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Should you eat before your workout?

Updated: May 8, 2023

I hear it all the time: "Should you eat before a workout?" If you’ve ever run out of energy in the middle of a morning training session after skipping breakfast, you already know the answer is yes. Whether you’re working out before or after breakfast can make a big difference to your performance and your results.

Breakfast should be a meal that keeps you fueled for your workout and the day ahead. Whatever your day holds, eating well in the morning sets you up to eat well throughout the day.

So what’s the best thing to eat before a workout? To get you energized for your workouts and beyond, let’s take a look at what you should be eating, when you should be eating it, and show you how easy it is to whip up some great pre-workout meals.

Should I work out before or after breakfast?

To get the maximum benefit from your training, you don’t go into a workout empty. But what should you eat, and when?

Ideally, your pre-workout breakfast or snack should be eaten 1-2 hours before working out. This gives your body time to process and use the food as fuel. But do you have to eat a full meal or can you just have a snack?

If you don’t eat a full breakfast prior to training, you should aim to eat a larger meal with protein and carbohydrates in the 2-hour window after your workout. This will ensure your body has what it needs to restore energy, and repair and build muscle.

You may be curious about “pre-workouts” – drinks or supplements claiming to provide energy for training. As the primary ingredient in most pre-workout products is caffeine, it’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to just have a coffee instead.

Finding the right level of nutrition for your training can take a bit of trial and error, so monitor how you feel while working out. Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or nauseous during a workout are all potential signs that you need more fuel.

What should be included in a pre-workout breakfast?

Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel. Those oats, slices of wholegrain toast, Greek yogurt, or apple slices are your morning staples. They’re all delivering carbs that will help your body power through the workout ahead.

Including protein in your breakfast is important if you’re building muscle with strength training, but less crucial for cardio. As protein takes a lot of energy to digest, don’t overdo it – too much could make you sluggish and impact your workout performance.

Likewise, a good breakfast should be lower in fat, so you get the energy boost without it sitting too heavy in your stomach before exercise.

So what does that actually look like?

I like to make homemade blueberry muffins that have 3/4 oat/buckwheat/whole wheat flour and 1/4 protein powder, replace the oil with applesauce and sweeten with maple syrup. Toast with powdered peanut butter and sliced bananas is delish because it cuts the fats down but still gives you a healthy dose of protein. A bowl of oatmeal with added protein powder, nuts/seeds, and fresh or dried fruit is a staple.

All sounds great but who has time for all that! When I'm a bit shorter on time I'll make smoothies with greens and protein powder to balance everything out. A great non-vegan option (but don't think that stops me from making a vegan option) is a breakfast sandwich. BUT!!! Hold the cheese and/or egg yolk to lower the fat - both if you have it with bacon or sausage.

I hear you... You don't want a full size breakfast. Make/buy some granola bars but watch those fats and sugars! If you don't want the full thing before a workout, cut it in half or buy the minis. (Yes they make mini bars!!) What matters is that you have something - particularly if it's going to be a hard workout.

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