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To eat or not to eat is the million-dollar question when it comes to exercise. A question I am constantly asked as a practising dietitian.

So what’s my answer to this age-old question? Well it all depends on the individual, their training goals and what personally works best for them.

Eating before or post training can have a huge effect on your overall performance and recovery and is something that should be considered carefully when training for an event. There are a number of considerations to take into account when deciding what is right for your body; some people cannot stand the sight of food prior to exercising, whereas others can easily eat right before throwing themselves into a high intensity workout.

So which is better? Let’s look at some specific training goals and what works best for each:

  • If your primary goal is to improve performance, it is recommended to consume a small carbohydrate rich meal 2-4 hours prior to training. Consumption of this light meal, such as a piece of fruit or a cracker helps to increase your endurance capacity and energy levels, allowing your body to perform at its peak for an extended period of time.
  • The timing of meals prior to exercise is also really important. Food consumed before exercise is only useful once it has been digested and absorbed. This means you need to allow time for your food to be broken down, so that the fuel becomes available during the exercise period. It is best to limit the amount of protein, fat and fibre in your pre exercise meal, as these slow down the release of glucose into your blood stream, leaving you bent over with a stomachache.
  • What if you want to lose weight? Should you eat before training? Training on an empty stomach, such as first thing in the morning, to promote weight loss has been debated for years. The idea is based on the body’s ability to process carbohydrates, with them being the preferred energy source. When in a fasted state, with low glycogen stores, it is suggested that your body may be able to prioritise fat as an energy source and potentially burn stored fat and more of it. The research into this field is still inconclusive and is subject to the individual. What we do know is your body’s ability to burn fat, if you remember from last weeks blog is based on the amount of oxygen present.

If you exercise on an empty stomach and feel slow, heavy or you are not able to perform at your peak then maybe it’s not for you. Fasted or consumption of a small light meal before exercise it is all about getting the most out of your workout and increasing the oxygen supply to your muscles.