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To Eat or Not to Eat: Nutrition for the Early Morning Exerciser

This is a pretty common question that I get for individuals who work out early in the morning. Does eating before an early workout even help? The answer is: it depends. I know, it’s a vague answer, but everyone is different!

That being said, most people do benefit from having something in the morning, especially before an intense exercise where you are doing sprints or interval training, Treadbarre, Pilatesbarre, heavy lifting, or if they are going out for a long run. Some people may say that they have read about athletes who “train low” or fast before exercise where they won’t eat before a long run or bike ride to be able to utilize fat store as energy versus carbohydrates (carbs). The truth is, these athletes have trained their bodies to do so and usually have a team of people working with them to make sure they have no adverse reactions. Research is also mixed on whether or not this actually works.

The average person who exercises for health and wellness should caution themselves from fasting before exercise. Now, I understand that if you are an early riser who is heading to the gym at 4:30-5am there is a high chance you aren’t going to get up at 3:00am to have breakfast. Many times we are lucky to put our shoes on the right foot that early in the morning before running out the door. Others of us may not work out until 9 or 10am and may have time for breakfast in the morning. What is the benefit of eating before our workout? Eating before exercise boosts your glycogen stores in the liver so it can be utilized for energy during your workout to help increase your intensity or get you through your workout without hitting a wall.

The rule of thumb is, if you are planning to have a full, breakfast meal you should be waiting up to 3 hours before doing any sort of high intensity exercise. This is to prevent gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort and bloating, and so you don’t feel weighted down during your exercise. Again, some people may say “that doesn’t happen to me and I eat an hour before” – that’s okay too! Everyone is different. Because most people don’t have 3 hours before exercising early in the morning, a lighter snack or meal can be beneficial. Ideally there is a mix of protein and carbs in this snack. If you can’t tolerate food right before you exercise, another option is having quick digesting carbs that morning or eating a snack before bed the night before. You will have to experiment with different foods and truly pay attention to your body to see what leaves you feeling your absolute best!

I have listed of each type of meal or snack below:

Heavier breakfast (3 hours prior to exercise):

Eggs, wheat toast, ½ banana, 8oz low fat milk

Oatmeal with dried fruit, almonds, 1 slice wheat toast

Plain Greek yogurt with granola, walnuts, and mixed berries


Light snack/breakfast (30min-2 hours prior to exercise):

6oz Greek yogurt

½ banana with peanut butter

6oz smoothie

6-10 almonds w/ ¼ cup dried fruit

LF cheese stick w/ crackers or 14 grapes

Protein bar (~200 kcal or less)


Quick digesting carbs (0– 30 min before exercise):

6 oz 100% fruit juice

¼ c dried fruit

Sports beans/gummies




Registered Dietitian

TPB instructor

To Eat or Not to Eat: Nutrition for the Early Morning Exerciser

Posted Thursday, July 21st, 2016