Because Timing Is Everything, Here's How Long to Wait to Work Out After Eating

POPSUGAR Photography | Matthew Kelly
POPSUGAR Photography | Matthew Kelly

Picture this: you are ready to work out but realize you haven't eaten in a few hours. You're hungry and wanting something quick that will give you energy. Registered dietitian and certified personal trainer Lauren Cadillac, otherwise known as the Feel Good Dietitian, says whether or not a person can eat right before they exercise depends entirely on them and the workout they're about to do.

If you are going to eat fairly close to a workout, Cadillac recommends something that will digest quickly and provide fast energy like a banana, apple, or small granola bar. "Remember, fat and fiber are going to digest slowly, which is great to help keep us feeling full and satiated throughout the day, but right before a big workout, it's not what we're going for," she told POPSUGAR. Carbs are key for fuel the closer you get to a workout.

How Long Should I Wait to Work Out After Eating?

Again, Cadillac said it really depends on the individual and what they can tolerate, but a person should generally wait one to two hours after a meal before working out. "You can usually tell when you haven't given yourself enough time to digest," she explained. "Think sloshing stomach, burping, [feeling] overly full." If you ate a larger meal, she suggested waiting even up to three hours.

Cadillac explained, "Meals that are larger in volume or higher in fat and fiber are going to take longer to digest. Allowing some digestion to occur before hopping into a workout can make for a more comfortable workout and gives your body some time to extract the energy from that food, allowing you to perform better."

If you eat a smaller snack such as a yogurt or slice of toast with some peanut butter, Cadillac recommended waiting 30 to 60 minutes to exercise. Note: it also depends on what type of exercise you're doing. For instance, Cadillac said if you're going on a walk, the amount of time you wait won't matter as much as if you're planning on doing a high-intensity workout. You might also want to wait for a longer period of time before you do something like yoga where you could be going upside down.

An Example of What to Eat Before You Work Out

Here's a breakdown of what you might want to eat before you work out, according to Cadillac.

  • Two to three hours before: Standard meal balanced with carbs, protein, and fats. Think half of your plate coming from veggies, 1/4 from protein, and 1/4 from carbohydrates. If you plan to do an extremely strenuous workout like long-distance running or heavy lifting, perhaps increase your carbohydrate intake for more energy. Try a grain bowl with veggies and a protein or a burrito bowl with rice, veggies, and a protein.
  • 60 to 90 minutes before: Keep this a bit lighter than the meals listed above. You can eat something similar but maybe slightly smaller in volume. A peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich is an easy idea. Also try Greek yogurt with some berries and granola.
  • 15 to 30 minutes before: Something light like a banana, apple, orange, piece of toast, or granola bar.

Should You Eat Before Morning Workouts?

Although some people prefer to work out on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, Cadillac still recommends eating something before a morning workout. You may find yourself losing energy or stamina during your workout if you don't eat, she explained, adding that "skipping breakfast in general can impact our hormones, leading to increased hunger throughout the day. Couple that with an early-morning workout, and you may be setting yourself up for [overeating] later on in the day." It's a good idea to fuel your body before your workout because your performance might be impacted otherwise.