Ask a dozen different people who regularly exercise about their perspective on eating before a workout, and you will receive just as many answers.
Some swear by a certain type of protein shake. Others have a pre-workout supplement cocktail with a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. Then there are those who scoff at the idea of eating when they’re even thinking about a workout.
The question of whether or not to eat before a workout can be a mess of misconceptions and misinformation. But what you’re eating (or drinking) before a workout can have a dramatic effect on your performance during a workout—and how your body responds after a workout.
Your diet, after all, is the fuel that powers your fitness goals, be it weight loss, muscle gain, improved endurance, or athletic performance.
Given the importance of exercise nutrition, it’s important to trust real experts instead of the so-called “experts” spouting off advice in and around the gym.
That’s why we talked to two nutrition experts to break down the most common myths—Gabrielle Mancella, a registered dietitian at Orlando Health, and Marie Spano, a registered dietician and Sports Nutritionist for the Atlanta Braves, Hawks, and Falcons—and to clear the air on the topic.
Long story short: If you’re not eating before your workouts, there are plenty of reasons you should start, ASAP.
Myth #1: Eating before a workout doesn’t make sense if you’re trying to lose weight.
It sort of makes sense: If you eat fewer calories you’ll lose more weight, right?
Mancella says weight loss that occurs solely from calorie depletion isn’t the type of weight loss you really want. “When we focus on just restricting energy consumption, that weight loss, especially at the beginning, is water weight,” she says. “That isn’t helping us lose fat or build lean muscle mass.”
BOTTOM LINE: Even if your goal is weight loss, eating before you exercise will help you derive more benefits for your efforts.
Myth #2: Eating before a workout is only important if you’re doing cardio.
If it seem ridiculous to eat before a 40-minute lifting session, it shouldn’t. “You need carbohydrates in order to lift hard,” Spano says. “I can’t really think of a workout where it wouldn’t be helpful to have eaten carbohydrates beforehand.”
Mancella agrees: “The point of eating before a workout is to provide energy to perform at a higher level—lift heavier weights, work faster and harder,” she says.
BOTTOM LINE: It doesn’t matter if you’re going for a short HIIT session or a long cardio session, eating before…