Ester Marsh: To eat or not to eat before workout

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 10, 2022

To eat or not to eat….that is the question.

So many studies have been done to see if it is better to eat before exercising or to wait until you are finished. One study mentions it burns more fat when you don’t eat breakfast and another says the opposite. Personally, I have to eat before I exercise; I can’t function let alone think when I don’t eat. And to top that off, I am not very pleasant to be around when I am “hangry!”

One of the latest studies was done to compare differences in fat metabolism with people who ate breakfast and people who didn’t. They also checked if it affected oxygen consumption. Both groups did the same workout, which was a 36-minute run on the treadmill. The ones who ate breakfast had a better workout compared to the ones who did not eat breakfast. But what was very interesting is that 12 hours after working out, their oxygen was still higher in the group that ate breakfast and the respiratory-exchange ratio indicated more fat utilization. Even 24 hours after the exercise, the difference was still significant. So eating breakfast makes you perform better and burn more fat. It surely works for me! So the advice after the study is to eat a small meal before exercise.

My advice is to eat at least two hours before your workout when your meal is more substantial. Light snacks can be eaten shortly before your workout. Light or non-fat yogurts can really do the trick. Just because you eat breakfast does not mean you can skip a meal, which I know can be very hard. If smaller meals throughout the day works for you, watch your calories closely so you don’t add a lot of extra calories to your diet.

When you are looking at which snacks to pick, watch the calories, sugar, fat and sodium per serving. They can really sneak up on you.

Since my throat cancer surgery, eating is somewhat of a challenge. Before surgery, I could work, eat and talk all at the same time. Correct, that was not a good habit. The following are my “go-to” snacks now. A variety of them to pick from, I too have to watch my calories:

• Slimfast 20g protein as a snack, not meal. It has 180 calories and I drink every day after my workout and my sensitive gut deals with it well. 

• Vanilla yogurt-covered raisins — 120 calories

• Kellogg’s protein meal bar, again for a snack — 180 calories

• Greek yogurt — 150 calories

• Bananas, medium — 105 calories

• Grapes, one cup — 104 calories

• Oranges, medium — 62 calories

Most of my calories are eaten between breakfasts (around 6 a.m.) until about 2 p.m., with lunch being my main meal. A light afternoon snack and dinner is typically all I eat after 2 p.m. Do I eat “forbidden” foods? Absolutely! But I don’t go crazy, I try to limit them. Healthy foods can be very tasty, you just need to research great recipes. One other huge part I believe helps is not to wait until you are hungry. I eat because I know my body needs the nourishment at that time.

However, proper nutrition can be very confusion especially performance nutrition.

We are so fortunate to have Dr. Suzanne Bowser from Catawba host an eight-week performance nutrition course. Class runs on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. from Sept. 20-Nov. 8. It is open to members ($30) and non-members ($60) space is limited so if you are interested sign up soon!

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the  J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.