What’s best: Exercising before or after eating?

Exercising demands fuel. The amount and type of fuel your body burns depends on the type of exercise you do, its intensity and how long you do it for.

Carbohydrate is the main fuel that will keep you energised during exercise so it's important to be well stocked up. If you exercise first thing in the morning, your stores of carbohydrate can be low.

Eating before you exercise means your body is more likely to have the fuel it needs to keep going through your workout. Your mental and physical performance will improve and you'll experience less fatigue and dizziness.

If you are exercising for under 60 minutes, try to have a small snack beforehand.

If you plan to exercise for longer than 60 minutes, you'll need a more substantial snack that is high in carbohydrate, low in fat and easy to digest: a banana, some low-fat yoghurt, a slice of fruit toast or a bowl of cereal and milk are all good options.

To lose body fat, you need to burn more kilojoules per day than you eat. The longer you exercise for and the higher the intensity, the more kilojoules you burn.

Exercising on an empty stomach can limit the time and intensity of the session, making it harder to burn those extra kilojoules!

If you like to exercise in the morning and aim to lose body fat, try eating four smaller meals a day instead of three and have one of these before you exercise. This way you are less likely to end up eating more than you need.

If you eat before exercise but get hungry again a couple of hours later try having a low-GI breakfast cereal such as oats with a banana or some berries to keep your energy levels steady throughout your workout.

A low-GI bread such as Vogel's or Burgen with fruit and a low-fat yoghurt is another good option.

However, even with a low-GI breakfast, what you have eaten will only last you for a few hours and if you are training hard at the gym, you may still feel hungry afterwards. In this case, try a low-fat yoghurt or a piece of fruit to keep you going till morning tea.

First published: Oct 2007

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