post workout eating routines. However, some of the best pre-workout food such as fruit and nutrition bars should be consumed just 30 minutes prior to your workout to ensure you exercise while they release their injection of natural energy.

Workout Tip: A pre-workout snack can really help to boost your energy levels and is perfect if you suffer from a lack of motivation.


What To Eat After Your Workout 

Knowing what to eat as your pre-workout meal is important but don’t forget to think carefully before refuelling after you exercise as well.  

If you want your body to look and perform like a Ferrari, you can’t fuel it with any ol’ energy – you need to power it with premium fuel. Eating the best pre-workout food is vital but just because you have finished your squats, it doesn’t mean all the hard work is over.

In fact, replenishing your body after exercise with the right nutrients is something that many of us fail to do - despite it be equally as important as eating properly beforehand.

The health gurus at The Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine suggest eating a small amount of carbs, plus some protein after a workout to enjoy the following benefits:

  • Maintain lean muscles
  • Help with weight loss
  • Repair microdamage to the muscles caused by exercise
  • Boost your metabolism
  • Maximise exercise advantages

Let’s look at some of the best things to eat after your workout:

  • Steamed vegetables, with tofu or Quorn
  • Wholemeal burrito, with brown rice, beans, guacamole and salsa
  • Whole wheat wrap with turkey and salad
  • Quinoa with berries and nuts
  • Hummus with carrot or cucumber sticks or better still – a/2 cup of chickpeas seasoned with lemon juice
  • Eggs served scrambled, hard-boiled or poached
  • Chicken salad with steamed chicken, chickpeas and a vinaigrette dressing (vinegar and olive oil) 

Of course, the best pre-workout meal doesn’t have to be solid food!

If you fancy a refreshing shake, try making a fresh blend of almond milk, banana and hemp seeds or avocado and berries and add some protein powder to give you a much-needed kick of energy.  

Wait 30 Minutes Before Eating

It’s a good idea to wait around 15-30 minutes before you consume food after your workout session to avoid heartburn and indigestion. If you workout to build muscle, then it is even more important to wait before you eat because as soon as you consume food, your body instantly stops making the growth hormone needed to build muscle.

Why You Don’t Need to Refuel With Sugar 

It’s easy to think that you need to refuel your body with sugar after working out, to give you a much-needed boost of energy. However, this is actually just an unhealthy myth and it is far more important to replace the lost amino acids, so put down the sugar and refill with healthy post-workout nosh like spinach, boiled eggs and an avocado.  


What Foods to Avoid Pre & Post Workout 

As a basic rule, you should avoid eating heavy meals before and after a workout, such as a roast dinner or a curry that can leave you feel lethargic and sluggish. Anything fatty or fried should also be avoided, as should anything with a high sugar content which will give you a sugar-high followed by a crashing low – potentially mid-workout.

Specific foods should also be avoided such as:

  • Raw broccoli and seeds
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cauliflower and cabbage
  • Pizza, burgers and chips
  • Beans
  • Scones, doughnuts and ice cream

Spicy food can give you heartburn, so save a spicy meal for a day when you aren’t planning an intense workout. Plus, super salty foods will dehydrate your body and mix this with a sweat-inducing exercise session and those salt-sprinkled chips you ate for lunch will only lead to cramps and headaches. 


Stay Hydrated 

A good pre-workout meal always has to include H2o and lots of it. Failing to hydrate before and after exercising is a big no-no, yet not drinking enough water is a common mistake many keep-fit fanatics make.


It is recommended that you should drink three glasses of water for every pound you lose during a workout.

You should drink water before, during and after your workout and below is a rough guideline to help you to better understand exactly how much water you need to consume:

  • 600mls two hours before your workout
  • 250mls while you warm up
  • 250mls for every 20 minutes you exercise
  • 250mls in the 30 minutes after you have finished exercising

These figures will vary depending on factors such as age, weight, sex and height and also on the intensity of the workout and the temperature of the environment.

Other factors such as how much you sweat and your diet will also affect how much water you need to consume before, during and after a workout and men tend to require slightly more water than women, as their body mass is usually larger.  


When you sweat, you lose electrolytes so recouping these by drinking specialist drinks is extremely important. They are a good way to replenish lost minerals into your bloodstream including sodium, phosphate, calcium, chloride, magnesium and potassium but it is important to avoid drinks that are jam-packed with excess sugar.

When electrolytes drop too low, your organs can be damaged and you can also suffer from other problems such as headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, fast heartbeat, a fever, sunken eyes and a decrease in urine output. However, electrolyte imbalance can be easily avoided by replenishing your electrolyte levels with drinks but always check the list of ingredients for sugar amounts, and don’t consume anything with artificial colouring, flavouring and preservatives.

Knowing what to eat and drink and when is vital when it comes to getting the most out of your workout sessions and it will boost your cardio output, as well as help your body to handle the stress better. Without proper nutrition and hydration, your muscles won’t recover properly and your entire body will be left feeling achy and drained, so ensure you eat the best post and pre-workout food, plus lots of water and you will enjoy the maximum benefits of each workout. 

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