If you’re a recreational exerciser — maybe you hit the gym, take dance or yoga classes, take day hikes or long bike rides on nice weekends — you might be wondering how to eat and drink while exercising. Here are the three questions I hear the most, and some answers.
Should I exercise on an empty stomach?
It depends on. If you exercise for less than an hour right after you roll out of bed in the morning, you don’t necessarily need to eat something first, especially if your activity is moderate — maybe you’re doing yoga or going for a walk. However, if you’re going for a run, swim, take a vigorous fitness class, or lift weights, it’s a good idea to eat something first. Food is your body’s fuel: if you’re running low, you’re probably not having an energetic workout.
I’ll get into the “what to eat” part in a bit, but as far as timing goes, drinking some water and eating a fist-sized portion of food about an hour before exercise gives your body energy, but it isn’t. likely to upset your stomach while exercising. It’s not a good idea to not eat for a few hours and then try to exercise.
For vigorous exercise — or exercise that lasts longer than an hour — eat something before and shortly after. If it’s time for a normal meal after exercise, that’s fine, otherwise a snack. If you are exercising for many hours – such as a day hike or a long bike ride – you will need extra food and water during the training.
Do I need to eat specific foods?
Carbohydrates are the main fuel for training muscles. For example, if you eat enough high-quality carbohydrates throughout the day – whole grains, legumes (beans and lentils), fruits and vegetables – you don’t have to aim for X grams of carbohydrates before/during/after exercise. Just giving your body some carbs and a little protein when you need a pre-workout snack is fine.
You may need to experiment with what foods make your stomach happy during different types of exercise, but good options include a granola bar, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a fist-sized amount of trail mix, oatmeal or yogurt with fruit and nuts, or a banana with peanut or almond butter. A small fruit-based smoothie is another good option, especially if you have a hard time digesting solid foods in the morning.
What about protein powders? We build muscle and become stronger by using our muscles and eating enough protein as part of a balanced diet. That doesn’t mean extra protein is better. Most people can get enough protein from food alone.
Should I drink sports drinks?
Water is a great drink for most athletes, and it is better to get the most calories and carbohydrates from food. However, you may benefit from a sports drink during prolonged exercise or if you are a salty jumper — you lose enough salt to sting your eyes and leave grainy, white residue on your skin and clothing.
According to the Institute of Medicine, adult women should drink nine 8-ounce glasses (about 70 ounces total) of liquid per day, and adult men should drink 13 8-ounce glasses (about 100 ounces total) of liquid per day. Drink regular water throughout the day, then drink 20 ounces about an hour before exercising. You may need more fluids during exercise, depending on how much you sweat. Drink more water after exercise or eat water-rich foods, such as juicy fruit.