Is It Better to Eat Before or After a Workout to Lose Weight?

Exercise and proper diet are key when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off. When you're adjusting your diet to get to your ideal weight, you may wonder whether to eat before or after a workout to lose weight. Turns out, you need to eat food both before and after your workout to get the most benefits.

Oatmeal with walnuts is a great pre workout food. (Image: Arx0nt/Moment/GettyImages)

The timing of your pre- and post-workout meal or snack is what's most important, however. Consult your doctor before starting a weight-loss plan and making changes to your diet or exercise program.

Tip

You can eat before or after a workout to lose weight, but both pre- and post-workout meals are important for your weight-loss efforts. Eat at least a small meal before exercise to fuel your workout and eat food after a workout to lose weight and recover.

Eat Before Your Workout

Whether you like to eat food before or after a workout, it's important that you have at least some calories in you for exercise. As you're working out, you want to make sure all your hard-working muscles are used to their full potential. Eating before you work out helps fuel your muscles so that they perform their best.

To prevent indigestion while working out, you should eat a meal three to four hours before exercising. Be sure to include healthy carbs, such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables or nonfat milk or yogurt in your preworkout meal. Carbohydrates energize your workout and provide your muscles with the nutrients they need to function optimally and grow.

A healthy preworkout breakfast meal might include oatmeal with a few chopped walnuts and sliced bananas. If you work out in the afternoon, fuel up with a cup of bean and vegetable soup, whole-grain crackers, an apple and low-fat string cheese at lunch.

Fuel Up With a Snack

If you exercise early in the morning and prefer to eat food after a workout to lose weight, or it has been more than four hours since your last meal, you may benefit from a quick preworkout snack. Your snack should be easy to digest, low in fat and small in size.

As you eat food before or after a workout, the key is to aim for foods with a lower glycemic load, according to Harvard Health Publishing. You'll have more sustained energy and better cognitive function when you eat foods that don't spike blood sugar. Low-glycemic foods are those with a load under 10, such as oatmeal, whole wheat or rye toast with nut butter, or plain yogurt with fruit and nuts.

A fruit smoothie with a tablespoon of nut butter or a meal replacement shake make good preworkout snacks. Plus, they're also good for hydration. Or, if you prefer something to eat, try a container of low-fat Greek yogurt with diced peaches or a banana for pre-exercise fuel.

Eat Afterward to Build Muscle

Be sure to eat food after a workout to lose weight and focus on muscle-building, which is at its peak during the 30-minute window that follows your workout. The Mayo Clinic recommends that your post-exercise meal contain a little carbohydrate, protein and fat to get the most benefit.

Although you can eat before or after a workout to lose weight, not everyone is up for a full meal after a workout. A small snack will do, or try a glass of low-fat chocolate milk as the perfect post-exercise snack, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Half a turkey sandwich or whole-grain crackers with hummus also make healthy options.

Following up with a healthy meal after your workout can help replenish energy stores and preserve muscle mass. You don't need to focus on any one nutrient, but it is important that you eat balanced and healthy meals to ensure that you get all the nutrients your body needs not only for your workouts, but for your overall health and weight-loss efforts. A healthy and balanced meal should include lean proteins such as poultry or soy foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as quinoa or oats and nonfat or low-fat dairy, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

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