When’s the best time to eat for workout success?
If you favor a pre-workout meal, you’ll have all the energy you need to push through your exercise without quitting.
Post-workout meals, on the other hand, refuel your body with all the essentials it needs to repair and build your muscles.
So which is best?
This quick guide explores a few pros and cons of eating before vs. after a workout to help you decide.
We’ll show you how to optimize your eating to support your workouts and maybe even improve them.
You’ll also find tips for what to eat after a workout or before you begin, starting with:
Eating Before Your Early Morning Workout
Like to start your day with a sweat sesh first thing in the morning?
A good rule of thumb is to give yourself a full hour to digest your pre workout meal before you start stretching.
But depending on how early you wake up, you may not have the time or the appetite to digest a full meal, especially if you’re slated for 5 AM workouts.
Tip: Skip the protein waffles or oatmeal if you’re in this category. You’ll fare much better drinking a simple, clean protein shake instead.
Liquid protein shakes are easier and faster for your body to digest, which means you won’t have to wait as long before your workout to get moving.
You’ll have all the energy you need without feeling weighed down.
Fasted Workouts Can Be Beneficial Too
Working out in a fasted state, or without eating beforehand, is much easier to do when you first wake up.
Fasted workouts force your body to burn stored calories for energy during exercise.
However, fasting isn’t ideal for every type of exercise, and your success depends on a few different factors.
If you ate a heavy or late meal the night before your AM workout, you should have enough to power through simple cardio routines, yoga, walking, or a light jog in a fasted state.
But if you ate an early, light dinner, and you plan to hit the weights pretty hard or take a high-intensity class in the AM, you may need to fuel up beforehand to ensure you can finish.
Tip: Try working out in a fasted state, and keep a protein bar or snack in your gym bag in case you start dragging.
Eating Before Your Afternoon or Evening Workout
What should you do if you’re working out between meals like lunch and dinner?
Some people find it impossible to focus on proper form or finish their sets when they’re starving and anticipating their next meal.
But you also don’t want to work out with a full belly of lunch.
Tip: Time your workouts so your body can digest your pre-exercise fuel without messing up your next meal.
If you ate breakfast (or lunch), only grab half a protein bar or small protein shake before your workout in the afternoon (or evening). Then give yourself 30 minutes to digest it.
By choosing to eat something light, you’ll score enough energy to work out without ruining your appetite for your next meal.
Plus, you can save the other half of your protein bar for your post-workout refuel.
What to Eat After Working Out
No matter what time of day you exercise, eating a post workout meal is crucial for success. And the timing of this meal is key.
You have a unique 30-minute window of time after you exercise to give your muscles all they need to build, repair, and recover.
If you miss this critical window, you may find yourself exhausted after a workout instead of energized. It may also take you longer to show off your muscle gains.
Tip: Always refuel with a high-quality protein source within 30 minutes of your exercise.
Try to grab a protein bar or shake to hold you over until you can enjoy a filling post workout meal.
Your post workout food should contain a mix of carbs and protein to ensure your energy levels are restored, your tissues and muscles start their repair process, and you feel satisfied instead of ravenous.
Consuming enough protein, along with healthier carb choices like apples and non-starchy vegetables, will keep you feeling awesome well past your workouts.
Final Thoughts on Eating Before vs After Working Out
Now you know how to properly fuel your workouts — and the importance of doing so — no matter when you choose to exercise.
There are benefits to eating before you work out just as there are perks for working out in a fasted state. But you should always follow through on a post-workout meal.
Make sure to treat your pre and post workout food choices with care, just like your regular meals.
Avoid junk foods and unhealthy options packed with artificial ingredients to get the most out of your workouts and continue to push towards your goals.