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Should You Eat Breakfast Before or After a Workout?

Should You Eat Breakfast Before or After a Workout?

This is the million-dollar question which everyone is looking for the answer to. However, it is not the most black and white, nor an easy ‘yes or no’ answer. It will also depend on your own personal preference. Some of our clients wake up early and do not get hungry while on the other hand, some people are extremely hungry and will not have the energy to complete a workout without eating breakfast. I am going to clear the on the question of whether it is better to workout before or after breakfast!

I will go on to explain, what types of food are best, both pre and post workout and will also inform you of all the benefits, so you will be able to make up your mind as to what works for you. I will also include some healthy breakfast ideas to snack on prior to your workout, and great breakfast ideas for consuming post workout. Finally, I will touch on what you should be drinking and if sports drinks are good for you or not.

Is it better to exercise on an empty stomach? Or is it good to eat breakfast before working out?

The argument for eating before exercising

Eating breakfast before working out can significantly enhance your performance and overall exercise experience. Consuming a balanced meal with carbohydrates and protein provides the necessary energy to fuel your workout, improving endurance and strength. It helps maintain stable blood sugar levels, preventing fatigue and dizziness during intense physical activities.

Moreover, having breakfast kickstarts your metabolism, aiding in better calorie burning throughout the day. By eating before exercise, you also support muscle preservation and growth, ensuring that your body can recover efficiently. In essence, a pre-workout breakfast can lead to more effective and enjoyable workouts.

The argument for exercising fasted

Waiting until after your workout – including lifting weights – to have breakfast can be beneficial for those aiming to maximize fat burning and improve insulin sensitivity. Exercising on an empty stomach, or fasted cardio, encourages your body to use stored fat as an energy source, which can be advantageous for weight loss goals. Post-workout meals are also crucial for replenishing glycogen stores and aiding muscle recovery.

Eating breakfast after exercise ensures that your body efficiently absorbs nutrients, promoting muscle repair and growth. Additionally, some individuals find that exercising on an empty stomach reduces the risk of digestive discomfort, allowing for a more comfortable and focused workout session.

Exercising in the morning before eating is hugely beneficial for some people. There are many contradicting studies out there as to which is best. Some people believe that completing your workout whilst fasted means that you more likely to burn more body fat and that it is good for fat loss. This is because studies have shown that because we have fasted for roughly 7-9 hours, there is not much glucose in our liver and muscles, therefore, the body will have to utilize fat as a fuel source during exercise.

However, there is also evidence against this. Some studies prove that when your body is starved/fasted it will go into survival mode. This means your body thinks that it needs to store more energy from your next meal and it will store more fat for backup energy. It also states that you will burn less calories and it will mess up your metabolism. Other studies also show that if your body has used up all its glycogen stores, it will then start to break down muscle protein to use for energy.

Like I said it’s not straightforward! Another factor to consider is what type of training you are doing, as this will also determine when and what foods you should eat. I personally love fasted cardio. This is due to the fact that if I eat before a morning run/HIIT (High Intenstiy Interval Training) workout, I can end up feeling quite nauseous.

However, if I was to complete an early weights session, I may choose to eat something to give me that boost of energy, so therefore I can lift heavy. However, if you find you can lift weights effectively without breakfast, you can totally do that. This is a personal choice, and it is best to find out what suits your needs and your body, as we are all different.

What is the best pre-workout breakfast?

Whilst we sleep our body is burning calories in order to maintain different functions, these include; regulating body temperature, digestion, repairing cells, pumping blood etc. If you work out first thing in the morning, you may need a boost of energy. The food you eat should give you fuel for the energy needed.

However, it is very important to be fueling your body with what it needs. If you were to eat a sugary snack, this will give you a boost of energy but will not be sufficient enough and you would use this fuel very quickly. As a result you will get hungry almost immediately after and will be eating calorific foods which do not contain nutritional value.

For that reason, for most individuals a well-balanced, healthy breakfast which is rich in fibre and carbohydrates will give you the correct fuels for maintaining and enduring your workout. Another factor to consider when deciding on what to eat for breakfast is what type of training you are doing. Below I have given examples of the best types of food to eat pre/post workout, for specific types of training.

NB: If you are consuming food before you train, try to allow a minimum of 30 minutes for it to digest. If you can wait up to an hour even better.

Should I eat oats before a workout?

Eating oats before a workout can be beneficial due to their sustained energy release, high fiber content, and rich nutrient profile, which support energy metabolism and muscle function. They are generally easy to digest, reducing the risk of discomfort during exercise. However, some people might find oats too heavy if consumed too close to a workout, potentially causing bloating or sluggishness.

To maximize benefits and minimize drawbacks, eat oats about 1-2 hours before exercising and adjust the portion size according to your workout intensity.

How long should you wait before eating breakfast on an average day?

