What’s the Best Thing to Eat Before a Workout?

Eatworkout800 Many people are concerned with what to eat before and after workouts. A new study on meal timing and physical activity suggests that it could be best not to eat before working out:

For those who can stomach it, working out before breakfast may be more beneficial for health than eating first, according to a useful new study of meal timing and physical activity. Its results indicate that when we eat affects how much fat we burn during exercise and also alters molecular activity within fat cells, in ways that could have long-term implications for our physical well-being.

NYT: The Best Thing to Eat Before a Workout? Maybe Nothing at All

American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism: Feeding influences adipose tissue responses to exercise in overweight men

Dr. Thompson concludes:

“If we just think of this in evolutionary terms,” he says, “our ancestors would have had to expend a great deal of energy through physical activity in order to hunt and gather food. So, it would be perfectly normal for the exercise to come first, and the food to follow.”

Personally I just about never eat before exercise, and it works fine for me. Have you tried it? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

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17 comments

  1. Brandon
    I would like to see this study repeated with a keto-adapted population. I wonder if the access of fat stores would still be blunted during exercise if they ate prior to exercising. I would also like to see the study repeated with the same population, but maybe feed them something besides all easily digestible carbs (toast, jelly, juice, cereal).
  2. Liz
    This is my third weekend doing exersice after having breakfast. Been a stay home mom I find it much easier to feed my kids and eat something before exercising. I do noticed the difference my work out has done for me.
  3. Pieter
    Don't eat at all before my 21 /25 /32km runs.
    Only 2 eggs + coffee before my 42's and 50's. (And only water during the race itself)
  4. Angel
    I have been on the LCHF diet for 3 months now and fat adopted. A few weeks ago I went on a rock climbing trip with friends who are not low carb. I noticed that they have to eat every two or three hours to replenish energy, while I feel completely comfortable going all day without food (and have a delicious dinner after a whole day of climbing). My body is able to seamlessly switch to burning body fat for fuel. I also feel I can climb longer before getting tired.

    When I returned home after 7 strenuous days, my body fat dropped from 22% to 19% while my weight dropped a few pounds as well.

    I think for people who are keto adopted, working out prior to eating is very comfortable as the body can access stored fat. I really enjoy this benefit and frequently combine long days of strenuous actives and intermittent fasting.

  5. Matt
    There is no evidence, or solid evidence to this. 1 man's porridge is another mans posion.
  6. Seth
    There were only 10 subjects in the study -- you *cannot* draw firm conclusions from such few participants! Maybe the conclusion is correct (I think so), but it would be just because of luck, rather than solid science. This provides anecdotal evidence at best.
    Reply: #7
  7. Where are the "firm conclusions"? The post says that the study suggests something could be true. Does not sound like firm conclusions to me.
  8. Chad
    I road cycle with a cycling club once/week. We ride 25-45 miles at about 17-18 mph (varies moderate to max exertion for 1.5 - 2.25 hours). I eat a moderate low carb diet (estimated 35-90 grams/day) and am about 10% body fat. I have found I perform the best when I eat well before riding. This includes fat and protein (as normal), plus 1-2 baked potatoes and maybe some fruit 2-6 hours before the ride. Then I add Generation UCAN energy drink about a half hour before starting. I only drink water on the ride. Never bonked with this regimen.
    Reply: #13
  9. SteveM
    I suppose a concomitant follow-on question to meal timing is if someone does eat before a workout, what should that nutrition be? And likewise afterward?

    I've been a long time practitioner of high intensity weight training and aerobics, each every other day. I started an LCHF program to lose weight. I have lost about 30 pounds of a 50 pound target in 7 weeks.

    My daily practice is a late afternoon workout, so 3 to 5 hours after a mid-day LCHF meal. Since beginning the LCHF program I have lost both muscle mass and strength at the gym (fewer reps per set). My aerobic performance has actually improved. I am guessing because of the weight loss. After weight training, I do take a post-workout protein shake (27 g) with light carbs, (~8 g).

