The rate at which your body digests your meal will depend directly on the type of food that you eat. Some foods digest within 30 minutes while others can take upwards of 2 hours to digest.
Which nutrient digests the fastest? Out of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates digest the fastest, followed by protein and then fat. The carbohydrates that digest the fastest are typically foods that are lowest in fiber, such as white bread, sugar, honey, and maple syrup. Most fruit is also known to be a fast-digesting food.
Knowing more about fast-digesting foods can help you determine when it would be best to consume these foods or when to choose slower-digesting foods instead.
In this article, I will discuss:
- Why fast-digesting foods matter
- Which macronutrients are fast digesting?
- How does the body use fast-digesting foods?
- 10 fast-digesting food examples
Fast Digesting Foods: An Overview
The rate of digestion refers to the speed at which your body can break down and absorb certain foods. When discussing fast digesting foods, the conversation typically revolves around carbohydrates since they digest the fastest of all three macronutrients.
The rate at which food digests can be measured on a scale known as the Glycemic Index. Generally, the faster a food digests, the more quickly it will elevate your blood sugar and the higher it will rate on the Glycemic Index.
If you are someone who struggles with blood sugar imbalances or health issues such as Diabetes, then fast digesting foods that score high on the Glycemic Index (GI) are not going to be the best choice for you, since the higher a food rates on the GI, the more quickly it will spike your blood sugar levels.
On the other hand, eating fast digesting foods can really come in handy during certain times of the day, such as right before or right after a workout. This is because fast digesting foods can provide our body with energy and replenish energy stores more quickly in comparison to slower digesting foods.
With carbohydrates, in particular, the rate at which food digests heavily depends on how much fiber that particular food contains.
Dietary fiber slows down the rate of digestion; therefore, the more fiber a food has, the less it spikes your blood sugar, and the lower it will rate on the Glycemic Index.
In the section below, I will explain which foods are the fastest digesting, starting with carbs, followed by proteins and fats.
Which Macronutrients Are Fast Digesting?
Carbohydrates are the fastest digesting macronutrient, likely because they are the body’s preferred energy source.
Although carbs digest the fastest out of all three macronutrients, certain types of carbs digest faster than others. For this reason, it’s best to think of carbs on a continuum from slowest-digesting carbs to fastest-digesting carbs.
Carbohydrates can be categorized into two different groups: simple carbs and complex carbs.
Simple carbs are foods that are lower in fiber and starch, which digest the fastest, while complex carbs are accompanied by fiber and/ or starch and digest more slowly and are more filling.
These simple carbs only take around 30-60 minutes to digest, making them a great immediate energy source.
These complex carbs take anywhere from 2-5 hours to digest since they are more fibrous and take more work for your body to break down.
Protein is the macronutrient that digests the second fastest, and similar to carbs, certain types of protein will digest faster than others.
If you are looking for the fastest digesting source of protein, then whey protein is the way to go. Whey protein has an absorption rate of around 10 grams per hour. This means that a 20 gram serving of whey would only take around 2 hours to fully digest and absorb into the body.
This is a fast absorption rate, especially when compared with the absorption rate of whole foods like cooked egg whites, which absorb at 2.8 grams per hour.
Protein-rich whole foods will often have a slower digestion rate than a whey protein isolate because whole foods are often accompanied by other macronutrients (mainly fats).
The amount of fat present in a protein source will affect its absorption rate; the more fat there is, the slower the protein will digest.
- Related Article: Is Milk Fast Digesting? (A Dietitian Answers)
Fats are the slowest macronutrient to digest, which is because the majority of fat digestion occurs in your small intestine. Your small intestine is further along in the digestion process, so it takes more time for fat to begin digesting.
The rate of digestion can vary slightly depending on the type of fat, but generally, fat digestion takes an average of around 40 hours. Some research also suggests that fats that are solid at room temperature (like coconut oil) take longer to digest than fat droplets (liquid fats like olive oil).
In addition to this, it is important to keep in mind that fried foods high in trans fats can cause digestive issues and therefore take longer for the body to digest and break down.
How Does the Body Use Fast Digesting Foods?
The body’s primary use for fast-digesting foods is an immediate and easy form of energy.
In particular, fast-digesting carbohydrates are digested and turned into glucose (sugar) in the body.
This sugar provides a quick burst of energy, but this energy will not last for long.
When Is the Ideal Time to Eat Fast Digesting Foods?
The best time to eat fast-digesting foods is pre-workout, intra-workout, and post-workout meals because they will provide you with energy to fuel your workout, sustain your energy levels during longer workouts, and replenish energy stores following a workout.
Eating fast-digesting carbs before your workout is beneficial when you’re working out within 30 to 60 mins of eating because these foods are easier to break down and provide quick energy before training.
If your workouts last longer than 90 minutes, you could also consider having some fast-digesting carbs during your workout to keep you energized. During a workout, simple carbs like honey or sugar are the best options.
Additionally, Eating fast-digesting carbs after your workout can help to replenish any glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates) that were depleted from your muscles during your workout.
This is also the best time to opt for faster-digesting protein sources, like whey protein powder, to encourage muscle repair and growth.
Since fats take longer to digest, limiting your fat intake before, during, and after your workout is best.
- Related Article: Zero Calorie Foods: 16 Examples for Weight Loss
When Should You Avoid Fast Digesting Foods?
To ensure you have stable energy and hunger levels throughout the day, it is best to avoid fast-digesting foods apart from the meals and snacks where you need quick energy, such as your pre and post-workout meals.
Opting for foods that are slower to digest for the majority of your meals will help stabilize your energy levels since high fiber and slow digesting foods help with the regulation of energy and blood sugar.
