A Guide to Eating Before Exercise

Jun 26, 2014 | by AIF

What you should eat before exercise depends largely on your health and fitness goals. Here’s a food guide to getting the most out of your workouts.

Weight Loss

If you’re going for an early morning workout and looking to lose weight, it can be best to skip a pre-training snack. Exercising after 8 hours of fasting (sleeping) burns more fat than if you had eaten a snack first, explained Louise Burke, the Head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport. However, if you find you get particularly hungry or fatigued without some food before your morning session, then a small carbohydrate snack can help you perform better and end up burning more calories in the long run! However, most people overestimate how much food they need though, so keep the portions small, both before and after your workout.

Training Performance

Those looking to exercise for a long period of time or at a very high intensity should always eat before their workout, as fueling up increases performance and helps prevent fatigue and dizziness. Heather Mangieri is a registered Dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and she regularly works with endurance athletes. She explained that the best morning meal choices should contain carbohydrates, because the body easily digests it and prefers it as a fuel source, along with some protein to help muscle recovery. This could be something like oatmeal with milk or a homemade muesli bar that incorporates cereal, dried fruits and nuts.

Competition Performance

If you’re an athlete looking to perform at your peak in a competition, you need to eat the right type of food in the right time frame. To get the benefit from the food you eat, and for your body to effectively use it as fuel, your body needs time to digest and absorb it. The Australian Institute of Sport provides the following guidelines:

  • 3-4 hours out – This is the time frame to have a meal. Aim to mix your protein with some carbohydrate and fruit or vegetables e.g. Baked beans on toast, cereal and milk, a bread roll with a banana, or pasta or rice with vegetables and a low-fat sauce.
  • 1-2 hours out – Now is the time for a snack. Stick to fruit or a small amount of carbohydrates. e.g. A fruit smoothie, yogurt, banana, pear, orange or cereal bar.
  • Less than an hour out – Avoid anything that is too heavy with a lot of protein, fat or fibre.You need sugar and some carbohydrate to fuel your body, so try a sports drink, lollies, cordial or sports bar with less than 15 grams of protein.
  • After the session or event – You need to help your muscles recover, and half the battle here is to avoid denying your body food for too long. Try to eat a meal within an hour of an intense session. Ideally, it should consist of 15-25 grams of good protein and some carbohydrate to aid muscle repair. e.g. Baked beans on bread or fruit salad with yoghurt.
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