Do you need to eat?
This depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise and how hungry you are.
If the exercise is very intense or has a long duration I would recommend eating before, especially if you’ve not eaten for 5+ hours.
If you are hungry I would also eat, regardless of the intensity or duration of the activity.
If you aren’t hungry and the exercise is not intense or too long not eating is an option.
Pro’s of not eating:
There is research that suggests this encourages your body to use fat as the primary fuel source. The best time for this workout would be the morning as you would have used your carbohydrate stores because of fasting for 8hrs + overnight.
Pro’s of eating:
The pro’s of eating include an increased ability to work harder and for longer and therefore burn more calories. Eating also prevents the catabolic breakdown of muscle, which can occur if you do a hard workout on no fuel. Eating will also help stop early feelings of fatigue or dizziness, which can occur if you workout with empty glycogen (carbohydrate) stores.
What to eat:
3+ hours before:
You can eat a balanced meal, for example:
- Rice, chicken and veg.
- Beans on toast.
- Omelette and salad.
Eat a smaller meal, such as:
- Half a sandwich
- Porridge and fruit
- Smaller portion of a normal meal
If you’ve not eaten in a while but feel you need to eat something, stick to simple carbohydrates which will be digested faster and be more readily available as an energy source.
- Bagel and jam
- Smoothie drink
- 2x Dates or a piece of fruit.
Last minute panic:
If you haven’t managed to grab any food early enough then drink some Ribena or other sugary drink.
When to eat during exercise
If the exercise is very intense (8/10 effort) I would recommend having some Ribena or sweets on hand just in case you need a boost. If it is longer then 1.5hrs (any intensity) also ensure you eat every hour or so. Flapjacks or fruit is a good option.
Final tip: As with anything you will have to experiment and find out what works best for you and your goals.
Truth Head of Cycling and Communications