Five Seasons Family Sports Club Blog

Wondering How Long You Should Wait to Work Out After Eating? Here's the Answer

Posted by Five Seasons Family Sports Club on 9/19/17 9:00 AM

A woman eating a salad before working out.

If you've ever tried exercising too soon after eating a meal, you probably regretted it shortly thereafter. Prematurely engaging in a post-meal workout can sometimes cause painful cramping, feelings of sluggishness and other unpleasant physical issues that can quickly derail your performance. While it's obvious that you need food to fuel your workout session, how long do you have to wait before its "safe" to start exercising? Below are some key points to help you master the art of timing your meals on workout days. 

Meal Size is the Key 

So how long should you wait to exercise after eating a meal? Well, the answer depends upon the size of the meal more than anything else. If you're eating a large meal, you should wait at least 2 to 3 hours before hitting the gym. A smaller-sized meal can afford you a slightly smaller time window, e.g., generally between 1.5 to 2 hours. If you're just eating a light snack such as a protein bar or a small nutrition shake, you can typically go right into your workout after eating without any ill effects. 

What Foods Should You Eat Before You Work Out?

When it comes to fuel for your workouts, all foods are not created equal. Hands down, complex carbohydrates are the best foods to eat before you exercise. The reason for this is that complex carbs provide your body with a "slow-burn" energy source that can boost your endurance levels and fortify your stamina. Some good examples of complex carbs include oatmeal, potatoes, brown rice, beans, pasta, whole grain breads, and starchy vegetables. Avoid consuming simple carbohydrates such as sugary snacks or carbonated sodas before working out, as they can wreak havoc on your blood glucose levels, leading to spikes and crashes that can hinder workout performance. 

What About Protein?

Of course, adding a little bit of protein into the mix never hurts, but be careful not to overdo it. Protein sits in your stomach for a longer period of time than the other primary macronutrients (fats and carbohydrates), and this could cause gastric distress during your workout if you're not careful. For best results, try eating pre-workout meals that provide a balanced combination of carbs and protein, such as chicken and rice, a turkey sandwich, or a peanut butter and banana sandwich. In addition, try to guard against excessive fiber intake before working out. Fiber increases the digestive activity that can expedite bowel movements, and this is the last thing you want to worry about when you're right in the middle of an intense CrossFit session. 

The Type of Workout Matters, Too 

Generally speaking, the more active movement your workout requires the longer you should wait before you exercise after eating. For example, if you're going to do a high-intensity workout with lots of jumping, bouncing or jarring movements, you will need to take more time to allow your food to settle versus performing a "calmer" workout such as walking or weightlifting. 

Some Final Thoughts 

Although the above points provide some helpful general guidelines, the best way to find out how long you should wait to work out after eating is to experiment with different time frames and then track your results. Everyone is different – while one person might require a minimum of three hours after eating a large meal before they can work out, you might be able to pull it off within two hours. The important point is to listen to your body and take your cues from how you feel (as well as how you perform) for each given time frame. Just keep the above tips in mind and be willing to experiment to find out what works best for you.

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Topics: Fitness, Healthy Living

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