SHOULD I EAT BEFORE MY MORNING WORKOUT?

Depending on how you exercise in the mornings, the answer to this question can vary. Let’s dive in, and feel out what works best for you.


BY: COURTNEY FERREIRA, MS, RD, LDN

It’s a question that every active person has: the seasoned gym goers, the yogis, the swimmers, the new to the gym goers, the runners.

The fitness industry is often entrenched in diet culture, and the “eat less, move more” mantra often prevents us from hearing what our body needs.

Half of the time we’re told to work out in a fasting state because it helps with caloric burn and weight loss. The other half of the time, we’re told that you must, under no circumstances, work out on empty.

So what is ‘right?’

The fact is, fueling (recreational) exercise isn’t difficult; however, there are a few things you need to consider if you are the ‘rise and grind’ type.

Here are a few go-to guidelines to take the guesswork out of your morning workout meals and snacks. Although it may take you time to figure out what foods work best for you, it’s highly encouraged for you to experiment until you do.

First, ask yourself:  What kind of workout am I doing?

Consider intensity. For simplicity, let’s break intensity into three categories: high, moderate, and low.

HIGH INTENSITY

If you exercise at a high intensity, such as CrossFit, circuit training, or weight lifting for strength, hypertrophy, or performance, you need to eat before your workout. High intensity workouts use weights to challenge your muscles, or get your heart pounding and make you sweat (i.e.: hypertrophy, Crossfit, kettlebell circuit, fast paced superset routines).

Find yourself light-headed, dizzy, or nauseated during or after this type of workout? It means you need more fuel on board, particularly carbohydrates.  Fruit is a great carbohydrate choice because it provides immediate glucose to the blood, and the fiber can help it continue to provide fuel through the workout.

You might also try a slice of toast, a granola bar, dried fruit, or a glass of milk. This may not be enough – particularly if you are really pushing yourself, or you are new to these types of workouts. In which case you may want to experiment with larger snacks such as:

  • Half piece of fruit + cottage cheese
  • Microwaved egg whites + fruit
  • Glass of milk
  • Larabar, or other bar
  • Deli meat + grapes
  • Peanut butter + banana
  • Sweet potato + almond butter
  • Yogurt + berries
  • Protein shake made with milk
MODERATE INTENSITY

This is the most common type of workout. Moderate intensity workouts (my definition) include circuits that use light or no weights and place demand on the cardiovascular system (increasing your heart rate and breathing rate). Examples include kickboxing class, plyometric workout, TRX, light kettlebell circuit, light lifting routine, spinning, and HIIT.

With moderate intensity workouts, particularly those that will take at least 60 minutes, it is recommended that you eat something small and very simple. Some fruit, a spoonful of peanut butter, or a few gulps of milk can do the trick.

Keep in mind, your body knows best. If you are not conditioned to or used to these types of workouts you will likely need a larger amount of carbohydrates as your body will be burning more during and after to get you adapted to this new movement. You may experience some GI distress, in which case it might be better to not eat, and fuel up after. What works for your friend may not work for you, so try out different options to meet your unique needs.

LOW INTENSITY

Low-intensity exercise is a great way to add movement for your health, which includes yoga, pilates, barre, going for a walk or jog, any other cardio done for less than an hour. For low-intensity workouts you don’t need to eat. Your body should be able to use the stored fuel (carbohydrates stored in liver and muscles) from the day prior to get you through this workout.

Now comes the second question to ask: Am I hungry?

This is the most important question and one that must be considered.

If you are hungry, you should eat, or eat more than you planned to. If you are getting dizzy spells during or after your workout that’s a sign you need more fuel coming in.

On the flip side, if you are getting an upset stomach, that is a sign you may be eating too much. You may not be leaving enough time between eating and starting a workout, or you need to choose a simpler item such as fruit juice or a date.  

Remember, you need to try things out to figure out what works best for you. Some fruit, a few bites of a granola bar, or nut butter can suffice as great go-to options if you wake up starving but hadn’t planned to eat.

Now that you know what to eat before the workout, what about after?

Definitely make sure you eat a full breakfast post workout that includes a source of protein, carbohydrate, and a bit of fat. Examples include an egg bake and a whole piece of fruit, overnight oats, oatmeal with a hard boiled egg, a smoothie with protein, or creative toast creations.

If you find yourself extremely light-headed or headache prone after your workout, have fruit juice or dried fruit available to consume immediately after your workout. This will bring your blood sugar to normal levels, and give your body something to use up during the after burn as you’re getting yourself or your breakfast ready.

And for those of you concerned about how eating might hinder your physique goals, please realize that not answering your hunger and fueling improperly can only backfire on you. Your metabolism is working extra hard for you post-workout, so it’s important to honor that.

Fuel your body, so you can keep on moving.

Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: MARIA FERNANDA GONZALEZ

Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Baltimore, MD with a passion for helping individuals reach their health and wellness through flavorful whole foods and freedom from counting calories, fat, and minutes on a treadmill. For more insightful tips on living your healthiest life, visit Courtney at the RealFoodCourt.

1 Comment
  1. This senior male has always had a 10 minute daily exercise routine to maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure. For the past 6 months I’ve been scheduling a weekly 24 hour water fast when practical, – 18 hours is easier to schedule and I feel accomplishes the same results. To the timing point of the article’s title; since changing my exercise time to before breakfast I’ve noticed a change in my physique, something I hadn’t anticipated but am very pleased about if for no other reason than it has encouraged me to spend more time exercising. The 10 minute routine consists of two 5 minute High Intensity Interval Training exercises ( HIIT), 5 minutes before breakfast and another 5 minutes some time after breakfast. These exercises can be done with, or without light weights, mine are done from a standing position on the spot.

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