Slow-digesting foods don’t cause the same blood sugar spike (and crash) as fast-digesting foods.
Fast digesting foods are not ideal for a few types of individuals:
- Those with pre-diabetes or diabetes. Those that have a difficult time regulating blood sugar levels or suffer from Diabetes should avoid eating fast-digesting foods since they can contribute to dramatic spikes and falls in blood sugar.
- Those who are less active. Eating an abundance of fast-digesting foods is unnecessary for anyone with low activity levels since they are less likely to require as much energy and therefore do not require a quick form of usable fuel.
- Those who are always hungry. Fast digesting carbs will not keep you full, so if you’re struggling with always feeling hungry, it’s better to reach for protein and fats rather than carbs to curb your appetite.
What Are the Benefits of Eating Fast Digesting Foods?
- They provide a quick source of energy: Since fast digesting foods are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, they provide an immediate energy source that can be useful during intense activity, such as before a training session.
- They are typically easy to digest: Fast digesting foods are generally lower in fiber and fat and easier for your body to break down. This can be beneficial for a pre-workout meal, where you want to ensure most of your energy is going toward your training rather than digesting food.
- They provide nourishment for those with digestive issues: Fast and easy-digesting foods are optimal for individuals who have difficulty with high-fiber foods, such as those who are diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease or other Irritable Bowel issues.
Are There Any Drawbacks of Eating Fast Digesting Foods?
- Can leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied shortly after eating: Due to the lack of fiber and the short amount of time spent in the stomach, fast-digesting foods will likely leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied shortly after you eat unless you pair these foods with slower digesting foods (such as a protein or fat source).
- Can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and unstable energy: Since fast-digesting foods are broken down and enter the bloodstream more quickly, they are more likely to cause an intense spike in insulin (a hormone that responds to sugar intake), which can result in dramatic spikes and falls in your energy levels.
10 Fast Digesting Foods
Below is a list of 10 different fast-digesting foods:
- White Rice
- White flour foods (white bread, white pasta)
- Honey and maple syrup
- “Quick” Oatmeal
- Whey protein powder
- Lean cuts of protein
- Egg whites
1. White Rice
White rice is considered a simple carbohydrate since it is low in fiber and will give you a quick energy boost. One cup of cooked white rice only contains around 1.5 grams of fiber, which makes white rice a great carb source before or after a workout.
2. White Flour Foods (white bread, white pasta)
Foods that are derived from white flour are considered to be fast digesting since they have had their fiber content removed. This includes foods such as white bread, white pasta, pretzels, and crackers.
While foods such as muffins, cakes, and other baked goods also contain white flour, they also include ingredients that contain protein and fat (such as eggs and butter), which will slow the rate of digestion.
Watermelon digests the fastest out of all fruit, and when eaten alone, it only takes around 20 minutes to leave your stomach.
One cup of watermelon contains around 0.5 grams of fiber, but it also contains nutrients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B5, and copper, making it a nutritious fast digesting food to include in your diet.
Applesauce is much easier to digest than a regular apple since it has been cooked and pureed, which helps to break down the fiber that apples naturally contain.
Applesauce can be a great alternative to traditional sweeteners used in baking and can also be a great food to utilize for intra-workout nutrition during long intense forms of exercise (such as during a marathon).
Bananas, particularly ripe bananas, are easy and quick to digest since they have less resistant starch than unripe bananas.
Try using bananas paired with whey protein powder in a pre or post-workout shake or smoothie as a fast-digesting meal or snack option.
6. Honey and Maple Syrup
Not only are maple syrup and honey quick sources of energy, but they are also high in certain nutrients that are great for your health.
Both of these natural sweeteners contain zero fiber, which means that after you consume them, they are immediately absorbed into your bloodstream and ready to be used as fuel.
7. “Quick” Oatmeal
Quick oats are the fastest-digested form of oatmeal since they are processed in a way that speeds up the cooking process and ultimately reduces the amount of time needed for digestion.
Oats are also naturally gluten-free, making them a great fast digesting carb source for anyone who cannot tolerate or digest gluten.
8. Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder is by far the fastest digesting source of protein and is a great option for your pre or post-workout meal.
Remember that whey protein will likely not keep you feeling full and satisfied compared to whole food protein sources, so it will be most useful in the meals before and after your training session or if you plan to eat again in under two hours.
- Related Article: What Is The Glycemic Index of Whey Protein Powder?
9. Lean Cuts of Protein
Although lean cuts of protein still take longer to digest than the foods listed above, it is worth noting that lean protein such as chicken breast, extra lean turkey, and low-fat fish are good options for whole food protein if you are looking for foods that are easier to break digest.
10. Egg Whites
Egg whites take less time for your body to digest since they are not accompanied by the fattiest part of the egg, the yolk.
While they still do not digest as quickly as a whey protein, egg whites will be broken down by your body faster than a whole egg or a fatty cut of meat, making them a faster-digesting protein source.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Fast Digesting and Easy Digesting the Same Thing?
If food is easy for your body to digest, it will typically digest more quickly compared to food that is more difficult for your body to break down. For example, simple carbohydrates that lack fiber are very easy for your body to digest and only require around 30-60 minutes for digestion.
What Fruit Is Fastest to Digest?
The fastest digesting fruit is watermelon because it has a higher sugar and water content but less fiber than many other fruits. Watermelon only takes approximately 20 minutes to digest completely.
What Meat Is Fastest to Digest?
The type of meat that is the fastest to digest is leaner cuts of meat or fish since fat slows down digestion. Examples of fast-digesting meats and fish are chicken breast, extra lean ground turkey, and low-fat fish such as tilapia, halibut, and cod.
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About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.
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