Not to worry, though—there’s a health-expert-approved guideline you can follow closely. “You should usually wait for one to two hours after a meal before beginning a strenuous workout,” says Victor Romano, MD, an Illinois-based orthopedics and sports medicine specialist. “The body needs time to digest the food, which requires energy and increased blood flow to the stomach.”
“You should usually wait for one to two hours after a meal before beginning a strenuous workout.” —Victor Romano, MD
But the science of not gagging halfway through your workout is not a perfect one, and this is largely because everyone metabolizes food differently, according to Amanda Lemein, MS, RD, LDN, a Chicago-based dietitian. She adds that there are two important factors to consider when it comes to timing your workout fuel properly: First, your own habits and body. Second, the size of the meal.
If you start exerting yourself too soon after eating, Lemein warns that your body will start sending most of its energy toward your muscles, keeping your food from digesting. She adds that this is especially true for larger meals that are more likely to put you in a “snooze” than “sprint” mindset. “It can really affect your performance when you’re [feeling] a little sluggish, and therefore you’re really not getting the most out of it anyway.” But on the other hand, eating a small portion of something light—like a banana—can actually give you a kick of energy, thanks to the carbohydrates.
So if you’re really looking to optimize your snacking regimen for optimum performance, try taking note of which foods help you reach that coveted post-gym high, and which ones make you feel queasy mid-pike press.
You can also try a digestion-boosting workout, like this one from Tracy Anderson, to get your gut back on track if you’re feeling bleh.
Originally posted July 30, 2018, updated March 3, 2021
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