Skip to main content
How Long Should You Wait To Work Out After Eating?
Here’s how to stave off stomach-rumbling queasiness at the gym.
There’s a lot of preparation involved when it comes to working out. First, you have to commit to what kind of workout you want to do. Then there’s choosing the most comfortable gear and the right pair of sneakers for the job. After that, you have to plan when you’ll actually fit exercise into your life. And once you’ve checked all those items off your list, it will feel like you’re ready to go. Then…your stomach starts growling. Did you remember to eat? And how long ago was that meal anyway?
Timing when to eat before a workout can feel like a ticking time bomb. Hit the gym too soon after eating, and you’ll feel sluggish and queasy throughout the entire session. Wait too long, and your energy will tank. So… when should you eat before a workout?
The short answer: Eat one to two hours before a workout to give your body enough time to digest the meal.
The long answer: While one person may be just fine putting in a workout even 30 minutes after noshing, another might only feel at their best if they wait two hours. In short, the amount of time you should wait is highly personal and dependent on a few factors: what you eat, what exercise you’re planning to do, and how fast your body metabolizes food. That’s going to be different for everyone, so this is less of a science and more of a trial-and-error experiment to figure out when you feel at your best to workout. If you’re sluggish at the gym an hour after eating, add a little extra time before your next workout. Listen to your body and see when it performs at its peak. Still, some general pre-meal workout rules can help. Here are a few guidelines that’ll make it easier for you to find your sweet spot:
Factor in when you work out.
If you like to exercise in the morning, it’s not realistic to wait up to two hours after breakfast to hit the gym (you’ll never make it to work on time). Instead, you may want to opt for a small morning snack about 30 minutes before you exercise.
If you prefer to work out after lunch or dinner, you’ll be able to give yourself that full one- to two-hour digestion window after your last meal before lacing up your sneakers and heading out the door. If you find that too much time passes between your last meal and your workout, a pre-gym snack about 30 minutes to an hour before is a good idea.
And don’t forget: You don’t have to eat right before a workout. In fact, one small study found that exercisers, who worked out for one hour on an empty stomach before breakfast were likely to burn more fat in the following 24 hours than when they worked out after lunch or dinner. A pre-workout snack makes sense if you need the fuel, but it isn’t a must if your body doesn’t need it.
Choose what you eat wisely.
The best pre-workout snacks are rich in carbohydrates and protein. Why? Both nutrients help provide the energy you need to power through a workout effectively and build muscle. Avoid foods that are high in fat right before a workout, because they’ll only slow you down and are more likely to bring on cramping. (If you’ve ever had a slice a pizza before the gym, you know exactly what we’re talking about.)
Here are a few good choices that will provide the energy boost you’ll need to feel fired up but not stuffed:
• A banana or apple with peanut butter
• Bowl of oatmeal
• Granola bar
• Fruit-and-veggie Smoothie
• Small cup of Greek yogurt with fresh fruit
And don’t forget to stay hydrated. Consistently drinking water throughout the day can help fend off cramps and feelings of nausea when it’s time to exercise.
Take stock of your workout intensity.
If you’re planning, say, a 10-mile run or an intense hour-long WOD sweat session, you will likely need a heartier pre-workout meal than if you’re doing a quick 25-minute jog or a Pilates class. You’ll still want a protein-and-carb combo, but consider making it into a bigger meal than just a snack to help you power through. That way, you’ll have the fuel you need to perform optimally from the start of your workout all the way to the finish line.