    My immediate priority is weight loss so I accept the strength loss as a near-term trade-off. However, I do want to rebuild muscle mass when I reach my weight target. Other LCHF info sources suggest a relaxed diet of light carbs + protein 1 to 2 hours before a high intensity lifting workout, then moderate carbs + protein afterwards to maintain muscle mass.

    This comment is more of a segue into the question of optimal nutrition for high intensity anaerobic (weight training) to sustain/build muscle mass. The guidance from strict LCHF practitioners that I have read is not really clear to me. I have watched the Jacob Wilson resistance training video, but can only report back my anecdotal experience which is loss of lean mass and strength. Any feedback is appreciated.

  10. Shawheen
    Thanks for shedding light on this subject at perfect timing. In my continuous effort to improve insulin resistance, I started with HIIT exercise on empty stomach two months ago and noticed BG improvement, especially the morning after. The real improvement came last week with the warming weather, where I did 50k cycling after 24 hours of fasting and my blood sugar was down to 4 mmol/l the morning after, compared to the usual 5.3. Two days ago I did 75k after 20 hours of fasting with same result.

    I did feel somewhat dizzy the first time but it went away by replenishing salt and magnesium. Although I'm not at my peak performance when training while fasting, it's drastically improved my insulin resistance and fat metabolism. I have high hopes for the upcoming 300k cycling race in 7 weeks.

  11. Christina
    I guess I'm curious what would be good to eat before a workout? As I have the tendency to feel off balance or dizzy if I go to long without having something in my system food wise.
  12. Mike
    I have been on a LCHF diet for a year now. I started intermittent fasting about 6 months ago. Now I rarily have breakfast. That is my fasting. I go to the gym 3 times a week first thing in the morning after 2 cups of coffee (with butter). I have good energy for working out. I do 30 minutes of weights then about 30 minutes of HIIT.

    I lost 20 pounds in the first 2 months of LCHF then another 10 when I started IF. I always work out on an empty stomach.

    By the way I am 56 years young and haven't felt this good in 25 years....

    Mike

  13. Amanda
    Doesn't sound like a very hard workout. Probably shouldn't bonk on a normal diet.
  14. Elena
    I regularly run fasted but do find that I drag in hiit training runs over about 6k if I don't eat first and regular jogs after about 11 k. I have no problems running fasted under those distances. Have been practicing 16/8 fasting for more than a year now.
  15. Michael
    I've never been able to eat before working out, even before I was on the keto diet. Much easier now that I'm on keto, and the 16:8 fast. I run 3.5 mi every day at lunch, 16-17 hours after my last meal. No problems.
  16. Richard
    I would love to see a response to Steve M's question...the issue is not just working out but high intensity workouts. Is this why the Targeted Keto Diet has become popular where the idea is that one would maintain a strict Keto diet but just carb up a bit (25-50g?) prior to a HIGH INTENSITY workout? This would be like heavy weight training, running sprints, vigorous game of basketball, etc...anything with explosive, short but intense burst movements....

    Hoping to hear back from the experts on this.
    Thanks!

  17. Elise
    Hi,
    I’m new here, I’m a female and almost 43 yrs old. I’ve read a lot about people losing or wanting to lose a lot of weight. I too need to lose weight, 15lbs and I need to put some muscle back on. I’m not reading much about people that work out or if we need to eat differently after a work out. I thought we shouldn’t eat fat after a workout because it is more apt to be stored as fat. I work out in the morning before I eat so I’m having a protein shake with coconut milk (califia, refrigerated), protein powder, half banana and 1/4c gluten free oats. It’s not much and today I skipped the “breakfast” that was on the menu and didn’t eat until lunch. Is it ok to miss that fat content from the morning or should i make up for it in a snack?

    Any advice would be great and maybe you could add more info for people that lift weights, or maybe I’ve missed where that info is, please direct me.

    Thanks
    Elise

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