To Eat or Not To Eat…Before Exercise?

Should you eat before working out? - Learn more at http://HeidiPowell.net/1071

I typically eat half of my breakfast before working out, then the 2nd half of my breakfast as I finish.

To Eat or Not To Eat…Before Exercise – that is the question we hear often from people not only following Chris’ Carb Cycling program in his book Choose to Lose but those just working out to stay fit or following their own dietary plan.

The good news is there really isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question! “Well, that’s helpful,” you’re probably saying. But it’s true. Whether or not you eat before a workout depends on your body, when you exercise, and how long you exercise. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • If you exercise first thing in the morning, you can get away with not eating anything or you can eat a light snack. Some ideas: a banana, a piece of bread (plain or toasted, and whole wheat, of course!), a bit of natural peanut butter, etc.
  • If you workout later in the day, it’s probably best to wait 30-45 minutes after eating before you exercise, and even longer if your last meal was on the heavy side.
  • If your workout is longer than 60 minutes, it’s a good idea to eat a light snack before exercising because you don’t want your body to run out of energy before your workout is finished.
  • What works best for me is to split my meal in two and eat half before I exercise and half after I’m finished. That way I have some extra energy for my workout.

One caution: Some people experience nausea or, shall we say, “intestinal distress” if they eat before exercising, so if you choose to eat pre-workout, start small and gauge how your body reacts.

And the most important thing to remember is to listen to your body. Figuring out what works best for you might take a little bit of trial and error, but once you figure it out, you’ll be good to go. Literally.


78 Comments

  1. Jitt - August 24, 2016

    Hello!

    I have question regarding post-workout (weight lifting, not cardio) and eating high-glycemic carb right after it. Something about insuline hormon being anabolic and helping to recover glycogen super fast right after the session …

    My question is. Usually, I excercise around noon-ish for one hour in a gym (weight lifting). Sometimes even on low-carb days (due to schedule and many other things) … the point is. Should I take a bit of glucose right after workou (2 grams? Or more?) to spike up the insulin and trigger glycogen replenishment and help the muscles with regeneration, or with Turbo Carb Cycle of yours this is completely pointless and I should go just with the carb-containing breakfast on my low carb days?

    Don’t wanna super bulk up, but to aid my body with optimal recovery, while burning off fat. Sometimes I hit the first low-carb day with workout, sometimes it’s the second one from the cycle.

    Thank you very much for your reply, hope it’s not too confusing.

  2. Steven - December 6, 2014

    Working out first thing in the morning is best. But what if your workout is longer than 30 mins. Should I have meal one before or after?

    • Team Powell - December 7, 2014

      Do what works best for you. Heidi has longer workouts, like you do, and she eats half before and half after her workout, like she explains in the video. Good luck!

  3. Sean - August 31, 2014

    Hi all,
    I wake up at 4:15AM for work. Which means my breakfast would be at 4:45AM & last meal at 4:45pm. Dinner with my family is between 6-7pm. Is it ok to start meals at 6am or should I just wait 4.5 hrs between meals 4 and 5?? Thanks for any input

    • Team Powell - August 31, 2014

      While eating every 3 hours with the first meal 30 minutes after waking is the ideal, with a family to schedule around, sometimes that is a bit more difficult. Between those two options it would be better to eat a later breakfast than to have the big stretch between meals at the end of the day.

  4. MamselleCat - August 5, 2014

    I don’t eat before because I have side stitch when I run. Nevertheless, I eat 2 or 3 figs before doing my exercices (squats, pompes…) And sometimes I eat oat flake.
    xoxo

  5. Avril - August 5, 2014

    I’m vegan and see my only options for protein are tofu, tempeh and protein powder. I don’t feel safe eating tofu everyday (my mother passed away from breast cancer that was estrogen-receptive, not to mention the disputed info on just how much tofu is a healthy amount…). Therefore I’m eating a lot of tempeh which I’ve seen listed on some food lists but not listed in the book as an option. Is tempeh too high in carbs to be eating 3-5 times a day on a low carb day? Thanks!!!

