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Exercise: Should You Eat Before or After?
exercise-water-watch-weightsby Carol M. Bareuther, R.D.

Which is the best time to eat: before or after exercising?

A. The answer hinges on your hunger. Exercising when your stomach is growling can make you feel tired, weak and lightheaded due to low blood sugar. Prevent this by eating a light snack 15 minutes to one hour beforehand.

If you’re not hungry and you’ve eaten a small meal two to three hours or a large meal three to four hours before exercising, then eat after your workout. That’s the time to replace vital fluids and help muscles recover.

Q. If I eat before exercising, what should I eat?

Choose high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods, such as a bagel with fruit jam, banana and yogurt, or crackers with peanut butter and juice. Avoid high-fiber foods to prevent the likelihood of gas or diarrhea.

What should I eat after exercising?

First, drink something. You need to replenish lost body fluids, and thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Water is best. Skip the caffeinated drinks, which can have a dehydrating effect.

Some experts recommend eating a small amount of carbohydrates soon after exercising to help replenish muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores, which the body uses for energy.

One to three hours after exercising, eat a high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, low-fat snack or meal. (Protein builds and repairs muscles—choose lean meats, poultry, fish, dried beans, lentils or soy foods—and fat adds rib-sticking satiety.)

If you get ravenous after vigorous workouts and often eat more than you burn, consider changing to a more moderate-intensity exercise such as walking.

is a nutritionist with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.


Last updated and/or approved: July 2010.
Originally appeared in the former print magazine. Bios current as of that issue. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
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