Can Eating Before Exercising Make You Gain Weight?

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Eating too many calories leads to weight gain, no matter when you consume them. If you regularly inhale a few doughnuts or a milkshake before your workout, expecting to burn them off -- you may be sorry when you step on the scale later. But a carefully chosen preworkout snack can boost your energy and help you maximize workout results.

Weight Gain

  • Weight gain occurs when you consume a greater number of calories than you burn. You burn calories all day long, not just during your workout. In fact, your workout and daily activity -- including washing the dishes and brushing your teeth -- accounts for only 15 to 30 percent of your total daily burn. The majority of your calorie burn comes from supporting your bodily systems, including breathing, organ function and digestion. The calories you eat and burn accumulate over several days -- so one pre-exercise indulgence is unlikely to significantly change your weight. If you consistently eat more calories than you burn all day long, then you may end up with a higher number on the scale.

Preworkout Eating Guide

  • If it's been several hours, or overnight, since your last meal, a preworkout snack can rev your energy levels to help you perform better than you would without fuel. Exercising on an empty stomach can leave you feeling draggy and, even if you can muster an intense session, may burn through desirable lean muscle tissue. Go for 150 to 400 calories before your session, depending on your intended intensity and duration. You also want mostly high-quality carbohydrates, such as a whole-wheat bagel or a bowl of oatmeal, with a small amount of protein such as a tablespoon of peanut butter or a 1/2 cup of skim milk. This mixture gives you energy and some amino acids to start the muscle repair process early on in your workout. Skip high-calorie, nutrient-poor food preworkout. Foods such as fries, chips and candy bars are not going to provide you with quality energy and have more calories than you likely need for your session.

Precautions

  • Eat at least 45 minutes before your workout. Some people may need longer to feel that the food is digested enough to hit a hard workout. Eating too close to your session may make you feel sluggish so you can't work as hard and, as a result, burn as many calories, resulting in weight gain over time. Skip the prepackaged energy foods and drinks for workouts that last shorter than 90 minutes. You don't need the calories or electrolytes in a flavored, sugary drink unless you are going for a long run or are exercising in extreme temperatures.

Considerations

  • Many factors can make the scale go up after a workout, not just want you eat or drink. Hydration levels, inflammation, intestinal gas and air in your lungs all affect the number on the scale. An intense workout can shift the amount of mass in these and other areas, such as connective tissue, the brain, lymphatic fluids and muscle by as much as 15 percent, says clinical exercise physiologist Jeffrey A. Dolgan. Look at what you are eating over the entire course of the day as well. If you use your workout as an excuse to eat anything you want, you may need to exercise more restraint in terms of portion size at all your meals if you want to avoid gaining weight.

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