    • Team Powell - August 5, 2014

      Tempeh (2 oz) considered a protein, so you could eat it as the protein portion of a low or high carb meal. 🙂

  6. Veronica - August 5, 2014

    Thank you for your explanation!
    I was wondering on it for a long time and now i have a clear vision.
    It’s a pleasure to follow you and Chris.
    Cheers from Italy! 😉

  7. BuffBeth - August 4, 2014

    I started having what I thought were anaphylactic reactions at the gym a few years ago. I would cough to the point of yakking, not be able to breathe. I had to carry an epi-pen. It turned out that if I eat too close to a workout, the food aspirated into my lungs causing the reaction. So I can’t eat any closer than two hours before working out. I had never heard of that before!

  8. mark - August 4, 2014

    I would also say it depends on your goal. If you are training for a sport, then performance is the goal and you should eat before. If you are just looking to drop weight then les food before may be best.

  9. Kate - August 4, 2014

    Thanks for clarifying! How many calories would you suggest to intake before a workout? I know it depends on duration of the workout but…
    Is say: a fruit, cereal and toast to much for an hour workout? At high intensity?

    You guys rock, my only two workout enthusiast that I listen to.

    • Team Powell - August 5, 2014

      In carb cycling we really don’t count calories, we count portion sizes. Learn more about how we put together our meals here (there’s an awesome graphic at the end of the post): http://heidipowell.net/4514/carb-confusion/. And what you eat before you work out depends on what your stomach can handle – some people can’t eat certain things before working out while others can eat anything. Hope that helps! 🙂

  10. Annick DC - August 4, 2014

    Thanks for the information! What to eat during an exercise like a triathlon? I’m preparing for one and I’m just not sur what to eat during the triathlon!

    • Team Powell - August 5, 2014

      There’s not really a one-size-fits-all answer to your question because some people can eat anything while exercising, while others can’t eat certain foods. It also depends on how long your triathlon is. Of course you’ll want to stay hydrated – a low sugar electrolyte replacement drink is an option if you’ll be exercising longer than an hour, and you might also want to eat some carbs. I’d suggest doing a “practice” triathlon and eat what you’re planning on eating during your triathlon to see if it will work for you. Good luck! 🙂

  11. Leticia - June 29, 2014

    When you say eat a light snack before workout if you do later in the day, that’s my case. What kind of light snack? Because if I have 5 meals, my last one would be after I workout. And what do you mean split the meal? Thank you

  12. diona Neely - March 29, 2014

    Thank you Heidi this helps a lot! And that totally makes sense!

  13. Jaden Daniels - January 25, 2014

    It has always puzzled me, too. I see so many articles that tell you to make sure you get protein withing 30 minutes after your workout. Most of the time I workout first thing in the morning, so it is not a problem for me.
    Anyway, thanks for clearing it up.

  14. Danielle - January 25, 2014

    Tina Francis-
    1200 calories is FAR too few calories, especially if you are working out. I use to skip meals in college and I looked like a fluffy marshmellow. Now I consume ar I consume 2300 per day of clean meals and I look smaller and more muscular than ever! You need to eat – the body isn’t designed to run on 1200 calories!

    • Beth - August 4, 2014

      Calories, just as anything else are not a one size fits all. I determined my calorie intake with my trainer and my Dr. For some 1200 calories is just fine. Caloric intake depends on a variety of factors.

    • Taylor - August 4, 2014

      Yes! I’m the same way!! I agree. The more I eat the right foods- the more I trim up.

    • Ingrid - August 4, 2014

      A lot depends on the individual body: current weight, age, metabolism. I agree with Beth. If I eat more than 1200 calories daily, I will most certainly gain weight.

  15. Amy - January 24, 2014

    I love how you say listen to your body. Great advice.

  16. Jacky - January 24, 2014

    My biggest dilemma is the calories i eat versus the ones burned, can you explain a little bit about the difference?

  17. Thomas Bonner - January 24, 2014

    I like to work out before I eat, because no matter if I eat a small snack and wait for the 30 min. When I work out it seems to repeat on me, so it just better for me to work out before I eat.

    I do have one question now. I’m trying to get some exercising but my time management is tuff. I work full time, full time dad/husband plus going to school which takes up the rest of my time. How can I change my way of thinking to try to get 30 min in.

  18. Nikki - January 24, 2014

    Does eating before help with headaches? I get headaches after working out. Thanks!

    • Vicky - August 4, 2014

      I’m not sure if eating will help but I often get a headache when I work out hard. It could be from dehydration. Try increasing your water and see if that helps.

    • A - August 4, 2014

      Water! Water will help. Make sure you stay really hydrated. If you work out in the morning, drink a lot of water before bed.

