It has long been debated in the fitness world – whether or not you should have something to eat before working out.

Now, experts have finally given a concrete answer to lay the matter to rest. 

According to registered dietitian Leslie Bonci, the best food to eat before a high-intensity workout is no food at all.

This is echoed by Dr Daniel Vigil, associate clinical professor of family medicine and orthopedic surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The best time to work out is before you eat, he told, adding that exercising on a full stomach can lead to some uncomfortable symptoms like reflux, hiccups, nausea and vomiting. 

However, both experts accept that some people feel depleted in energy if they’ve gone without food – and might need to eat before exercise to keep pushing through each rep. 

Food provides necassary energy for exercise and helps repair muscles

Food provides necassary energy for exercise and helps repair muscles

And for those people, the specialists have detailed exactly how much you should be having. 

 ‘You want to keep the amount of food to about the size of your fist, not the size of a football,’ said Bonci.

The key, she said, is sticking to small meals packed with energizing nutrients like protein and carbohydrates.

If you’re going on a run, she suggests opting for something with carbohydrates, which provide the body with glucose, a sugar that gets converted to energy. 

The body needs this energy to push through a workout and burn calories. For runners, it’s used to fuel their muscles. 

However, the ideal choice is a food with carbs like unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, or fruits, as these also contain fiber, which keeps you full for longer. 

Ms Bonci suggests choosing a granola bar, a banana, or some dry cereal before heading out on a run. 

Additionally, you’ll need to stay hydrated to avoid cramping, so pair this with about 20 ounces (two and a half glasses) of water. 

If you’re starting your day with hot yoga, fluids are key, as you’ll be sweating excessively.

‘You don’t want to be dehydrated,’ Ms Bonci said. ‘It’s not so energy-expending as running, so you could do eight ounces of juice (one glass) and 12 ounces (one and a half glasses) of water.’

Many fruit juices are packed with added sugars, which promote weight gain, so stick to more water than juice. 

For strength training, Ms Bonci advises that protein is critical. This is because as you lift weights, your muscles will need fuel to grow. 

However, getting too much protein has been shown to increase the risks of weight gain, constipation, dehydration, and kidney damage. 

‘I’m not talking about a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs,’ Ms Bonci said. ‘That maximum should be 20 grams of protein.’

‘That could be eight ounces of yogurt (one cup) or six ounces of yogurt with some cereal on top of it.’

For swimmers, she recommended prioritizing protein and carbohydrates. 

‘You might try a bagel thin or sandwich thin with two eggs and a little cheese,’ she said. ‘It’s not a huge volume, but it provides some protein and carbohydrates.’ 

And if biking is more your speed, focus on just getting small amounts of these foods. 

‘[Bikers] need to take the gut into account and think about what it’s going to feel like to be crouched over for a long time,’ Ms Bonci said.

‘You may not feel comfortable with an omelet in your stomach, and even a six-inch sub may be pushing it.’  

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