So how long should we refrain from eating before working out? Granted, much depends on the individual and what kind of food they eat. But in my experience, clients did best when they ate a small meal two to three hours before working out.
But even two to three hours can be too short if you eat fried, fatty foods; they might greet you during your workout program in the form of burping, heartburn and diarrhea.
Yes, food choice is very important, too. The best advice is to try to eat light and healthy, such as a plate of greens or fruits. And if you are simply starving before a workout, fruits are the best way to go; they generally stay no longer then 30 minutes in the digestive tract.
If you're thinking of a larger, balanced meal, allow five to six hours before working out. This will give your body enough time to convert the food molecules into ready-to-use molecules for the energy you'll require.
The intensity of a workout is another factor to consider. Light foods for intense workouts.
And then there is the time of day during which you choose to work out. Are you an early riser? When you work out in the morning (yes, some of us do get up and start moving at 6 a.m.), it is best to just drink water to hydrate your body after a long night's sleep. Don't forget, you most likely ate dinner 8 hours before you woke up, so you should have enough energy to get you going.
Just as important as proper energy from the foods you eat is proper hydration from the water and drinks you consume before and during your workout.
Sports drinks? Ah, OK, I have not forgotten about them. Sports drinks can be great during the workout to replace your electrolytes while working out. Electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium allow your body to fend off fatigue and function properly during exercise.
But one thing we all have to keep in mind is to watch out for the sugar content in sports drinks, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Processed sugars like corn syrup can spike your energy levels, only to set them up for a fall after about 20 to 30 minutes. This is something you will probably want to avoid during exercise, as it's best to keep your blood sugar levels even throughout a workout.
In short, the calories we get from food and drinks are workout fuel; you shouldn't be afraid of them. Just keep in mind that food should be eaten hours before you tie up those cross trainers, and be mindful of sugary beverages.
Perhaps the best advice is to be sure to pay attention to when and how much you eat before your workouts, particularly when it comes to how these habits affect your ability to exercise. This is the best way for individuals to determine what feels right for them.
Nevertheless, keep in mind that your body needs proper fuel to function at its peak level.
Stefan Aschan is the owner and founder of www.stefanaschan.com, providing nutrition and exercise programs in New York City.