    • Kate - August 4, 2014

      I used to get terrible headaches on the days I ran in the morning. I found that drinking a small dose of caffeine right after my run would keep my headaches away. I heard somewhere that if you have a low blood pressure this can be common, and caffeine can help. Try a cup of coffee after your workout 🙂

  19. Lilly - January 24, 2014

    I normally work out late in the afternoon and if I had eaten less than 3 hours prior my work out, I experience “intestinal distress” or nausea; therefore I either dont eat anything before working out or I just grab a couple of peanuts and that’s it. 🙂

  20. Leslie - January 24, 2014

    Heidi,

    Can you please tell the best way to start working out? I guess what I really want to is toget myself “goals” of 3 months at a time to loose the weight I need to, but not real sure how to get started or what to do.

    Thanks

  21. Stephanie - October 6, 2013

    If you are following the carb cycling program and you split your breakfast as suggested, would you count your three hours from the time you finish the first half or the second half? I’ve been waking up at 6:00 and going to the gym around 6:30. So if I eat a piece of fruit before I go (to get something in my system 30 minutes within waking up) and maybe drink a protein shake after I am done working out, would I count three hours from the apple or the shake? Thanks!

  22. Tina Francis - September 16, 2013

    Heidi,

    I hope you can help. I’m wondering why my body doesn’t respond to the LC and HC days? I recently read Chris’ book cover-to-cover and followed his rules of eating 1200 calories on a LC day(carbs in the morning, protein and fat for other 4 meals) and then on a 1500 calorie HC day (carbs and protein at all meals, no fat). I followed this for 4 weeks. I also had my cheat day on Sunday 🙂 Still following the rules of course 🙂 Each week I’d weight myself and be super frustrated with the fact that the weight was not coming off. I’d see my husband have great success (yes, I know – don’t compare!)but I wasn’t losing any weight. I did notice the inches come off but I wanted the pounds to come off.

    If I stick to a 1200 calorie/day (with carbs) I can lose 0.5lbs/day. Do you think my body feels like I’m starving it without the carbs? Could it be my hypothyroidism (I take medication for this) that doesn’t let me cut out carbs and lose weight? Am I burning too many carbs at the gym? I’m just a little bit confused as to what is going on. I’ve lost 55lbs and have another 30lbs to go to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Yes, I put on way too much weight but it was a rough few years trying to get pregnant. That’s all in the past and I want to move forward with a clean, healthy body!

    Hope you have some suggestions for me!

    Thank you so much,

  23. Joy Underwood - September 15, 2013

    Heidi, Will you tell me what a typical low carb day and a typical high carb day of eating looks like for you? I am nearly finished reading “Choose More, Lose More for Life” and will work on ‘making meals’ but it sure would help to see a full low/high carb day for you. Thanks in advance!

  24. Julie - September 13, 2013

    On option 2 where you can eat a “Free meal once per day on high carb day except dinner, which meal do you consider dinner?? The last mean at 7pm or is that a snack?

  25. Jason Vaught - September 13, 2013

    A simple trick to preventing catabolism (muscle loss) when working out in the morning on an empty stomach is to consume a free form amino acid drink before and during the workout. This won’t make you feel yucky since essentially they are already pre digested.

  26. Kim Peloquin - September 13, 2013

    I swear I’ve heard you say it is best (or perhaps you burn more fat) if you workout first thing in the morning BEFORE breakfast as you will burn off fat rather then the calories from breakfast???

  27. jackdamnielz - September 13, 2013

    Hey there heidi!

    Whats your vision on Intermittend fasting?

    my first meal is at 13:00 hours and my last meal at 20:00 hours. eating window is 8 hours. good or not ?

    • admin - September 13, 2013

      Chris and I recommend eating 5 meals a day, start within 30 minutes of waking, and eat every 3 hours until all 5 meals are gone.

  28. Dani Davis - September 12, 2013

    Just a heads up I tried to Pin this and it said there was an error. Thought you might want to know. I enjoyed the Post. I just was asking this question to my self because I don’t like to eat before I work out in the morning. I just started to follow the 12 week challenge with Chris. Prior to doing the challenge I had lost 12 pounds in 2 weeks I can’t wait till my first week is over to find out what success I have on my first week. Thanks!!

