Should I Eat Before My Morning Workout?

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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Should I Eat Before My Morning Workout?

Morning workouts aren’t for everyone, but for those of us who love them (or just love to get them over with early in the day!), deciding whether to eat breakfast before or after is a pretty common dilemma.

Head straight out the door for a morning bike ride without eating or drinking, and you may not have enough in the tank to power through it. That’s  because over the course of the night your carbohydrate stores, which your muscles rely on for energy during exercise, have been used to maintain your blood sugar and provide energy to your brain. On the other hand, eating a full meal before working out could lead to stomach cramping, indigestion–or worse. (If you don’t know what I mean by “worse,” trust me, you don’t want to.)

The good news is, it’s possible to be properly fueled for a morning workout without the unpleasant side effects that send you running to the nearest restroom. It’s all about what you eat, and when you eat it.

Before Your Morning Workout

  • 30-60 minutes before you lace up your sneakers, have a carbohydrate-rich snack, like a piece of fruit, a slice of toast with jam, or a low-fiber granola bar.
  • Drink a tall glass of water to help digest your snack and rehydrate after those 8-12 hours of laying around.
  • Avoid fiber and fat since they take more effort for you body to digest and can cause an upset stomach.
  • If eating early in the morning doesn’t agree with you, have some applesauce or a small glass of 100% fruit juice. Just stay away from the more acidic juices like orange or grapefruit since they can irritate your stomach. You can also hydrate with a diluted sport drink instead of regular water. The added carbohydrates will help keep you going.

After Your Morning Workout

Enjoy a healthy breakfast that contains complex carbohydrates and protein within 1 hour following your workout. Doing so will replenish your energy stores and help build and repair muscle. Here are a few great post-workout breakfast ideas:

  • A yogurt parfait with granola, fruit, and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds
  • A smoothie made with yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, and some avocado, peanut butter, flax, or chia seeds for a dose of healthy fats
  • Oatmeal (made with milk for added protein), topped with dried or fresh fruit, nuts, or nut butter
  • Eggs with sautéed veggies (think: spinach, tomato, caramelized onions), a slice of whole grain toast, and a cup of reduced-fat milk. Grab a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts if you’re still hungry.

Don’t sabotage your morning workout before you even get started. Eating the right things before and after will keep you fueled and help your body recover afterwards!

Do you exercise in the morning, too? What are some of your favorite workout-fueling foods? 

About the Author

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Elle Penner, MPH, RD

Elle is a nutrition and wellness writer, recipe developer, blogger and nutrition consultant whose favorite things include her camera, carbs and quality time with her toddler. For more from this busy mama, check out Elle’s lifestyle blog or connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

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24 responses to “Should I Eat Before My Morning Workout?”

  1. Good tips. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Avatar Pandamonium1987 says:

    I don’t eat beforehand. I don’t want my brain to get a chance to figure out what I’m up to…. I just get dressed and go to the gym. Afterwards I make a mean green smoothie with frozen seasonal fruit and a good dose of spinach or kale, some plain unsweetened yogurt and two teaspoons soluble dietary fibre. Then I gobble up two hardboiled eggs for a protein boost. I’m planning to start adding some protein powder to my smoothie, because I think I’m taking in too little protein following an intense workout. I recently found a site that sells hemp seed protein powder and pea protein powder as an alternative to whey. Anxiously awaiting my order.

  3. Avatar Stephanie Gibson says:

    Some of us don’t have 30-60 minutes to wait before working out. I have
    90 minutes total between rolling out of bed and rolling out the door.
    If I don’t immediately start my 30 minute workout, I will be late for
    work – and I need those other 60 minutes to shower, dress, etc.

    • Avatar Trasista says:

      Me too. I have steel cut oats, organic pecan butter with cashews and 1/2 banana.

    • Avatar Uzerswa says:

      Have you considered breaking your work out up into 15 minute intervals? Well 20 minutes is the minimum for cardio fat burning efficiency. Also…if you aren’t able to get a meal in, in the morning research ‘back loading’. It may be contraindicated at this stage in your routine (not sure where you are at) but it’s definitely something to consider!

    • Avatar miztealady says:

      If I’m getting on the treadmill or going to curves first thing in the AM, I get a big “swig” of Bolthouse Farms Mocha Cappuccino. It helps get your metabolism started and burns calories better with at least a little something in your stomach. After I have steel cut oats with 1 T. local honey and cinnamon and a heated cup of the Bolthouse (minus the earlier “swig”). This may sound like a lot of calories, but breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

    • Avatar Nini says:

      I’m with you Stephanie. I will brush my teeth and have a glass of water then I’m headed down to my basement to start my 1hr & 15 mins workout. I eat a large bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios immediately after my workout. Then on to shower, dress and lastly walk my dog.

  4. Avatar Cody Courtney says:

    If I don’t have enough time to have some carbs before my morning workout I usually eat a banana and slug a protein shake (with about 9 grams of carbs) before going out the door or I have a pre-made smoothie in the fridge with greek yogurt, blueberries, scoop of protein, and maybe a little bit of peanut butter. Seems to be working well for me but I definitely fuel up my muscles after an intense workout with an excellent breakfast.