The timing of breakfast will vary massively! Some people wake up starving, others can’t think about food until 11am, and others will have phases of being both of those!

However, a general guideline for when to eat breakfast is within one to two hours of waking up. This helps to kickstart your metabolism and replenish energy stores after the overnight fast. Here are some considerations:

  1. Early Morning Workouts: If you exercise early in the morning, you might have a small snack or breakfast before working out, or you might choose to eat after your workout, depending on your body’s response and your fitness goals.

  2. Daily Routine: If you have a regular daily schedule without early morning workouts, eating breakfast within one to two hours of waking can help maintain stable blood sugar levels and provide energy for the day ahead.

  3. Personal Preferences and Goals: Some people may feel better eating breakfast immediately upon waking, while others might prefer waiting a bit longer. Listening to your body and aligning with your health and wellness goals is key.

Ultimately, the best time to eat breakfast is one that supports your overall health, energy levels, and daily activities.

Breakfast ideas for when running and other cardio (boxing, aerobics, racket sports)

Wondering what to eat in the morning after a workout? If you’re going to eat something shortly before cardio such as running, you’ll want to make sure it is light, small and easily digestible or it will likely affect your workout negatively! Here are some ideas:

The best pre workout breakfast

1 Banana & Peanut Butter
Small Oatmeal & a handful of Berries
1 Apple & a handful of Unsalted Almonds
A glass of fresh Juice

And for afterwards… post workout breakfasts and brunches ideas

½ cup of Rice & ½ cup of Broccoli
Whole Wheat Bagel with Smoked Salmon & 2 scrambled eggs
Fruit Smoothie/Protein made up of 1 cup Berries, 1 cup Milk, ¼ cup Yoghurt
Tuna on Whole Wheat Bread
Weight Training in the morning – Breakfast Ideas
Pre-Workout

1 Wholegrain Toast & Egg White Veggie Omelette
1 Banana & ⅓ cup of Greek Yogurt
½ cup of Oatmeal & Peanut Butter
Fruit Smoothie/Protein 1 cup Berries, 1 cup Milk, ¼ cup Yoghurt
Post Workout

Chicken, Rice & Veggies
Sweet Potato & Tuna
Cottage Cheese & Wholegrain Toast with Peanut Butter
Fruit Smoothie/Protein 1 cup Berries, 1 cup Milk, ¼ cup Yoghurt

How long after a hard workout should I wait to eat?

After a hard workout, it’s generally recommended to eat within 30 minutes to 2 hours. This post-workout window is crucial for replenishing glycogen stores, aiding muscle recovery, and promoting protein synthesis. Consuming a meal or snack rich in protein and carbohydrates during this period can maximize recovery and enhance muscle repair and growth. If you can’t have a full meal right away, a small snack like a protein shake, a piece of fruit with nuts, or a yogurt with granola can be beneficial.

Is granola good after a workout?

Granola can be a good post-workout option due to its balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, which are essential for recovery. The carbohydrates in granola help replenish glycogen stores, while the protein aids in muscle repair and growth. Additionally, granola often contains nuts and seeds, providing healthy fats and additional nutrients. However, some granolas can be high in added sugars and fats, which might not be ideal for everyone.

To get the most benefit, choose a granola with minimal added sugars and combine it with a source of protein, like Greek yogurt or milk, for a more balanced post-workout meal.

What should I drink when working out?

Another important factor is hydration. When working out at a moderate intensity for 1 hour, on average you will lose around 1 litre of water. Therefore, it is extremely important to remain hydrated throughout. The best liquid for keeping hydrated is water.

But are sports drinks good for you? Yes, they can be.

It is important to look for sports drinks that are those which have a sugar concentration lower (hypotonic) or equal to (isotonic) that of the blood. This is because they can quickly be absorbed from the intestine into the blood, which provides rapid rehydration. However, if you drink a sports drink with a high osmolarity (high sugar concentration) meaning there are more sugar particles in the drink than there is in blood, this will require the body to provide fluids to dilute the drink before absorption can take place. These drinks are not effective at rehydrating the body and may actually increase dehydration.

Sports drinks also contain electrolytes (usually salt). The main reason for this is that it increases the urge to drink, and also makes the drink more palatable. Sodium plays an important role in driving the thirst mechanism. As you start to exercise, blood volume drops and sodium concentrations rise. This naturally increases your urge to drink. If however you drink only water, then this dilutes the sodium concentrations, which switches off the thirst mechanism before you are fully hydrated again. Therefore, a mix of the correct kind of sports drinks and water is recommended throughout an intense session.

Summary

Although there is not one clear answer, I hope this information provides you with enough knowledge and understanding for you to choose what works best for you. Afterall, they do say ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day,’ so whatever you choose, make sure it is a balanced meal with all the macro & micro nutrients you need.

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