The discussion over what to eat – or even whether to eat – before a workout has been going on for years. There are people who say you should always  eat something before a workout; some say we should carefully plan food before and after a workout; some don’t eat at all, either side of their workout. But who is right? Well, to be honest it’s probably more down to personal preference than anything else. It’s something everyone who exercises regularly has their own opinion on, and there are studies to back up or refute each of the arguments.
Always eat before a workout
The argument is that we need to eat before our workout so that our bodies have fuel to power through the exercises.Jillian Michaels says that not eating before a workout can damage our bodies, and that we need sugar to exert energy otherwise our bodies start to break down our muscle tissue for fuel. Michaels suggests a snack 45 minutes before a workout and says we should aim for both carbs and protein, for example yoghurt with berries, a whey shake or sliced apple or banana with nut butter. She likens the idea of exercising on an empty stomach to driving a car without any petrol.
Always eat before and after a workout
Many people believe we should be fuelling up before and after our workout. Beforehand, we should look to eat a mixture of complex and simple carbs, so that we release energy steadily throughout our workout; something like sliced banana on whole wheat toast. Afterwards, when our body is in recovery mode, something like grilled chicken with vegetables: the thinking is that your body is in recovery mode, so it needs food that is nutrient dense so lean protein and carbohydrates are the key to filling up without feeling bloated.
Don’t eat before or after a workout
There is a growing trend of intermittent fasting, where people eat only within a set time-frame. For example, eating between 11am and 7pm only. If they also workout in the mornings – and for those of us who are up with the lark to workout – there is the question of exercising on an empty stomach. Many of us worry that our body will go into “starvation mode” if we don’t eat but there is an argument that fasting actually promotes the release of fat for fuel. It stands to reason when you think about it, that if your body is in a “fed” state, it will use that for fuel instead of looking to use fat for fuel. Many people believe that the idea of intermittent fasting fits in with the notion that back when we were cavemen and women, we would have to hunt for our food, kill it and eat it in one go: none of this eating every three hours that we do these days.
The verdict
There are compelling arguments on each side of this one. It really comes down to what works for you – and what you’re actually eating throughout the day. There is no point in being strict about what you do or don’t eat before or after a workout, if you spend the rest of the day eating chocolate cake!
Obviously, if you are undergoing rigorous training for an event or competition, you will require more calories and a proper regime. For those of us who head to the gym in the mornings to get/keep fit, what and when we eat is down to our own preference for the most part. Try out each approach for a week or so, and see which works best for you.