Should I Eat Before or After My Morning Workout Session?

One of the most common questions we are asked when it comes to nutrition and fitness is if it’s ok to eat before or after the morning workout session. First you have to understand that your diet and your workout plan should go hand in hand. A proper diet can fuel your exercise and help your body recover and adapt.

As the world of pre-workout and post-workout diet can be quite confusing, I would like to discuss in this article about some key facts around this subject.

Nutrition before a morning workout

There will always be 2 categories of people who work out in the morning: those who can’t eat before breakfast as want to avoid being side-lined with cramps; and those who can’t work out without a proper breakfast before.

While both options sound legitimate, a recent study, carried on men who were overweight but otherwise healthy, shows that after completing a one hour workout at a moderate pace, without eating before, they burned more fat when they skipped breakfast. Furthermore, researchers found exercising in that fasted state also had a positive effect on their metabolism.

Nonetheless the non-eating breakfast before exercising approach would probably work for you only if you are able to carry out your full training in this state. But if you feel like fainting in the middle of your workout and you feel like you can’t perform at your full capacity, then you shouldn’t skip your breakfast.
In general, most of us should be able to moderately exercise for 45 minutes in the morning, without having a breakfast. Nonetheless, the intensity and duration of your workout will depend on factors like what you ate and when you last ate a day before.

Should I adjust my meal depending on the type of workout?

The answer is yes. You can’t fuel your body in the same way if you plan to go for a yoga class, you want to go for a HIIT workout or you are doing a 10k run.

Researches show that when you train at a moderate pace and for a short period of time, there is no difference in performance between those who ate before aerobic exercise lasting less than an hour and those who did not. One reason why clear benefits of eating before short-duration exercise were not seen in these studies could be due to the body’s own stores of energy. Your body stores approximately 2,000 calories as glycogen and much more in body fat. All this stored energy allows you to train without eating before.

That being said, some studies have shown an improvement when carbohydrate-containing meals or supplements were consumed before exercise. Hence for short-duration workouts the performance can vary based on your own capabilities.

However, if you are going for an intense workout, lasting more than one hour, than you shouldn’t skip breakfast. The key to a better performance when you have the breakfast before you exercise is to eat slower-digesting carbs or to eat at least one hour before your workout.

What should I eat before I exercise?

As I said timing is key when you eat before your workout. So, aim to have your breakfast at least an hour before. Otherwise you will have stomach problems. That’s because more blood goes to your muscles during exercise, leaving less for digestion.

In general, you can eat a combination between carbohydrates and proteins so you can fuel your body with energy and build muscles. Make sure you avoid foods which are high in fats and fibres to avoid cramps and stomach issues. Try something like Greek yogurt with fruit or two eggs with one slice of whole-grain toast in the morning. If you don’t have the time to make you breakfast, you can also go for a protein shake.

If you are more concerned with performance than loosing fat, than you should increase the carb intake. In this case, you can have some oatmeal in the morning with a banana.

What and when should I eat after I exercise?

Regardless of whether you eat before, you’ll want to take advantage of the window of recovery, which research has shown to be within 2 hours from your exercise session. Aim to take in 16 to 25 grams of protein to refuel the muscles, plus minimally processed carbs such as fruit or starches.

A good post-workout choice of food could be Greek yoghurt with fruits, peanut butter and some fruits, post-workout recovery smoothie or turkey on whole-grain bread with vegetables.
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