  29. jackdamnielz - September 12, 2013

    So. How about intermittend fasting then?
    My first meal is at 13:00 hours. No good then?

  30. yvette - September 12, 2013

    Chris or Heidi,
    Is there a certain amount of grams to stay with when it comes to protein, carbs, fiber or fat? Currently reading the new book and I haven’t seen it in there yet. Other then that love the information you shared, Im finding it very informative.

    • Admin1 - September 13, 2013

      It’s already all calculated in for you if you stick to the approved food list and portion guide. It’s not about counting it’s about eating right for life. 🙂

  31. Beth Smith - September 12, 2013

    Thank you. I wondered about that. It’s my first week carb cycling and so far so good! I exercise in the evenings- cycle classes etc. but I can’t eat before, but I am super starved after…

  32. Sandi McGorry - September 12, 2013

    I love reading yoour posts…I’ve seen in Chris book, choose to lose, to eat natural peanut butter, Is there any specific type? I see alot in the organic section…I just want to get the right ..
    Thank you Heidi!

  33. Sue Yerou - September 12, 2013

    Thank you for posting this! I was just asking myself this question yesterday! I love the 50/50 split – make the most sense to me, for sure! Next question is: How long POST workout should I wait to eat?
    Thanks!

  34. Matt - September 12, 2013

    I prefer to train fasted no matter how long my workout is, including 1.5 hour heavy leg workouts. After becoming to accustomed to fasted training, I trained recently after eating some breakfast and I felt weaker and more lethargic than I ever have. Lesson learned for me…I’ll always train fasted if I have the option. I do take a pre-workout that provides me energy through the form of caffeine and amino acids, but is 0 carbs and < 30 calories.

  35. Rebekah Shattuck - September 12, 2013

    Thanks I have heard both answers and I di.dn’t tr.ust the sources

  36. uberney lopez - September 12, 2013

    thanks Chris you are so helpful all the time, I always watch your TV show which I Looooove and believe me I have been learning a lot. love you as a trainer I wish I can meet you some day, I love to work out and love when the people is on the same side. thanks for your advices man always thinking in you every time I am working out.

  37. Diana Bourassa - September 12, 2013

    Hello Heidi,

    Q about this photo, how much are you squatting with here. I squat 20 lbs not including the weight of the bar. Do it once or twice a week, sparing any knee injury. I am 55 young so must take care. How long did it take for you to get to that weight.

  38. Melinda Memory - September 12, 2013

    I agree, it’s according to your body. I am a diabetic and I have to eat before I workout. If I don’t my blood sugar normally drops. Normally I eat a high protein and carb breakfast beforehand. Thanks for you two do to motivate people to lose. I have lost 125 pounds so far and have 75 pounds to go. Since I have started watching everything, I am just about off all my blood sugar medicine. I am a much happier person now. Thanks again. Melinda Memory

  39. Sherrie Haggerty - September 12, 2013

    I just started jogging in the pool last Saturday after watch Extreme Weight Loss & just have been watching my intake of calories & have lost 3lbs so far!! I try to jog for at least an hour in the pool if I can! I have a bone disease & this is kinda making my ankles hurt but I’m really trying to work through it!! You & Chris are such an inspiration I really wish I could work with you guys but I know that I don’t have that kind of luck 🙁

  40. Teri Eckhoff - September 12, 2013

    I thought we were supposed to eat within a short time after getting up in the morning to get our metabolism going. If that is the case how does that fit with working out first thing in the morning. I don’t like to eat anything before working out and my morning workouts are usually 60-90 minutes long (I’m one of the crazy one that likes to workout). That means it might be 1 1/2 to 2 hours before I eat after getting up. Does that make a difference?

    Thanks for this post. Other than the above question, it’s very helpful!

  41. Whitney Padilla - September 12, 2013

    Thanks for posting this. I recently asked Chris this question on his FB and he even took the time to respond! I do T25 in the mornings at 3:45 am and never knew if I should eat before working out or after. Chris said to get my 9 minute mission in and then eat and finish the workout later. I’ve recently adjusted and eat a banana before my morning workout and a protein shake after. My evening workout is completely different and I didn’t know how to adjust my eating for the evenings.

  42. Keri - September 12, 2013

    Thank you for answering that question. I have another for you. I weigh 185 pounds, 5’9 and I workout hard every day. I have heard a very wide range of how many grams of protein I should eat a day. Could you please give me your insight on this? Thank you so much.

