Should You Eat Before Or After Exercise?

The question of timing your meals around exercise is a tough one: The balance of being fueled heading into your workout, and eating to promote recovery afterwards is tricky. For optimal performance and speedy recovery, eating to fuel the work that you're doing is critical. But exactly when you eat depends on the type of workout you're doing, and what your goals are.

Some people prefer to do shorter, easier workouts in a fasted state, typically before breakfast or the first meal of the day. These workouts help promote fat-burning, rather than using available carbohydrates stored in the muscles, so they can help make workouts more efficient (via Healthline).

Generally, eating before a long workout is going to benefit performance. If you're hoping for an optimal performance, or doing a harder or longer workout, then eating beforehand is important — but you have a wider window than you might think. Eating a small meal or snack between one and four hours before starting to exercise is plenty to get started. If your workout lasts over an hour, you may need to eat during it as well (via the Mayo Clinic).

What about after exercise?

If you decide to skip your pre-workout meal, make sure that you're fueling your exercise appropriately, especially if you're workout lasts longer than an hour. Also be sure to eat soon after (via Healthline).

Arguably, the post-workout meal is more important than a pre-workout meal. After a workout, refilling muscle glycogen stores and beginning the recovery process using carbohydrates and protein is critical. You don't need to chug a protein shake right after a weight set, though. You have a window of time — around an hour after you finish your workout — to eat a meal in order to gain the recovery benefits (via the Mayo Clinic).

You don't need to eat a full meal pre-workout or post-workout. But timing your post-workout to coincide with a meal — breakfast, lunch, or dinner — is a great way to ensure enough protein and carbohydrates to speed up recovery. However, a simple protein shake with a banana or some other carbohydrate is fine. Timing your workouts so that your meals naturally boost your performance is a great way to fuel your exercise properly without added calories. For example, eating breakfast as your pre-workout fuel, then exercising right before lunch, followed by a balanced, protein-packed meal is a great way to eat at optimal times (via the Cleveland Clinic).