Eating before exercise: you should pay attention to this

Essen vor dem Sport: Das solltest du beachten

When it comes to nutrition, there are many rumors floating around, often unsure if they are true or not. Eating before exercise is one of those doubts that we want to clear up in this article. One is often unsure of the effect different foods have on our strength and endurance. Additionally, our bodies are different, so the "right" method might not work for someone.

Nevertheless, a healthy diet can influence the subsequent training and keep our body fit. So that you can find your way around, we explain the most important questions about eating before exercise in the following article. These should give you an insight into the areas of nutrition and sport and thus provide you with a knowledge base.

the essentials in brief

  • Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the three macronutrients that make up our food. In everyday life you should pay attention to a good balance of these.
  • No matter which goal should be achieved with the training, one must not neglect nutrition. Regular meals and enough water are essential.
  • The type and amount of the meal depends on how many hours you have before your workout and how intense it is.

Eating before exercise: what you should know

Eating is part of our everyday life. Nevertheless, we know too little about the individual ingredients in different foods and their effects on our bodies.

Since diet and exercise go hand in hand, it's important to understand that the two are interdependent. We want to explain these connections and at the same time answer the most important questions.

Should I eat before exercise?

The general answer to this question is yes. Food gives us the energy we need, which can be used again during sport, e.g. B. is consumed by breathing. If you don't eat anything before exercising, you can't get any energy from the food, so you shouldn't start your workout hungry (1).

Basically, you should make sure to drink a lot of water, especially during intensive exercise, because you lose a lot of body fluid through sweating.

You should also be clear about the goal you set for each training session. A nutritious diet is always recommended, but this depends on whether you have e.g. B. wants to decrease or increase.

Digestion, energy consumption and the rhythm of the body can be observed over a longer period of time and a nutrition plan can be drawn up based on this. There is also a difference in the diet of professional athletes and the average person as the body adjusts to a different standard.

When should I eat before exercising?

Timing is almost as important as the pre-workout meal itself. Basically, to give the body time to digest, you should not eat a large meal just before the workout. It is ideal to eat something that contains proteins, fats and carbohydrates two to three hours before. Of course, circumstances don't always allow for that. The rule is that the less time you have between the meal and the workout, the smaller the portion should be.

Eat at regular intervals and pay attention to the size of your portion.

The last snack should be easy to digest and not heavy on the stomach, so you can avoid possible stomach pains. You should take this no later than 15-30 minutes before exercising. A snack that mainly contains carbohydrates and some protein gives you a lot of energy before your workout and can be eaten a good hour before. Also, a glass of orange juice or berries can boost your energy as they are high in vitamin C.

However, sometimes it is not possible to pay attention to the time or the ingredients of the meal. It is therefore generally important to eat throughout the day and not to eat large portions. To give you a better overview, we have summarized the information in a table for you.

time before training Have a good meal
more than 2h Meal with carbohydrates, proteins and fats and water as a drink
1h to 2h Meal with carbohydrates and proteins, small amount of fat
less than 1 hour Snack with carbohydrates for energy boost, small amount of proteins, should be easy to digest

If you want to work out in the morning, you probably don't have time to digest your breakfast for three hours. It is advisable to eat a meal containing carbohydrates the evening before or to have a quick snack in the morning before training. However, you should always eat something after your workout.

The same applies to water: If you start your workout right away in the morning, you should drink enough water the evening before and 10-15 minutes before exercise (2). Water promotes your own performance and thus prevents overheating and exhaustion (3).

Is it better to eat before or after exercise?

Before exercising, small, low-fat and easily digestible meals should be eaten so that food does not weigh heavily on your stomach during exercise. After all, when you have eaten a lot, your body uses its energy to digest the food and therefore needs rest. Proteins are good for staying full for a long time, and we can recommend carbohydrate-rich snacks for a quick energy boost (4).

pre-cooked food

Oatmeal or muesli with fruit is a delicious way to get carbohydrates and proteins.

What you focus on again depends on what you want to achieve with the training. Since you have used up all of your energy reserves after exercising, you should replenish them. If you skip the post-workout meal, you're not giving your body a chance to recover. You run the risk of having less energy for the next workout and therefore not being able to perform as well.

The meal should ideally contain fats, carbohydrates and proteins and, of course, you should drink plenty of fluids. As for protein, post-exercise intake depends on how much protein was consumed before exercise (5).

You should also provide your body with enough water during training. Electrolytes are lost through sweating, so a salty meal also makes sense.

What Nutrients Should I Consume Before Exercising?

Depending on what nutrients you need , you should watch what you eat before exercising. Most foods have the three macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Each of these nutrients is absorbed differently by the body. Of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates are the most quickly converted into energy by the body.

Glucose (= dextrose) is broken down the fastest and is thus made available as energy, the so-called ATP.

Fats, on the other hand, take longer, but also provide more energy. If you consume more energy than you expend, the remaining energy is stored in your body in the form of fat. This fat is accessed when your body uses more energy than it takes in, requiring the fat deposits for energy.

The following table shows the effect of the three macronutrients and which of these nutrients is particularly important for which goal.

macronutrient Effect
carbohydrates They are broken down the fastest and thus provide energy quickly. They are particularly useful during short or intense sports sessions (6).
proteins These are broken down into amino acids and are absorbed in your body cells. Amino acids are particularly important for muscle building.
fats Fats take the longest to break down. Therefore, they are good for long-term and less intense activities, e.g. B. for endurance.

