Early morning workouts are the norm for many. For some, it’s the only time they have; others may feel better working out first thing in the morning.
The morning can be a crazy rush. Figuring out what to eat before morning workout when you’re in a pinch may be difficult. Maybe you don’t get hungry in the mornings or feel you have the time to eat. However, there’s a good reason why you should care about what to eat before a morning workout.
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What’s the Real Deal on Eating Before You Work Out?
Some people swear by working out on an empty stomach. Others believe you should have a full meal before doing anything. But what does science say about eating before you work out?
Studies mostly agree that you should eat before any exercise.
However, you don’t want to head to the gym immediately after eating. You want to give your body at least an hour to digest.
You also might want to skip a hearty breakfast. Heavy foods lead to feeling bloated or you may even get sick during a workout. Light breakfasts or sports drinks are recommended instead. Large meals are recommended to be eaten around three hours before a workout and small meals or snacks about one hour prior. This ensures you don’t feel sluggish and gives you the necessary energy needed to complete your workout.
Now, some people are crunched for time and can’t make breakfast and workout. Many don’t like eating breakfast or feel hungry. Each person is different and it’s true that you might be fine to workout without eating anything first thing in the morning. However, eating breakfast each morning isn’t only ideal for exercise but for healthy weight control and brain function as well.
This doesn’t mean you are required to eat breakfast. In fact, there are benefits to not eating before you workout too. Studies show that workouts done on an empty stomach burn more fat because your body isn’t relying on carbohydrates for fuel. It should be noted that there are limited studies on whether you burn more fat long-term with fasted workouts than “fed” workouts.
How Eating Can Change Your Workout
The research doesn’t just mention eating breakfast. There are studies that show eating before and after workouts fuel the body and aid in muscle recovery. Drinking or eating carbohydrates before you exercise improves your performance overall. It may allow you to exercise at higher intensities and for a longer time.
Not eating might cause you to be sluggish or lightheaded. This depends on when you last slept and ate of course. For example, you may be someone who goes to bed late but rises early or you may eat a full meal before bed and not be hungry when you wake.
The studies on what to eat before morning workout suggest that you might want to stick to your morning breakfast routine. If you’re a coffee drinker, you can drink it and probably not feel any adverse effects.
The same goes if you normally eat a specific food or food group for breakfast. Deviating from your normal foods has the potential to cause upset stomachs until your body gets used to it.
Snacks before, and sometimes during a workout can help you reach your goals. However, there is a timeline for snacking. If your workout lasts longer than an hour, it’s worth it to eat a carbohydrate-rich food or drink.
On the other hand, eating a snack before a short workout of fewer than 30 minutes probably won’t do much to increase your energy.
Post-workout meals or snacks are essential. After all the strain you put your body and muscles through with exercise, you want to help aid in recovery. Exercise depletes the body of glycogen. Glycogen is necessary for muscle repair, recovery, and your body’s overall functioning.
It’s recommended you eat a full meal that is rich in carbohydrates and protein within two hours of your last workout session. This helps replace glycogen stores (carbohydrates) and aid in muscle repair (protein).
It’s Not Only About the Food!
Often, food is regarded as the most important part of maintaining a healthy weight. However, hydration is very important too. Fluid consumption before, during, and after a workout is key to preventing dehydration. The more you exercise, the more you’ll need.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the fluid recommendations for pre-workout should be around two to three cups and ½ cup to one cup per every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. Your post-workout consumption guidelines are two to three cups after your workout for every pound of weight you lose during a workout.
Typically, drinking water is the best for fluid replenishment. However, if you are working out more intensely or longer than one hour, it’s recommended to use a sports drink. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates that give you energy and replace lost electrolytes.
Why Your Choice of Breakfast Matters?
When deciding what to eat before morning workout, there are a few factors to consider: the type of food, digestion, and time.
A quick sports drink or cereal provides the body with quick bursts of energy, but it may not last long during a longer workout. To ensure you get the sustained energy you need for those more intense workouts, combine simple carbohydrates with a small amount of fat and protein.
The size of your meal has a lot to do with your workout longevity. The longer your workout lasts, the more energy-dense meal you’ll want to have. The same goes for shorter workouts. The potential drawback is your digestion time.
