Whenever You Exercise, Here's How to Eat

Here's how to fuel your body whether you exercise at morning, noon or night

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We all have a preferred time of day that we enjoy (or maybe dread) working out. Whether you wake up early to exercise or sneak in a workout at lunchtime or do your sweating after work, you should always know how to treat your body before and after pushing it. Many of us have wound up scarfing down a huge dinner post workout because we didn't eat anything beforehand. Even worse, maybe you've hurried a large breakfast before hitting the gym, and in turn, faced that dreaded side cramp.

The way we treat our bodies before and after the gym is just as important as the exercise we do while we're there. Whatever time of day you exercise, consider these tips to help your body perform and recover.

The early riser. If you're the type of person who rolls out of bed, throws on your sneakers and heads for the gym, then eating a full breakfast may not be ideal. Your body needs time to digest the food you consume, and that process usually takes one to two hours. If you don't have that kind of time in the morning, consider saving breakfast until after your workout. For pre-exercise nourishment, drink a glass of coconut water, which provides sugar, electrolytes and potassium. I'm a fan of Zico coconut water, which comes in some tasty flavors like chocolate and pineapple.

The lunch timer. If you're one of the lucky ones who can fit workouts into the middle of the day, my first recommendation is to make sure you drink plenty of water in the morning. I always say a liter by lunch is a great way to stay on track. Water will not only keep your body hydrated, but it'll also leave you feeling fuller, so you're less likely to want a hefty pre-workout lunch. If you do plan on eating something before exercising, give yourself at least an hour so you can digest. And opt for something light. Think: veggie burger over greens, with a reduced fat dressing and a hand-sized fruit, like an orange or apple. (Dr. Praeger's brand has great veggie burger options.) Keep a few patties in your freezer when you're looking for a fast, light lunch. Planning to eat lunch after your workout? Then you can go for something a bit more substantial, like a veggie burger or lean turkey burger in a high fiber wrap, with some low-fat cheese and a side of fruit.

The after-work exerciser. Many of us have jam-packed days that call for evening workouts. The biggest challenge for this crew is to not overeat afterward. When you tack a rigorous gym session to the end of a long day, it's easy to raid the refrigerator as soon as you get home. If you know this may be an issue, set out a small, low calorie snack for when you return. Ideally, this snack will hold you over while you prepare a healthy dinner. Veggies are always great to snack on, or you can try a granola bar, like the Kind and Larabar varieties. If you're in a rush to eat your dinner, Amy's Kitchen makes delicious and healthy frozen meals with options to fit any dietary need. Another bonus for the late-night group: Some studies have suggested that working out in the evenings (but not right before bedtime) can actually lead to better sleep.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Heather Bauer, RD, CDN , is a nationally-recognized nutrition expert, author, and entrepreneur. She is the author of two top selling books, The Wall Street Diet and Bread is the Devil. She is the founder of Nu-Train, a nutrition consulting company, and Bestowed, a subscription service that offers consumers a personalized way to discover, sample, shop, and learn about the best nutrition and lifestyle products on the market.