Working out on an empty stomach is not a good idea for several reasons. It’s a myth that you’ll burn more fat if you exercise on an empty stomach. Eating and drinking too much before a workout can also cause problems. Depending on what type of exercise you plan on doing and how soon you’ll be eating before you work out, you have several options for fueling your muscles.
Why Eat Before a Workout?
Your body needs glycogen to fuel your muscles during workouts. Some people mistakenly believe that if you work out on an empty stomach, you will only have fat available to burn, so you’ll burn more fat if you exercise without eating. This is false.
If your muscles don’t have glycogen, they will start metabolism your muscle tissue to get it, rather than using fat stores, which take longer to convert to muscle fuel. This is why it’s a bad idea to exercise on an empty stomach.
What to Eat
The closer you are to a workout, the more complex carbohydrates you should eat. If you are eating several hours before exercising and have time to digest what you eat or drink, you can add some lean protein to your meal. For example, oatmeal with a cup of yogurt provides you with carbs and protein. Lean turkey on whole wheat with lettuce and tomatoes is another good pre-workout choice if you eat it long enough before your workout.
Some dairy products might give you gas or cause cramping, so eat lean meat, fish or poultry if you’re adding protein to a pre-workout meal. Stay away from simple sugars, such as those found in candy bars, soft drinks, fruits and fruit juices. Some people recommend caffeine before a workout to raise your metabolism, but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support this as an exercise strategy.
If you will be working out within 90 minutes of your workout, emphasize slow-digesting carbs. Have oatmeal or cold cereal with skim milk, a granola bar, a sports drink or a bagel or low-fat muffing. Some cold cereals, like Grape Nuts, are high in protein—stick with high-fiber cereals made from corn, oats, bran or wheat. Even bodybuilders should emphasize carbs in a pre-workout meal to maximize glycogen stores.
After your workout, your muscles have two needs: they need to replenish the glycogen they just burned; they need amino acids to help repair muscle damage. In addition to replenishing carbs within one or two hours of a workout, eat lean protein. Choose meat, fish or poultry rather than high-fat dairy products. Believe it or not, low-fat chocolate milk is a popular post-workout choice for athletes because of its mix of carbs, protein, fat and amino acids.