How Long Should I Wait To Work Out After Eating? Experts Explain
We've all been there—either you eat too much before a workout and feel sick and sluggish, or you don't eat enough and you feel lightheaded and dizzy. The saying "Food is fuel" shouldn't be taken lightly, and figuring out the proper amount of time to wait between eating and exercising (plus, the best foods to nourish your body) is critical for a comfortable and effective sweat session.
How long should you wait to work out after eating?
When exercising, the blood flow is diverted away from the digestive tract, functional medicine physician Leah Johansen, M.D., tells mbg. This is known as splanchnic blood flow and is the reason people should avoid exercising with a large volume of food in the stomach.
Overall, the amount of time you should wait between eating and working out will vary based on what you ate, how much you ate, and what type of workout you plan to do. However, there are a few general guidelines to follow:
"Meals should be consumed one to four hours prior to your workout, while snacks can be incorporated anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour before exercising," registered dietitian Maggie Michalczyk, R.D., tells mbg.
"Hydration also plays a critical role in keeping your body fueled for workouts," she adds. "Shoot for 20 ounces of water one to four hours before, and 5 to 10 ounces of water in the hour leading up to your session."
Certain endurance exercises (or those that last longer than 60 minutes) may actually require fuel during the workout. If that's the case, Michalczyk says to add about 30 to 60 grams of easily digestible carbohydrates every 15 to 20 minutes. This will help sustain energy levels during a long-distance run or bike ride, she explains.
Keep in mind: People with diabetes have delayed gastric emptying, Johansen says, so they may need to wait even longer before exercising.
What to eat before a workout.
When it comes to making a meal or snack before a workout, the best thing to do is listen to your body and determine what works best for you. If you're lacking inspiration, though, these nutrient-rich options should supply you with plenty of energy before each workout:
Before a run
Aim to eat a meal three to four hours before a run, and include a combination of carbs and protein. In terms of a snack? "Grab a granola bar, English muffin with honey, handful of pretzels, or dried fruit within one hour of any run," Michalczyk suggests.
For long-distance runs (more than one hour), she says to stick to easily digestible carbs like bananas, energy gels, or a bite of a granola bar every 20 minutes.
Before a yoga class
"Bursts of high-intensity exercise will deplete your energy stores pretty quickly," Michalczyk explains. "For this reason, your pre-workout choices should be pretty substantial. Oatmeal with nut butter and berries, lean chicken and brown rice, or eggs with whole wheat toast are a few great options."
Before all exercises
"A good baseline hydration level is to take your weight in pounds divided by two," Johansen suggests. "This is the amount of fluid, in ounces, that your body generally requires."
What to avoid before a workout.
While cruciferous veggies and big green salads are (rightfully) regarded as healthy foods, that doesn't mean they're best before a workout.
"If eating before a workout, avoid foods that take longer to digest such as high-fiber raw vegetables and big salads," Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D., previously told mbg. "It's also best to avoid high-fat foods, especially greasy fats. Anyone who needs to eat before a workout will do better if the foods aren't high-fat or high-fiber."
What about fasted workouts?
Fasted workouts—aka fitness on an empty stomach—is a workout technique that some believe causes the body to rely on fat storage for energy, leading to weight loss. However, experts have mixed thoughts on this strategy.
These types of workouts generally take place in the mornings, if someone heads to the gym or goes for a run before getting breakfast in. They can also occur later in the day, though, so long as the most recent meal has been fully digested.
"Research shows it may take three to four hours for digestible solids to leave the stomach," Johansen says. In other words, if your goal is to work out on an empty stomach, it's best to wait at least three hours following a meal.
The bottom line.
When and what someone decides to eat before a workout differs from person to person and depends on a variety of factors. Having intuition about your body's own needs is critical in determining what meals or snacks are right for you.
Take into account how different foods and hydration levels affect your joints, bloating, digestion, and energy levels, Johansen suggests. "Do you feel like the tin man (or woman) when you work out? Chances are you need to evaluate your hydration and stretching routine," she says.
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Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.