It is important to know your intentions when exercising in order to get the right balance of these nutrients. The ratio tells you how quickly you break down the food or meal and when and how much energy is available to you.

What foods are best before exercise?

In and of itself, there are no "right" foods to eat before a workout. The ingredients for your meal depend on whether and how far they are eaten before or after training and what goal you want to achieve, e.g. B. Build muscle.

toasts with different toppings

Before, and especially after training, you should make sure you eat a balanced meal.

After training, you should definitely consume proteins, fats and carbohydrates. If you have time for a meal a few hours before your workout, you should also eat something that contains all three macronutrients. The closer you get to the workout, the more likely you are to leave out fats and finally proteins, or to pay attention to a small amount.

<1h before exercise: Foods such as bananas, apples, spinach or chickpeas are good for carbohydrates. Half an hour before training you need a boost of energy and at the same time something light. That's why Greek yoghurt and an energy bar are a good option, which also contain calcium and magnesium .

1h-2h before exercise: Here you need carbohydrates and some proteins. Therefore, one should resort to something like oatmeal or whole grain cereal with milk. Eggs are also good for the proteins and fruit or a smoothie is of course always possible.

>2h before exercise: Two or more hours before or after the workout, add fatty foods (7). Here you have a little more leeway, so we give you some ideas for a delicious meal:

  • Wholemeal bread with chicken breast and avocado, e.g. B. in the form of a wrap (8)
  • Brown rice with vegetables and fish or tofu
  • Salad with legumes or quinoa and nuts

Since electrolytes are lost with sweat, they can be reabsorbed in the form of water. Still or coconut water is best.

What should I eat before exercising if I want to lose weight?

When losing weight, the general rule is that the body uses more energy (kilocalories) than it should supply. The body gets the energy it needs from the fat deposits it has already stored, which ultimately leads to fat burning. That's why it makes sense to train on an empty stomach, especially in the morning when the workout is less intense. However, this method isn't easy for everyone, so it's not a must and we recommend a small snack.

woman during workout

Even when losing weight, it is advisable to eat something before intensive workouts.

With short and intense workouts you burn more calories and these also have a stronger afterburn effect. This means that calories can still be burned after the workout because the body falls back on the fat deposits. In order to be able to generate enough energy, you need iron so that you have enough oxygen.

Your meals should be high in protein and complex carbohydrates like whole grains or rice (9). The proteins protect your muscles and keep you full longer. Therefore, eat vegetables and protein-rich foods regularly and make sure to bring variety into your meals (10).

What should I eat before exercising if I want to build muscle?

To build muscle, you need carbohydrates and proteins. While protein is good for your muscles, don't overdo it or you could damage your kidneys. Proteins are important because they are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle (11).

However, carbohydrates must not be neglected either, because they are the most important source of energy. If carbohydrates are not consumed with food, the body turns to proteins, among other things. As a result, the protein in the body becomes the primary source of energy and the muscles are broken down.

Fruit, dairy products, eggs, or whole-wheat bread are good pre-workout meals (12). As with losing weight, you rely primarily on complex carbohydrates. The proteins in the meal “repair” the muscles after the workout and thus thicken the muscle fibers (10).

Conclusion

Ideally, you should have at least one snack before exercising. The smaller the gap between the meal and the workout, the smaller and lighter the snack should be. Carbohydrates are especially good because they give you a lot of energy. Proteins promote muscle growth, which is why they also play a major role in losing weight.

If you have at least two hours before training, you can prepare a meal that contains carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Foods such as milk and whole grain products, fruit and nuts are good ingredients. After exercise, you should definitely recharge your energy stores by making sure you consume all three macronutrients again.

Individual proofs(12)

  1. Hawley JA, Burke LM. Effect of meal frequency and timing on physical performance. Br J Nutr. 1997 Apr;77 Suppl 1:S91-103. doi: 10.1079/bjn19970107. PMID: 9155497. Source
  2. eatsmarter.de: Workout Booster: What to eat before training?, Niels Schulz-Ruhtenberg, July 15, 2020 Source
  3. Belval LN, Hosokawa Y, Casa DJ, et al. Practical Hydration Solutions for Sports. nutrients. 2019;11(7):1550. Published 2019 Jul 9. doi:10.3390/nu11071550 Source
  4. Ormsbee MJ, Bach CW, Baur DA. Pre-exercise nutrition: the role of macronutrients, modified starches and supplements on metabolism and endurance performance. nutrients. 2014;6(5):1782-1808. Published 2014 Apr 29. doi:10.3390/nu6051782 Source
  5. Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:33. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4 Source
  6. Lambert EV, Goedecke JH. The role of dietary macronutrients in optimizing endurance performance. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2003 Aug;2(4):194-201. doi: 10.1249/00149619-200308000-00005. PMID: 12834574. Source
  7. runtastic.com: NUTRITION BEFORE AND AFTER TRAINING – THE BEST OVERVIEW FOR YOU, Julia Denner, February 12th, 2020 Source
  8. 8fit.com: What and when to eat before exercise Jenne Source
  9. Champagne CM, Broyles ST, Moran LD, et al. Dietary intakes associated with successful weight loss and maintenance during the Weight Loss Maintenance trial. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111(12):1826-1835. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2011.09.014 Source
  10. aok.de: Essen: before or after sport?, December 30, 2020 Source
  11. Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2001 Mar;11(1):109-32. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.11.1.109. PMID: 11255140. Source
  12. freeletics.com: Proper pre-workout and post-workout nutrition: when and what to eat?, Seana, 2017 Source
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