It’s a common question many people have: how long should you wait to exercise after eating?
While it’s important to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs to perform well during exercise, it’s also important to give your body enough time to digest your meal before starting your workout.
Exercising too soon after eating can lead to discomfort, cramping, and even nausea. However, waiting too long to exercise after eating can also negatively impact your performance.
The ideal amount of time to wait before exercising after eating can vary depending on factors such as the size and composition of your meal, your personal digestion speed, and the type and intensity of exercise you plan to do.
In this article, we’ll explore some guidelines for how long you should wait to exercise after eating, and what factors to consider when making that decision.
Food volume and type
Before we get into the research, let’s first think about the type of food you’ve eaten. The more food (and especially protein) that you’ve eaten, the longer it’s going to take for your stomach to empty. So if you plan on exercising immediately after eating especially a large meal you need to consider the type of food you’ve eaten.
The same goes if your meal was lighter: If it’s mostly liquid, or if you consume it quickly, your stomach will empty faster. If your meal was more solid, it may take longer for the food to move from your stomach to your intestines, where it will be digested.
So if you’re hoping to hit the rec center right after mealtime, you may want to go for a lighter meal.
Duration and frequency of exercise
The other factor that will play a role in determining whether you should exercise right after eating or wait is the duration and frequency of your workouts. If you’re doing a short, low-intensity workout–for example, yoga, stretching, or walking there’s not much reason to wait at all.
However, if you’re planning on doing more strenuous activity, like weightlifting or running intervals, it’s best to wait anywhere from 30-60 minutes after eating.
If your weightlifting workouts last longer than an hour, you may want to wait even longer before eating so your body has enough time to digest the meal and replenish its energy stores.
What happens in the gut?
To learn about how food moves through our bodies, we have to take a quick detour into the science of digestion, starting with what happens in our stomachs.
The stomach is made up of several layers of muscles that help break down food. Muscles contract sequentially, first by breaking food down mechanically and chemically, then by mixing it together with digestive enzymes, which are chemicals produced by the body that helps break down food.
Next, once food has been broken down into particles small enough to fit through the pyloric valve (the exit to the intestines), it’s pushed through this opening and moved into the intestines, where digestion continues.
Now for a few important takeaways: If you’ve ever felt bloated, gassy, or uncomfortable after a big meal, it’s because your stomach is working hard to digest whatever you’ve eaten. It’s also trapping some of these gases so they don’t escape through the opening to the intestines.
If you’re trying to do something that requires physical exertion, this trapped gas can get in the way of being able to do your best.
But, if you give the body enough time to digest these gases and get them out of the way, you’ll be able to work out at a higher intensity without feeling uncomfortable or restricted.
One thing worth noting: The speed at which food moves from the stomach to the intestines can vary depending on what’s been eaten. For example, fats and proteins take longer than carbs. This is because fats need to be broken down before they can be absorbed by the intestines; protein also needs to be broken down into amino acids, which are then absorbed.
The types of food you eat will also affect how quickly your stomach empties, regardless of whether or not you’ve eaten recently.
That means that the amount of time between when you eat and when you work out can vary, depending on what’s been consumed.
Remember how we talked about the types of foods you eat making a difference in your workout? That comes into play here too! If you plan on exercising within an hour or so after eating a meal, be sure to eat a meal containing carbs.
If you plan on exercising after about two hours have passed since eating, choose a meal containing fats and proteins.
What to eat before a workout
Now that we’ve covered the basics of how food moves through your body, let’s talk about what you should eat before your workout can affect your performance.
While some people believe that eating carbs right before exercising will lead to a boost in performance, this is a myth. In fact, as we mentioned above, eating carbs can actually give you more energy 15-30 minutes before your workout and give your body the ability to work harder and longer throughout the entire session.
If you’re planning on exercising after an hour or so, you won’t need to eat an extra meal. Instead, focus on eating a well-balanced diet that includes carbs and protein throughout the day.
Likewise, if your workout is going to be two hours or more after your last meal, go ahead and eat a meal that’s low in carbs and contains protein and healthy fats.
Should You Exercise Right After Eating?
According to Andrew Galpin, Ph.D., CSCS, a kinesiologist at the University of Tampa, the idea that you need to wait before exercising following a meal is a myth. “In as little as five minutes after eating, carbohydrate absorption from your gut moves into your bloodstream, and insulin levels rise,” he explains. In other words, the post-meal window of opportunity–when your muscles are best primed for glucose uptake–is only open for a few minutes.
“After that, insulin levels rise and subsequently block the uptake of muscle glycogen,” he adds. In other words, if you wait to exercise until your insulin levels drop or approximately 60-75 minutes after eating, “your muscles will have already absorbed the carbohydrates from your meal and any contribution from stored muscle glycogen will be negligibly small, potentially offsetting the workout effect.”
The Bottom line
The best time to exercise is when it’s convenient for you. And if you’re looking to optimize your workout, aim to do so within 60-75 minutes after eating a meal. This will allow your muscles to make the most of the nutrients you’ve consumed.
If you’re pressed for time or if your workout is going to be more than two hours after your meal, don’t worry. Just focus on eating a well-balanced diet that includes carbs, protein, and healthy fats throughout the day.
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