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Should you eat before or after a workout to lose weight? Here's what you need to know

September 20, 2023
5 minutes
Healthy Eating
Healthy Habits

Working to lose weight can feel like trying to figure out your body's secret code to wellness. While there's some guesswork involved when it comes to finding the best way for you to drop some pounds, one thing is clear: you can't out-exercise poor nutrition. When it comes to weight loss, eating well is key. Understanding what to eat--and when to eat--in relation to your workouts is important when it comes to maximizing your weight loss efforts.

Here, we'll take a look at what you need to know when it comes to pre- and post-workout nutrition.

What should I eat before working out to lose weight?

If you're finding yourself searching for terms like "after exercise what to eat for weight loss" or "before workout snack lose weight" it's likely that you're serious about getting fit. What you eat before and after your workouts can help you make the most out of your daily burn.

If you're not going through a strenuous workout, you likely don't need to eat before you exercise. The energy that you burn during a light workout will contribute to your overall burn--and will not need to be replaced with additional food.

If you want to eat before you work out because you're feeling peckish or are about to do intense exercise, you'll want to choose real, unprocessed foods to help you get the most out of your physical activity. You may find that you get your best workout when you stay away from fat-heavy foods prior to your workout.

If you decide to eat before your workout, you'll want to stick with something that combines a protein with a carbohydrate. Solid pre-workout meals and snacks can include:

  • Low-fat plain yogurt and fruit
  • Crackers with peanut butter
  • Cooked vegetables and lean protein
  • Half of a sandwich with meat and cheese

You'll want to pay attention to how your pre-workout food affects your body. If you feel fantastic after eating a certain pre-workout meal, be sure to make note, so you can incorporate it into your routine.

When should I eat after a workout to lose weight?

Spending time searching for "when should I eat for weight loss" or "what should I eat before working out to lose weight"?

Unless you're performing very high-intensity exercise (intense weight lifting, high intensity interval training, high intensity competitive sports, high level endurance training), you don't need to eat immediately after you're done working out. Sticking to your standard schedule of eating is usually sufficient for refueling your muscles after exercising when you're working to lose weight.

If you're working out intensely, are interested in building muscle, or are working out for more than an hour, it's smart to consume a meal within the hour following your workout.

If you need a meal after you work out, you'll want to focus on real foods that provide a balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.

Some great post-workout meal choices include:

  • Vegetables and hummus topped with a splash of olive oil
  • Grilled chicken with vegetables and rice
  • Grilled or pan-roasted fish with a sweet potato
  • Veggie-loaded tacos made with fish or lean beef

If you're not eating immediately after your workout, you'll still want to be sure to focus on natural, unprocessed, balanced meals to fuel your weight loss.

Balancing your calorie intake

As you lose weight, gain muscle, and become more active, you may find that you need more or fewer calories in order to continue on your health journey. You may also find that your eating schedule needs to change--for example, you may need a larger breakfast if you're completing intense workouts in the morning.

Generally, if you're working out for less than an hour and want to lose (rather than gain or maintain) weight, you won't need to take in additional calories. If you're working out for more than 60 minutes, your body may need additional calories in order to keep your energy levels high and your nutrition balanced.

A word of caution when it comes to refueling after a tough workout: you'll want to keep an eye on total calories, not just macronutrient (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) levels. Some high-protein options (like protein bars) pack a hefty amount of calories, which may derail your weight loss efforts.

Tracking your food intake can help you understand what's working and what's not when it comes to your weight loss. Keeping an eye on general trends (rather than day to day losses and gains) can give you insight into whether your caloric intake is supporting your weight loss goal.

Listening to your body

Portrait of a mature man breathing fresh air, checking in with how his body feels after exercising

It's important to listen to your body when working to lose weight. Your caloric needs can change based on a number of factors, and it's important to pay attention to your body's natural signals.

If you find that you're feeling faint during your workout, or you're feeling weak, you'll want to beef up your pre-workout meal or snack. You may also find that you feel sluggish or weighed down by your pre-workout meal or snack, which may mean you want to downsize your intake (or skip eating before your workout altogether).

If you find that you're especially hungry following your workout, it's ok to boost your post-workout meal. If you're finding that you're not losing weight at the rate that you'd like, it can also be helpful to change the composition of your post-workout intake. Loading up on veggies, ensuring that you're properly hydrated, and increasing your protein intake can all help you feel satiated after a workout.

The bottom line: your body knows what it needs to fuel up. As you continue your weight loss journey, you'll begin to notice when you're truly hungry (as opposed to craving foods that don't fuel your body). Pay attention to how your food choices affect your workout and recovery, and remember that adjustments to your nutrition plan are often necessary as your body composition changes.

Take control of your health by downloading the Evidation app today

When it comes to improving your health, understanding your body is key. Evidation allows you to put your health data to good use, providing insight on how you can change your lifestyle to lose weight, manage health conditions, and more. Download the Evidation app today to get started.

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