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When you get out of bed at 5 or 6 am for your early morning workout, food is probably the last thing on your mind. The only thing you want to do is hit that snooze button. But up to this point, your body has been fasting for 8 or more hours. This means that your energy supplies are depleted. That’s why it’s important to eat at least something to get fuel for your workout. It will allow you to perform at your best, improving your workout quality and intensity. So what to eat before a morning workout to get maximum energy and strength?
What to Eat?
What you should eat before a morning workout depends on the type of exercise you plan on doing, its intensity and how long before the workout you’re eating.
In general, it’s best to eat a mix of carbs and protein about an hour before you start exercising. The carbs increase your glycogen stores and utilization, which give you the needed energy boost, while protein helps to prolong it. Protein also increases muscle protein synthesis and aids in recovery.
Avoid eating sugary foods because they will make your body secrete more insulin. As a result, this will make you feel tired and uncoordinated. Also, avoid high-fat foods as they slow digestion and won’t do you any good during the workout.
For low-intensity workouts, such as an easy yoga class or just a walk, you don’t need as much food. You can fuel up with 30g of carbs and 8g of protein. The carbs will provide the energy and the little bit of protein will take the edge off of hunger. For example, you can have a banana with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. Other alternatives can be a hard-boiled egg or half a protein bar.
It’s better to avoid whole grains since they contain a lot of fiber, which can make you feel gassy and bloated.
An Hour of Intense Exercise
If your morning workout falls into the middle of the exercise intensity spectrum, you’ll need a bit more fuel. Load up on 30-40g of carbs, 10g of protein and a little bit of fat. For example, you can have an English muffin with two eggs or two grainy slices of bread topped with almond butter. Another great option is a shake with a mix of whey protein, fruit and milk.
It’s good to add here a small amount of healthy fats as it will help you to sustain your exercise. However, it’s better to avoid too many fats since they slow digestion and can cause GI upset.
Short But Intense Workout
High-intensity workouts, such as Crossfit, circuit or HIIT training, can leave you feeling sick if you’ve eaten too much. So choose a snack that will give you a quick energy boost and blood sugar lift. Load on 15g of carbs and a bit of protein. Again, skip the fats since they will work against you.
Try a few whole-grain crackers with a slice of cheese, or fruit with some cheese.
Endurance And Strength Training
For strength training, you need high bursts of power. That’s why it can be beneficial to include some carbs into your pre-workout meal. For example, consider getting 15-30g of carbs, which will give you a good energy boost without adding too many calories. It’s also good to get a bit of protein, which will protect your muscle mass from significant breakdown.
Consider, eating a power bar or half a cup of oatmeal with a scoop of protein powder.
How Much to Eat?
The size of your early morning meal will vary depending on the intensity and length of your workout. For a higher intensity workout, you’ll need a more energy dense meal. A lower intensity workout, on the other hand, will require less energy.
When preparing your pre-workout meal, keep in mind that a full solid meal takes about 3-4 hours to fully digest. So unless you wake up really early and have at least 90 minutes before your workout, it’s best to have just a healthy snack. Exercising on a full stomach will leave you feeling sluggish and it will affect your performance.
With that being said, there’s no one-size-fits-all portion for a morning pre-workout breakfast. Some have an iron stomach and can easily handle a cup or two of oats. Others might only be able to tolerate half a banana. So try a few different foods and different portion sizes and see how you feel and how it affects your performance. Find what works best for your body.
When to Eat?
Eating minutes before exercising, doesn’t give your body enough time to convert food into energy, which it could use to boost the workout. This makes pre-workout breakfasts a bit tricky since few would want to wake up even earlier.
A good solution to that is to have a snack right after you get up. And choose a snack that is rich in complex carbohydrates. After you finished working out, you can refuel your body by eating a regular-sized breakfast.
To make sure that you get the best performance and recovery, remember to fuel your body with the right nutrient. Choose foods that are easy to digest and opt for smaller portions. You don’t need an entire portion before your workout. Also, eat at least 30 minutes before your morning workout.
Low-fiber, quick digesting carbs are the best for fueling short and high-intensity exercises. Small amounts of fats are good for longer sessions. Protein is good for muscle protein synthesis, preventing damage and recovery.
Post-workout meals can also be important since it can help in muscle recovery. However, do you need a post-workout meal or not and what should you eat depends on the intensity of the workout and your fitness goals.