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Should I Eat Before or After a Workout?

man eating with fitness graphics in the background

Should I Eat Before or After a Workout?

If you are just starting out on your fitness journey you may be wondering where to begin with the minefield topic of food and training. If you’ve already developed some kind of routine, chances are you’ll already have given it some reasonable thought-time.

And there’s no denying that employing the right nutrition and fuel in your training plan—not to mention adequate calories—are all major components of any progressive physical endeavour, as is a whole stack of personal trial and error.

There are many things to consider about the right fuel and for training and recovery in terms of what you eat—but what about when? You may well have found yourself pondering this question before: should I eat before or after a workout?

Key Factors and Common Approaches

The type of training you are doing will be a key factor when it comes to whether you should eat before or after a workout or not. If you are into powerlifting or marathon running for instance, chances are you’re more concerned about taking in adequate calories via the right fuel for your session.

And the time of day you usually train may end up being the deciding factor on when to eat—depending on your metabolic flexibility.

But like most people you have probably grown up thinking that without a meal beforehand you aren’t ‘powered up’ for any major physical work. Many ‘fitness-industry-approach’ subscribers are still likely thinking in terms of meal management, calorie counting, maybe even entertaining an almost unhealthy obsession with pre and post-workout meal ‘windows’ 1.75-hours before and 15-30 mins after.

Yet the idea that the energy for a workout only comes directly from the last meal 2 hours ago is not only very limiting, it is also aging worse than dinosaur teeth.

A Different Perspective

In order to simplify things you may consider changing your approach to one where you earn your first meal, employing a spot if intermittent fasting to your training and lifestyle if you haven’t already.

You’ll find yourself growing more and more appreciative of this approach after the initial adaptations and the longer you adhere to it, the more it can help with developing a clearer, more intuitive feeling for what it is you need to consume once the process begins.

The most practical way to do this is to ensure you train early. It doesn’t even have to be your main session of the day but it will set the metabolic levels nicely and positively influence what, when, and how much you eat for the rest of the day.

Quick Demonstrative Example: Most Thai boxers in Thailand will be up around 6am and with no more than a few swigs of water they will go on their way to somehow complete a 10-20km run followed by a 2-4 hour gym session. The whole thing gets repeated in the afternoon after a break of about 3 hours and one simple meal. (Most of these guys have never heard of amino acids and such like either and have no such luxury.)

muay Thai gym training

"Muay Thai training gym II" by antjeverena is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 .

The reason they are able to do this day in, day out, is because they are consistent, and the body adapts to that quickly. Most boxers train in this way, which basically equates to a balance of intermittent fasting, high-intensity training, and the right nutrients and fuel in the interim.

My bottom line here in order to simplify the ‘eating window’ myth is that you do not need food before a workout or directly after it. You can eat when you eat—but put your intense focus into the training and earn the meal, and add a new edge.

In fact, you will most likely find that your performance and recovery benefit immensely from this approach once the initial adaptations are made. Most people who try it and stick with it never doubt this again.

Intermittent Fasting and Training

There is enough of a growing body of evidence in support of the fact that the anabolic window opened through exercise actually lasts for hours, not minutes. It could even be much longer than that. So it seems all the talk of pre or post-workout windows is not as fixed as many have come to believe. 

Consider how far in advance of (or after) any training session food actually needs to be ingested. It’s probably a lot longer than you think. You could even go as far as completely rethinking the idea of relying on the last meal in your gut entirely for fuel and instead consider how you are able to tap into stored energy reserves before you even consider replenishing them.

This way of thinking, training, and eating will help you make serious and noticeable inroads on your way to becoming a BEAST. If you are able to make the necessary adaptations the question of whether to eat before or after a workout is pretty much solved. Done!

TIPS:

  • Start slowly and gradually
  • Make changes that you can stick to
  • Give yourself time to adapt
  • Always work on effecting lasting and positive changes, monitoring progress and tweaking where necessary
  • Think in terms of overall lifestyle rather than ‘training sessions’

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