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Fuel up for success: what to eat before your morning workout

August 23, 2023
5 minutes
Healthy Eating
Health Tips
Diets

When you try to figure out what to eat before a morning workout, it often leads to more questions. What foods are convenient but also healthy and energizing? What type of workout are you doing, and how long does your workout last? Or perhaps you're asking, "Should I eat before a morning workout or after?"

The short answer to these questions is this: It depends. First, you have to factor in your overall health. Also, having access to healthy breakfast foods that you can quickly pull together is important. If you don't have healthy food handy, you run the risk of grabbing an unhealthy snack on the go.

Let's dive in and learn more about what to eat before you work out in the morning.

Eat before or after morning workout?

Whole grain toast with mashed avocado and fried egg on white plate. Tasty healthy breakfast.

Before we get into good pre-workout breakfast ideas, let's answer the question of whether or not you really have to eat before working out in the morning. What if you're not a breakfast person? Is it OK to work out on an empty stomach?

"Fasted" exercise has become more popular in recent years, and some supporters of this type of workout say they have more energy and achieve faster results. Alternatively, other people insist that having a healthy pre-workout meal or snack gives them the energy they need to get their best workout.

Whether or not you should eat before working out in the morning depends on the type of workout you're doing and your individual goals. Blood sugar levels are lower after a night of sleep, so you can feel tired and sluggish during your workout if you skip breakfast.

For this reason, a small healthy snack before working out in the morning will help your blood sugar levels increase enough to give you the energy you need for top performance.

Can you exercise if you haven't eaten? Most people can unless they're doing a high-intensity workout for 60 minutes or longer. In this scenario, it's best to have a light meal or snack before you work out. We recommend waiting at least three or four hours before exercising if you've had a large meal.

Timing also plays a role. Avoid eating a heavy breakfast before you work out because it can cause an upset stomach if your food hasn't been digested. If you've indulged in a hearty breakfast, consider postponing your workout until after your food has had a chance to digest.

Protein before workout

To avoid getting hungry in the middle of your workout, eat food rich in protein before you work out. Protein will effectively curb your appetite without giving you stomach discomfort.

If you're doing workouts that are low or moderate in intensity, a small snack rich in protein is sufficient. Here are some great high-protein snacks you can enjoy before your workout:

  • 2 eggs
  • Small omelet with veggies
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • Protein bar
  • Small protein shake

High-intensity or moderate workouts require more fuel. For this type of workout, protein paired with carbohydrates is the ideal pre-workout meal. Protein works for recovery and muscle growth, while carbohydrates provide energy.  

fit young caucasian man drinking a chocolate whey protein shake for energy before a workout while wearing earphones in a kitchen at home.

Pre-workout meal ideas

You'll need to experiment to determine which pre-workout meals or snacks work best for you. The foods you need before working out depend on the type of workout you do. Any of these meal ideas are a great start to your morning if you plan to work out.

Short-duration high-intensity workouts

For interval training or indoor cycling classes, consider these foods 30 to 60 minutes before you exercise:

  • Banana
  • Toast with nut butter
  • Cheese with whole grain crackers
  • Applesauce
  • Plant-based beverages or milk

Long-duration moderate or high-intensity workouts

If you run, cycle, row, or ski cross-country, these foods will power you through your workout:

  • Small bagel with cream cheese or nut butter
  • Fruit smoothie made with a banana and milk
  • Toast with scrambled eggs
  • Rice cakes with nut butter
  • Oatmeal with berries

Long-duration low or moderate-intensity workouts

Long walks, yoga, and tai chi require less fuel, and a protein-rich snack is ideal. Try any of these foods before this type of workout:

  • 2 hard-boiled or scrambled eggs
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Small protein shake
  • Half a protein bar
  • Omelet with veggies

Strength training

For strength training, you need greater bursts of power, but you don't have to have quite as much fuel. Try some of these foods before strength training sessions:

  • Oatmeal
  • Sliced turkey sandwich
  • A cup of applesauce with 1 boiled egg
  • 1/2 cup orange juice and beef jerky
  • 1 cup soy or regular milk
  • Berries with Greek yogurt

When you work out in the morning, the small meal or snack you have before working out won't carry you through to lunchtime. After you work out, have a post-workout snack or a solid breakfast with carbs and protein.

Pre-workout breakfast

To ensure you're eating a healthy breakfast before your morning workout, planning is key. As we've already mentioned, having healthy snacks and breakfast foods in your fridge or pantry helps ensure you reach for high-value options.

Here are some more tips to help you stay on track for your pre-workout nutrition:

  • Prepare your pre-workout meal before you go to bed: Make your morning a breeze by having your morning snack or meal ready the night before.
  • Prep for an entire week: Meal prepping works for breakfast, too. Consider spending a couple of hours on Sunday prepping your pre-workout meals for the entire week.
  • Go easy on the fiber: Your body is slower to digest fiber, so you may experience stomach discomfort if you eat a high-fiber meal before working out. If you have high-fiber food in the morning, you may need to wait between one and three hours to allow your food to digest.
  • Drink enough water, but not too much: Staying well-hydrated is important. However, if you drink too much water or other fluids, you might experience an unpleasant sloshing during your workout. Instead of drinking a whole bottle of water, take small sips before you work out and during your session.
  • Listen closely to your body: There's no hard-and-fast rule about what to eat before a morning workout. Experiment with different foods to find the ones that energize you and help increase your performance.

Planning and tracking for optimal health

Keeping track of what you eat before you work out can help you gain a better understanding of which snacks and meals best fuel your exercise. Evidation Members can track meals and exercise, which can ultimately lead to an overall healthier lifestyle. Download the app today to learn more.

Health Tips
Diets
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