Some say you should always eat before a training session, others praise the benefits of fasted cardio. Is there a best approach and should you eat before training?
How important is it it to eat before training?
It all depends on the specific type of training you do, the duration and intensity as to how important eating before exercise is for you as an individual.
Nutrition will play a much more critical role for an athlete training twice a day 6 or 7 days a week compared to someone training once or twice a week. It’s best to get specific advice to suit your individual needs from a qualified sports dietitian to help you achieve your goals and get the most out of your training.
Will I notice a difference eating before training?
Eating before a training session can give you more energy during your session meaning you can train harder and longer than previously. It can help improve your recovery and also may delay hunger pains so that you no longer feel the need to eat the house down once after finishing your session.
However if you eat too much, the wrong kinds of foods or don’t give yourself enough time to digest your food you may end up worse off!
How long should I wait to train after eating?
The exact amount of time can vary between individuals and depend upon the amount of food being eaten.
Typically a pre-exercise meal should be eaten 2-3 hours before exercise to allow it to digest and not sit in the stomach uncomfortably. A light snack can often be tolerated 30 minutes before exercise.
It’s worth experimenting to see what works best for you to give you sustained energy during your specific training sessions.
Eating carbs protein and fats before training
Training sessions less than an hour in length aren’t necessarily going to need specific fuelling before hand – unless it is high intensity training or weight training. The higher the intensity exercise is, the more your body will use carbohydrate stores in the muscles and from the food you eat as energy.
Carbohydrates are particularly important before high intensity exercise to provide energy to ensure you can give your session 100% without being fatigued too early.
Eating protein before exercise can help to support muscle repair and growth in response to the stress and toll of training.
It takes the body more effort to break down fat than carbs for fuel. During exercise less blood flow is directed towards your digestive tract which could leave you feeling a bit ill if extra fats are sitting about waiting to be digested. So unless you are doing something at a very low intensity, it’s best to avoid eating foods rich in fats just before a training session.
Fluid and hydration before training
As most of us sweat during exercise, it’s best to start in a place of being well-hydrated to avoid getting dehydrated during exercise.
Drinking plenty of fluid and staying hydrated can also help improve concentration levels – particularly important for skill based sports or weight training sessions.
What about fasted training sessions?
There are many health and body composition benefits that can be gained by fasted training sessions. Again, this is linked to the intensity and duration of exercise.
High intensity efforts like sprints will feel much harder in a fasted state, while slower steady-state, moderate intensity exercise can fare well fasted without any food beforehand.
What are some ideal foods to eat before training?
An ‘ideal’ pre-exercise meal or snack can vary a lot depending on the type and amount of exercise you plan to do, the intensity you are training at, whether it’s morning or evening, for training or competition. Everyone is different so what works for one person isn’t always going to suit the next.
A pre-exercise meal should ideally contain carbohydrate, a bit of protein and not go overboard on healthy fats.
- Greek yoghurt/ Skyr with a spoonful of muesli and fresh or frozen berries
- Carbohydrate and protein from the yoghurt and muesli, calcium to protect your bones, energy, vitamins minerals and antioxidants from the berries.
- Smoothies with Greek yoghurt, banana, oats and a little bit of honey
- Carbohydrates for energy, calcium to protect your bones, slowly-released energy from the oats
- Strawberries and cream protein smoothie
- Overnight oats made from Greek yoghurt, oats, fresh fruit and a sprinkle of seeds/nuts
- Slow-releasing energy from the oats, protein and carbohydrate from the yoghurt, energy, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from the fruit and some healthy fats from seeds/nuts.
- Overnight oats recipe
- Homemade energy balls and bars made from dried fruit, nut butters and seeds
- Fresh fruit – eg apples, bananas, oranges etc
- A great source of natural carbohydrates conveniently prepackaged and bursting full of vitamins and minerals to get the most out of your training session.
- Dried fruit
- A concentrated source of carbohydrate energy.
- Just watch the portion size as it can cause some gastro complaints if you go overboard!
Do you have a favourite meal or snack to fuel your training? I’d love you to share in the comments below!