  5. Avatar mamastace says:

    I just started making an apple, spinach, cilantro, cucumber, pineapple juice (about 8 oz) and 2 scrambled eggs. Need it to get through 2 hour workouts Mon-Fri.

  6. Avatar Paul Dickinson says:

    I have smoothies for breakfast, and I used to make them at home and take them to work with me. I started walking to work a few months ago, and when I switched to having them at home, instead, before I walked to work, I definitely noticed the difference in my energy level.

  7. Avatar Di Stackhouse says:

    This is really good information. I didn’t use to eat before working out but I wouldn’t have a good workout. Now I eat some good carbs and have some coffee; usually about 20 minutes before working out. It’s so much better than working out on an empty stomach. After workout, I love the idea of yogurt parfait. I eat that often and use organic raspberries and blueberries with some low fat granola. Greek NF 80 calorie yogurt provides 12 gr of protein and you know all the hype about berries!

  8. Avatar Grumpellina says:

    I eat as I’m working out. Seems to work fine for me, granted that I don’t push myself too hard in the beginning of the digestion process. As soon as I feel most of it be digested is when I start to really push myself.

  9. Avatar CynicalEng says:

    My objective is fat loss. Therefore I do not eat before exercise. Science tells me this has the best outcome for fat loss.

  10. Avatar Jacqueline Fisher says:

    I prefer NOT to eat at all before working out, and not to drink either. Eating will cause me to need to find a toilet very fast & so will drinking. Also on my fasting days I’m not eating anything for 40 hours anyway & do just perfectly on my 10km run with no eating needed. In fact in that 40 hours I get 2 runs in and enough walking to walk 2 marathons. All without ‘fueling up’

    Not everyone needs to eat before it & telling people that they should is kinda backwards. I don’t know about you but I don’t feel like having to go to pee every 5 mins & really don’t like the stomach cramps & needing to poop if I eat before a run. Morning or afternoon.

    • Avatar Andrew says:

      LOL you clearly have no idea of sports science or Biology. The muscles can’t function without sufficient glucose, which is best gained from slow releasing carbohydrates. How you can run 10km and walk two marathons with no food for 40 hours, you must be superhuman. Additionally, the body takes many hours to digest food so you won’t need to poop if you exercise even 2 hours after eating. Unless what you’re eating happens to be 5 sachets of laxative powder.

      • Avatar Jacqueline Fisher says:

        Clearly you have no idea how fasting works at all, you also have no idea that this was said 3 years ago & I am STILL able to do exactly the same a then… in fact I do. You think your body does not have reserves it can grab for fuel?

        If I eat something, I have exactly 4 hours before it’s out of my system so if I eat breakfast (but I don’t have breakfast anyway)…. by the time I get my run in at lunchtime (my lunch break at work) I’m already pooping along the way.

        It’s ok, I’m sure you need to eat to workout, I don’t.

        • Avatar Andrew says:

          Yes you are right, the body does use fuel reserves. But if the body doesn’t have glucose flowing in the bloodstream it will start to look for alternative measures. The body turns to breaking down fat AND muscle, which is why if your’e ill and don’t eat you lose muscle mass and fat, and find it harder to get back on top of your fitness because your body is weaker. If you are fit enough to run 10k and walk two marathons that would suggest your body fat must be very low, possible around 12% which is very low for a woman, perhaps lower. Which would mean your body starts looking for fat or muscle around internal organs which is required to protect our organs from mechanical damage. and ultimately, you could run the risk of a fatal accident or even organ failure if you exercise
          that much without any fuel.

  11. Avatar Fraser_79 says:

    Thank for the info. Although I agree with some of the others here. I don’t have the extra time before my morning run as I would be late for work. I eat either a banana or a very small bowl of cheerios with milk immediately before the run. Then afterward some eggs or a smoothie.

  12. Avatar Junebug says:

    If I workout in the morning, I have breakfast 1-1.5hours before I workout. I find that it gives it a chance to settle that way.

    I have a banana with a tbsp of peanut butter and a hard boiled egg, and then I pack a hard boiled egg in my gym bag and just eat it in my car after I workout (I find that if I don’t do that I’m ravenous when I get home), and then I try to eat an actual meal within an hour after I get home. I pretty much do the exact same thing with evening workouts as well, but I don’t have an egg beforehand.

    I like not having to really think too hard about what I have to eat, I save my creativity for dinner haha.

  13. Avatar Theresa Levin says:

    I eat 1 package of quaker organic plain yogurt with some blueberries and 2 hardboiled eggs – egg whites only on the side. Keeps me full until lunch.

  14. Avatar Ellen says:

    I used to be able to eat before a morning workout, but I just can’t do it any more. My IBS keeps me from it. So I work out fasted and sip on BCAAs instead and eat a fantastic PWO breakfast right after!

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