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What to Eat Before a Morning Workout

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Nutrition advice for morning runs, bike rides and other workouts

By John Hoeber, MS, RD, CSSD, CPT

 

You've no doubt heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but what if you need to fit in your exercise before breakfast? Will you have enough energy for a great workout?

Research shows that it’s very important to drink fluids and consume carbohydrates before a morning workout if you want to perform your best. However, if you generally eat enough high-quality carbs, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits, your body's stores of glycogen (a form of carbohydrate that provides fast fuel) should be stocked for about two hours of intense exercise. Morning is when glycogen stores are at their lowest, but you’ll be OK for most gym workouts and one-hour exercise classes without eating first.

For competitive athletes, however, skipping breakfast is not a good idea. If you do intense or long workouts (more than 60 minutes), work out two or more times a day, or are on low-carb or low-calorie diet, you may not have enough carbs to exercise. For extreme endurance workouts, the recommendation is to eat 200 to 300 grams of carbs 2 to 3 hours before you exercise. That’s about 4 to 6 cups of rice!  

Consuming that many carbs before your morning workout may be difficult, so focus on fluids, preferably water, and have a small serving of carbs, like a glass of fruit juice or some complex carbs, such as a small bowl of Breakfast Yams (scroll down for recipe). A single-serving cup of applesauce is a convenient on-the-go option. If you’re doing a cardio workout, fill your water bottle with coconut water, which has some carbs and lots of potassium, both of which will energize your workout. If you’re lifting weights, bring a protein and carb drink to your workout.

Keep in mind, the longer and more intense the workout, the more you’ll have to eat beforehand.

Afterward, you need both protein and carbs to recover and refuel. Endurance athletes need about as much protein as weight lifters (pound for pound), so concentrate on eating high-quality protein foods like beans and lean meat, plus complex carbs.

 

Breakfast Yams

This healthy morning meal contains about 100 g carbs in each 1/2-cup serving.

1. Cube 2 or 3 yams and steam them.

2. Add a handful of chopped or whole pecans and cinnamon to taste.

3. Place in storage container in the fridge.

4. Eat 1/2 cup or more before your workout.

 

Other Pre-Workout Food Ideas

  • 12 oz water
  • 12 oz coconut water
  • 12 oz fruit juice, vegetable juice
  • 12 oz protein shake, such as milk with instant breakfast powder
  • Cereal with any type of milk
  • Banana with nut butter
  • Toast with nut butter
  • Toast and a slice of deli meat
  • Piece of fruit
  • Applesauce
  • Potato (baked until well overdone, then refrigerated)

 

Published October 24, 2014. 

 

John Hoeber works with individuals and teams to improve their health and performance through diet, using practical and lasting solutions. He is a registered dietitian, certified specialist sports dietitian, personal trainer and wellness coach with more than 26 years of experience. Contact him at john@bodykineticsmarin.com.


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