Is it safe to eat a meal before exercising?

May 15, 2018  20:29

People are often advised to avoid eating before they go out for a walk or perform any sort of physical activity. Some people may interpret this to mean that exercising on an empty stomach is ideal.

But there is a lot more to the relationship between meals and workouts, according to research findings and health experts.

What happens if someone exercises after a meal?

Generally, performing physical activity after a filling meal is not recommended. Since the blood vessels are hard at work to transport the extra blood pumped by your heart during exercise, other unrelated vessels (related to digestion, for instance) are constricted. This can lead to a feeling of physical sickness and stomach pain.

Dr. Daniel Vigil, health sciences associate clinical professor at the University of California, explained reflux, hiccups, or vomiting can also occur in many cases. 

This implies that people should exercise on an empty stomach... right?

Studies have noted working out in a state of hunger causes the body to burn stored up carbohydrates, which can speed up weight loss. But disadvantages are not too far behind, accompanying this fitness benefit.

"Not eating enough before a workout can make you dizzy, lightheaded, nauseated, or lethargic," said dietitian Jessica Jones from Oakland, adding that it can also increase chances of injury.

Glycogen, which is considered fuel for cells in the body, will run low when a person has not eaten. While this can help with burning fat, it can also lead to muscle loss in some cases by breaking down proteins to gain energy required for the workout.

"Muscle mass helps with aging, performance, and metabolism. You want fat loss, but you also want to preserve muscle mass," said Jennifer Lea, a performance coach at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute.

So what would be the best way to space out meals around a workout?

While the time may vary based on the individual, people are generally advised to eat one or two hours before a workout. This will allow the stomach to empty out by the time you start exercising, ensuring an undisturbed digestion process.

But if it has been a few hours or more since one's last meal, a small snack should be consumed before the workout. The body will be able to avoid fatigue and perform better when adequately provided nutrients. 

To answer the question of what to eat, high-acid foods and fatty foods (and in some cases, dairy products) should be avoided before exercising. Dieticians recommend snacks with carbohydrates and protein under 200 calories for the perfect energy boost. A granola bar, nuts, a hardboiled egg, dried fruit, or a piece of toast are some of the options to consider.

Regular hydration should also be prioritized. According to Jones, drinking about two cups of water a few hours before exercise and one cup of water 10 to 20 minutes before exercise is a good place to start.

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