How many hours before and after working out until I can eat?
Of course, you CAN eat anytime. The optimal time to eat around working out depends on what else is going on, what exercise you are doing, and what you intend to eat. It’s a matter of getting fuel to the muscles (but not an excess) and clearing your gut for comfort. Simple carbohydrates and lean proteins are more easily digested so they are good choices close to working out, within 30-60 minutes beforehand. On the other hand, solid fats and fibrous starches take a while to break down in your GI system, so you’ll need to allow multiple hours for those to digest.
If you sprint out of bed for a 6 am run, I’d suggest a sports drink to sip during the run and a breakfast immediately following. If you hit the gym an hour after rising, perhaps you should drink a smoothie as soon as you wake up and eat a small breakfast afterward. For a quick weight training workout during a lunch break, you’ll want a little easily-digested energy first (e.g. applesauce or soft pretzel) followed by a simple meal afterward, like a sandwich. You may not need a snack prior to an afternoon workout unless it’s been more than 3 hours since your mid-day meal. So if you finished lunch at 1 pm and plan to workout at 5 pm, then I’d suggest a protein drink an hour before at 4 pm. On the contrary, a 4-5 pm workout after a late 2 pm lunch should be fine.
For evening workouts, an afternoon snack is a must if dinner is pushed to after exercise. Suitable mini-meals in the afternoon include tuna salad and crackers, a bowl of soup, Greek yogurt & granola, or hummus with pita and carrots. If your workout is at the tail-end of your day, be sure to have your last meal 2-3 hours prior to the workout and a simple recovery option like chocolate milk afterward.
1) whopping lunch, 5 pm workout.
It may take several hours to fully digest and absorb all those calories, so your tank would still be over half full in 4-5 hours. Just have a sports drink handy during your workout in case you feel a dip in energy, and plan for a small dinner afterward.
2) balanced lunch, late 8 pm workout.
You may want to snack twice in between, or opt for a small meal at 5 pm. For the former snack option, stash at-work options like trail mix in your desk, a pre-made wrap in the fridge, or buy an apple and peanut butter crackers from the vending machine. If you choose the latter small meal option, a pre-made chicken pasta primavera salad, a whole wheat wrap with turkey and avocado, or mini English muffins pizzas will provide a few hour’s energy.
– Debbie J., MS, RD
This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.