Should you eat before working out?

by Meaghan MacLean

This is such an important question and something I feel gets overlooked too often and too easily.  And with so much noise in the wellness industry, it’s hard to determine what the best approach is. 
So let’s break it down.

A super common theme I hear with my new clients is that they believe working out in a fasted state makes you burn more calories and lose fat faster. This is a complete myth. In reality what’s happening is we’re putting an incredible amount of stress on the body, especially the liver, to break down glucose and supply energy. Stress hormones are the driving force behind this process and these hormones are catabolic. Meaning they break down your own muscle and tissues to provide the energy for you. 

Seems a bit counterproductive to your workout sessions, right?

These stress hormones also relay messages to our brains that “things are not safe” and we should store and hold on to fat just in case we need energy for later. All of this, on top of the other stressors in our daily lives, creates the perfect storm for slowing down your metabolism. If you feel like you’ve been pushing it hard in the gym with minimal return, the problem is most likely that you’re not giving your body enough fuel to handle your workouts on top of constantly putting your body in a state of fight or flight by working out in a fasted state. This is not conducive at all for muscle building. And high intensity work in a fasted state is perhaps the bigger offender. Because intensity produces even more stress hormones in our body, we never want to do this in a fasted state. 

Now that we’ve broken down the science a little bit, the next question is what should we aim to eat before a workout?

Looking at food from macro perspective, we must remember that fat and fibrous foods slow digestion and absorption. We want to give our body a quicker, more available source of fuel to use for our workouts, so keep those to a minimum and instead focus on pairing protein with carbs. 

Depending on what time you workout, I recommend eating about 2 hours before your session and making sure to eat enough! Seasonal, fresh fruit and lean proteins like chicken, fish or turkey are great options. 

If you train in the early mornings, aim to eat as soon as possible after waking up. If you have less than an hour before your workout, try low fat greek yogurt or cottage cheese with berries and honey. Supplementing with BCAA’s (branch chain amino acids) could be another option. I like to sip on these before and during my workout if I don’t have time to eat a meal. Of course, whole foods will always trump supplements, and please consult your doctor before starting any new supplements, but in a pinch it’s a great option. 

Overall we want to remember that our body cannot rely on inconsistent fuel coming in, especially if we want those gains! Remembering to also fuel yourself after your workouts as well is just as important! After all, muscle is the best accessory. 


Meaghan offers a Nutritional Therapy program through Austin Simply Fit. Click here to learn more.