Big, energy-dense meals take around four hours to digest which doesn’t exactly align with a quick morning workout. Aim for smaller meals if you have about two hours to spare. If you don’t have two hours, which most people don’t, then a quick but healthy option is blended meals or a 200-calorie snack. Blended meals like smoothies or low-calorie snacks only take about an hour to digest but still provide adequate energy.
Don’t have time to make any meals at all? Maybe you just can’t stomach breakfast? Try a banana or a slice of toast. As time goes on, add on to this little snack until your body can tolerate a small meal.
Breakfast Ideas – Dos And Don’ts
Let’s take a look at the simple breakfast ideas you can have before your morning workout:
Breakfast of Champions
Breakfast options are limitless. However, you want to start with the right foods, not ones that just taste good. I’ve compiled a list of tasty, yet healthy breakfast options that provide energy for your workouts and won’t weigh you down:
- Fruit – Fruits are easily digestible, provide fuel, and are great for those that aren’t typically breakfast eaters.
- Smoothies – Smoothies are versatile. You can combine fruits and vegetables, yogurts, protein powders, nut butter, or seeds like chia.
- Energy Bowls – Energy bowls have a similar concept to a smoothie except you sit down to eat them. They can include nuts, seeds, and blended fruits or vegetables.
- Greek or plain yogurt – Yogurts, especially Greek or plain yogurts are high in protein, probiotics, and calcium.
- Oatmeal – Oatmeal is a classic staple. It’s full of carbohydrates and fiber. Both will give a huge boost of energy. You can even add fruit, nuts, or milk for even more energy.
- Eggs – Eggs’ possibilities are limitless. You can have them as a standalone, add cheese, or veggies like peppers to add nutrition. Couple eggs with toast or an English muffin for a quick sandwich.
- Energy Bites – Energy bites are full of fiber, protein, and fats to keep you satisfied longer. You can make them with peanut butter, walnuts, flaxseeds, cashews, or almonds.
- Homemade muffins – Muffins may seem like an unhealthy, tasty snack but they’re actually great for long workouts. They have fiber and are high in carbs. You can even add fruit or nuts to them for an energy bonus.
- Homemade pancakes – Homemade pancakes are a great source of grains and carbs to fuel your workout. You can add fruit or nut butter for extra boosts. Make sure you don’t go overboard with your portion size as they can be a little on the heavy side.
- Toast – Toasts may seem boring or basic but it’s very versatile. Toast is easy on the stomach, quick, and you can add a ton of options like avocado, sweet potato, or jam.
Breakfast That Will Make You Sluggish
- Fast Food – Fast food doesn’t need much of an explanation as it’s unhealthy enough. it’s full of fat, grease, and may even upset your stomach.
- Sweetened Non-Fat Yogurts – These yogurts are full of sugar that can leave you to suffer a “high” but then “crash” later on. The lack of fat doesn’t keep you full as long.
- Energy drinks/fruit juices – While orange juice or a Red Bull might seem like a great idea for a boost of energy, they come with high sugar and the “crash.”
- Spicy foods – Spicy foods are satisfying but they aren’t great for a workout. Spicy foods can lead to indigestion, heartburn, or even stomach cramps.
- Sugary cereals – Cereals like Cheerios or Raisin Bran are healthy options but cereals like Frosted Flakes or Fruit Loops are terrible pre-workout breakfast foods. They’re full of fat and sugars. The milk added could cause stomach issues as well.
The Bottom Line
Deciding what to eat before morning workout doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to sacrifice your time either. While you may not be hungry when you first wake up, it’s a good idea to try to eat at least a small meal before you exercise.
More Healthy Breakfast Ideas
Featured photo credit: Margarita Zueva via unsplash.com
|Heart.org: Food as Fuel Before, During and After Workouts
|Adv Nutr: The Effects of Breakfast and Breakfast Composition on Cognition in Adults
|PubMed: Effects of aerobic exercise performed in fasted v. fed state
|J Int Soc Sports Nutr: Nutrient timing revisited
|American College of Sports Medicine: Exercise and Fluid Replacement