Is it better to exercise before or after a meal?

Well…. it depends! When it comes to eating before exercise there is no one size fits all answer. This will depend on you as an individual and your goals.

Reasons to eat before exercise:

  • If your workout is focused on building strength or muscle
    When your body doesn’t have fuel available (e.g. after an overnight fast) it may need to rely on muscle tissue as fuel. Breaking down muscle tissue as fuel is very counterproductive to building muscle!
  • If you struggle with low blood sugar or low blood pressure
    Exercise itself can effect blood sugar and blood pressure levels. If you are someone who already struggles with low levels, exercise can make this worse. Low blood sugar or blood pressure can make you feel faint and light headed= not what you want during exercise.
  • If you are working out for longer than 60 minutes
    Generally workout of 60 minutes and less can be fuelled by muscle and liver carbohydrate stores. Workouts longer than this, though, may require extra fuel
  • If you are generally trying to gain weight
    When trying to gain weight, you need to eat more calories than you burn. You should be taking every opportunity to eat. Being well fuelled for your workout, will also likely mean you can train harder= better results from your training!
  • If you feel better training after eating
    This is very individual. Some people are fine waking up at 6 am and jumping straight into a workout but for others, training without food feels nearly impossible.

Reasons not to eat before exercise:

  • If you feel great exercising first thing before breakfast
    Some people favour an early morning workout and trying to fit breakfast in before this is unrealistic. For many people, the easiest option is a fasted workout straight out of bed.
  • If you have weight loss goals
    While exercising on an empty stomach isn’t crucial for weight loss, consuming less calories than your burning is. So if you feel fine and are happy to do a workout without eating, that is no problem.
  • If you are only exercising at a low intensity
    Low intensity exercise (e.g. walking, yoga, pilates) can be easily fuelled by the body’s fuel stores. You don’t necessarily need extra fuel for this kind of workout.
  • If you don’t feel good training with food in your stomach
    For some people, exercising with food in the stomach is their worst nightmare. Everybody is different when it comes to rates of digestions. If you digest food slowly, or tend to eat big meals, eating before exercise may not be a good idea.

    Eating after exercise
    Eating after exercise is generally a good idea for everyone! During exercise, our stored fuel is used and our muscle tissue is broken down. To restore balance in our body, replenish used stores and start the recovery process, getting a meal or snack in post-exercise is crucial. Ideally, in the 60 minutes post. Aim to include some protein and carbohydrates and rehydrate with fluids.

About the author

Cheyenne Holman

Cheyenne Holman

Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD)
Accredited Sports Dietitian
Certified Personal Trainer
Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teacher