Is it Better to Eat Before or After Exercise?


Knowing what to eat as part of your healthy, fitness-supporting diet is one half of the problem. The other half is knowing when is best to eat. Just as the experts argue over what time of day is best for exercise, something we’ve looked at in a previous blog, they also argue over whether it is better to eat before or after exercise. As a personal trainer, these are the questions that keep me awake at night…actually, that’s not quite true. However for my clients and for my own working day, these are the things that I would like to know more about and specifically whether there is a definitive answer – or not.

Burning Fat – The Facts About Eating Before or After Exercise

None of us is exactly the same, and the way we respond to particular food and exercise varies too. As a personal trainer, I see and use this first hand when putting together bespoke fitness plans. However, recent research into when we eat and the amount of fat burned has shown significant differences between men and women. This is because women and men burn fat and carbohydrate at different rates and in different ways. Whilst the experiment linked above focused specifically on carbohydrate, it is thought that it relates to eating generally since carbohydrates make up a significant proportion of our diet.

Should Women Eat Before or After Exercise?

In short, yes; women should eat before exercise if they want to increase the burning of fat. Now comes the explanation part. Women in general are able to burn fat more easily than men. By eating carbohydrates before exercise, women will not prevent or interfere with fat burning. This is because women are more able to conserve carbohydrate in the body during exercise. Eating after exercise however can overload the body with fuel and is therefore more likely to cause weight gain.

Should Men Eat Before or After Exercise?

For men it is a different story. The studies show that unlike women, men should not eat before exercise because when men exercise their fuel is first taken from available carbohydrates rather than fat. By eating after exercise, men can replace the carbohydrate needed for muscle development rather than providing it as the dominant source of fuel during exercise. That way, fat can be targeted during a workout.

Okay, So Should I Eat Before Or After a Workout?

What we know to be true is that eating a full meal less than 90 minutes before exercise will not be beneficial to your workout – largely because it is still bouncing about in your stomach and nobody wants to risk it travelling back up.

Of course, science says that women should eat before exercise and men afterwards, but if your schedule can’t be that flexible, doing the opposite won’t hugely hinder you reaching your fitness goals. Whatever your sex, you may wish to have a small carbohydrate based snack up to half an hour before exercise to prevent any light-headedness, particularly if you intend to do a high intensity or long duration workout.

If you’re an early bird with your exercise programme and need some breakfast inspiration, take a look at some of the best pre-workout breakfasts here!

Understanding how to exercise to get the best possible results for your body can be tricky. If you are struggling to burn fat, I can help. Get in touch to learn about my personal training sessions.


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