    • Admin1 - September 12, 2013

      Keep it simple. You don’t have to count calories, carbs, proteins, or anything else if you’re eating the correct portion sizes and good healthy foods like the ones on Chris’ approved food list. If you don’t have the list you can go to http://www.ChrisPowell.com and “Join the Transformation”. 🙂

  43. jen lamont - September 12, 2013

    Thanks! I been wondering about that. I also wanted to know if you are carb cycling & had a great low-carb day except for dinner(it was late after kids’ gymnastics, kids still had homework & spaghetti is what the hubby made :$ ), what should your next day be — a high-carb or low-carb day? Thanks

    • Admin1 - September 12, 2013

      Just stick to your regular schedule. Life happens. Spaghetti sneaks in sometimes. It’s ok. It’s just one meal. Depending on which Carb Cycling plan you’re doing just stick to the plan for the next day. 🙂

  44. Hannah M. - August 8, 2013

    I never knew the answer to this question! Thanks for explaining it.

  45. Jennifer - August 8, 2013

    This was really helpful! I’ve always wondered if I should eat before I head to gym or not. I usually do because I’m up 1 1/2-2 hrs before I go work out ( I give myself 30-40min after eating) getting my kiddo together fed and situated so I can head to the gym. For my evening workouts I usually have my snack after because I found myself hungry after I was done, plus it works in with eating every three hrs.

  46. Lumen Berry - August 8, 2013

    I like to eat a snack after exercise, helps my sugar in blood to reach normal level 🙂 otherwise I would eat whole fridge 😀

  47. Alexandra kreitman - August 8, 2013

    I completely agree. If I workout in the morning I snack really light just to give me that boost of energy and at night I make sure there is a full hour between my workout and eating

  48. gain muscle quick - August 4, 2013

    Ahaa, its pleasant discussion about this piece of writing here at this
    weblog, I have read all that, so now me also
    commenting at this place.

  49. Janelle Evans - July 16, 2013

    Thanks Heidi! I chose this as my favorite blog. This has always been a huge question of mine. When I read this a while ago, I decided to try a few things and see what works for me. I usually have a green drink first thing every morning, packed with veggies! Sometimes that’s enough for me. But lately I’ve added half a multi-grain english muffin to my heavy weight training days like legs, or days I plan on doing longer cardio. It has helped with not only my energy level, but calming my hunger pains after my workout until I get home. Thanks for all your awesome advice!

  50. Sarah Madden - July 16, 2013

    This is what I have wanted to ask about. Thank you for the tips, I have been doing what you do with eating half before and half after exercising. Thank you so very much for all that you and Chris do to inspire everyone! Keep up the great work! : )

  51. Jennifer - July 15, 2013

    I am so glad I came across this post! I am reading “Choose More, Lose More For Life” and was trying to figure out how to eat every 3 hours when I get up at 5am and work out at 5:30am every day. I could tell a definite slump of energy when my workouts last longer than an hour but didn’t want that full feeling from breakfast at 5. Is it ok to eat a banana on a Low Carb day? Is there something better you recommend? Thank you so much for all you do!

  52. Darcie Morin - July 15, 2013

    It is very early on in my journey to change my life and meet my fitness goals so this post really interested me because it’s something I’m dealing with now as I figure out what best works for me, I’ve been trying to work out every day around the same time but that isn’t working so well.

  53. blackhuff - June 14, 2013

    I prefer to eat an apple before I start working out at 05h00 and then my protein, spinach and oatmeal smoothie afterwards.

  54. kimberley - June 14, 2013

    Hello Heidi i can not train on a empty stomach but i make sure i eat 1-2 hours before my work out i need my blood in my muscles not in my tummy trying to break my food down.massive thank you to you and chris are inspiration to millions! I am traveling out to America next year to work as a PT cant wait!!! xxxxx

  55. Robin Hagaman - June 13, 2013

    Thank you! As I hurry to finish eating my salad as my arobics class starts in exactly one hour! lol

  56. Diane - June 13, 2013

    Thank you for that, i am always wondering what is best. I am just now reading Chris’s book Choose to lose and am wondering how important it is to work out the morning vs in the evening. Mornings and I do not get along so evenings will work better for me. Just wondering what you suggestions are. Thank you, you and Chris are such an inspiration.

Leave a reply