Having a smart breakfast before your morning workout is crucially important. You wouldn’t be able to start your car without fuel, and it can be difficult to get your body started after 8+ hours without any fuel.
There are a few things to consider when choosing the best breakfast for your workout — read on to find out how to maximise your morning routine to boost your performance.
How to Pick the Best Pre-Workout Breakfast
When considering what to eat before your morning workout, think about three things:
- How long do you have before your workout?
- What type of exercise and what intensity are you planning?
- How long will your workout last?
You might have heard all kinds of recommendations about morning meals — and they vary a lot because everyone is different. Some people feel weak or lethargic if they don’t eat a large meal, and others swear they get stomach cramps if they eat anything heavy. But if you consider the three factors listed above, you can choose the best meal to fuel your exercise.
When you’re exercising, your body focuses on fuelling your muscles that are working instead of focusing on digestion – which is why eating a large, heavy meal too close to intense exercise can give you some major stomach pain. The key is to get healthy fuel without overdoing it.
1. How long do you have before your workout?
Timing matters most — you don’t want to choose a giant, heavy breakfast if you plan to hit some hard cardio within the next twenty minutes. If possible, try to wake an hour before your workout to get hydrated and get some food in your system. If you have two or three hours before you hit the gym, you can eat a more substantial meal.
2. What type of exercise and what intensity are you planning?
There are a few extremes here that can really impact the best type of breakfast – if you are planning on a long, aerobic cardio workout, you’re going to want to focus on high quality carbs as your main food group. If you’re going for a quick lift or HIIT training session, it’s less important to have long-lasting fuel. Somewhere in between? Try a few different options and find out what makes you feel the best.
3. How long will your workout last?
If you know you’ll be in and out of the gym in under 30 minutes, you probably won’t need a giant meal to sustain your energy. If you’re hitting a long marathon training run, you’ll need to plan for fuel DURING your workout as well.
Considering all of the information above, your meals should still combine the three macros — carbs, fat, and protein. Our muscles primarily use carbs for energy, so they are one food group you don’t want to skip. Here are some ideas for breakfast meals, from lower to higher in calories, based on the workout you have planned and the timing.
Full Meal (2 or more hours before your workout)
- Whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana slices, drizzled with honey
- 2 egg omelette with veggies, side of potatoes, orange slices
- Overnight oats – old fashioned oats soaked in yogurt or milk overnight with chia seeds and frozen berries (top with peanut or almond butter)
Light Meal (1-2 hours before your workout)
- Whole grain tortilla with one scrambled egg and shredded cheese
- Yogurt with granola and diced apple, sprinkled with cinnamon
- English muffin with jam
Pre-workout snack (1 hour or less before your workout)
- Applesauce pouch (yes, the ones for kids – they are easy to take on the go!)
- Half a protein/energy bar
- Pre-workout mixed with half water, half fruit juice
Hydration — make sure you’re drinking water from the minute you wake up. Research recommends about 300ml within half an hour of your workout.1 Too much water too close to your workout can cause some discomfort, and too little can cause cramping.
Can you drink coffee or tea before a workout? This is more of a personal preference. Some people have no trouble exercising without caffeine, but others need it to get started. Be cautious about the amount of caffeine (or similar compounds) in your pre-workout if you use one so you don’t go overboard.
Take Home Message
Your pre-workout breakfast is one of the most important factors when it comes to morning workouts. However, everyone is different, so it might take some trial and error when it comes to deciding what to eat. If you take the time to consider the type, intensity, and timing of your planned workout, you can use these ideas to find a routine that is optimal for you.
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
- Sawka, M. N., Burke, L. M., Eichner, E. R., Maughan, R. J.,Montain, S. J., &Stachenfeld, N. S. (2007). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(2), 377-390.
Claire is a Registered Dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach through the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.
Talking and writing about food and fitness is at the heart of Claire’s ethos as she loves to use her experience to help others meet their health and wellness goals.
Claire is also a certified indoor cycling instructor and loves the mental and physical boost she gets from regular runs and yoga classes. When she’s not keeping fit herself, she’s cheering on her hometown’s sports teams in Pittsburgh, or cooking for her family in the kitchen.
Find out more about Claire’s experience here.