Depending on what you want to achieve, timing your eating around exercise makes sense. Here are a few tips on what, when and whether to eat.
- Are you trying to lose weight? If so, then you're probably better exercising on an empty stomach (that is, when it's been eight hours since your last meal) as this will result in a greater proportion of fat being used as fuel.
- Are you exercising for fitness? Then eat a snack prior to help you train for longer and harder, but you won't get much benefit from your fuel unless you allow an hour or so for digestion first.
- Will your workout include lots of running and jumping, which jostles the gut about? Then to avoid digestive problems, just have a sport drink or allow longer for digestion. If you're doing a low-intensity sport where the body is supported, such as cycling, you can get away with something heavier like a small sandwich or a bowl of cereal. Bananas are a good carbohydrate choice as they also contain magnesium and potassium, which help prevent cramping.
- Will your workout involve a long run or bike ride that will keep you out for a few hours? You still need to have digested the food for it to be of any use as fuel. For workouts of more than an hour, aim for around 30g to 60g carbs per hour.
- Are you doing a number of tough workouts? Then pay attention to recovery. If you want to prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness, refuelling is part of it. Low-fat chocolate milk works well. Eating a small peanut butter sandwich is also good as it combines carbohydrate with protein. Aim to eat something 15 to 30 minutes after your workout – the period of time in which the body seems to get the most benefit.
- Do you confuse hunger with thirst? A lot of people think they're hungry when they actually need a drink. Have a good drink of water, about half a litre, an hour before training as it takes that long to leave the stomach and make its way into the muscle. Drink water during workouts as well, especially if you tend to sweat. Not taking in enough fluid can lead to injury as well as poor performance.
- Do you struggle to get going before a workout? Coffee can enhance energy and even reduce post-exercise muscle soreness, according to a study from the University of Copenhagen.