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What should you eat before a morning workout?

Guide on what to eat before a morning workout

When should you eat before a morning workout, and when can you go without? Plus, here are a few foods to eat before different workouts.

Evidence-based
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Last updated on November 29, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on November 23, 2022.

Whether to eat before a workout continues to be a controversial topic.

On the one hand, “fasted” exercising (e.g., fasted cardio) has become increasingly popular, with proponents saying it gives them more energy during a workout and leads to quicker results.

On the other hand, others praise their pre-workout meals for giving them the energy they need to sustain their workouts. Thus, you may wonder which approach is more effective.

This article reviews when you should eat before a morning workout and when you can go without food. It also lists a few great foods you can eat to power different morning workouts.

Is eating before a morning workout necessary?

Whether to eat before a morning workout depends on your goals, the type of workout and its duration, and your individual health.

After a long night of sleep, your blood sugar levels are lower than when you recently ate. This might make you feel sluggish and tired during your workout.

Therefore, a small snack before a morning workout may help increase your blood sugar levels and give you the energy to perform your best.

For many, working out soon after eating can cause stomach upset since the food has been unable to digest.

However, while it may be tempting to exercise in a fasted state, with no breakfast or snack since you woke up, this may hinder your performance in some exercises.

That said, most people can safely exercise without eating beforehand unless they exercise at high intensity for 60 minutes or longer.

Those with specific performance goals or medical conditions may need to eat before working out. For example, people with blood sugar issues such as diabetes should be fueled appropriately first.

If you have a medical condition, consider working closely with a healthcare professional to find the best approach.

All in all, pre-workout nutrition is highly individualized. It’s most effective when you tailor it to your lifestyle, goals, and body. What works for one person may not work for another, so it’s essential to experiment and see what works best for you.

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Summary: For most people, eating before a morning workout is optional and depends on your goals, workout type, duration, and how your body responds to food. That said, a small snack may enhance your performance.

Cardio training

Choosing the right pre-workout fuel can help support a cardio workout, also known as cardiorespiratory exercise.

High intensity, short duration

Duration of 30–45 minutes or less.

High-intensity, short-duration cardio exercise mainly uses muscle glycogen as fuel. Most people have enough glycogen stored in their muscles to sustain this exercise without needing to eat.

Examples of this type of exercise include:

If you’re exercising before breakfast, you may want to have a snack containing 15–75 grams of carbohydrates, depending on your preferences and your upcoming exercise session. Some athletes may want to consume even more.

Doing this 30–60 minutes before exercising may promote optimal performance.

Foods you could fuel up with include:

For some people, exercising on an empty stomach doesn’t cause any issues. If you find that works best for you, then continue it. However, if you feel lightheaded or weak, it’s probably a sign you should have something to eat.

Suggested read: Post-workout nutrition: What to eat after a workout

Moderate to high intensity, long duration

Duration of 60–90 minutes or more.

If you plan on exercising at a moderate to high-intensity level for longer than 60–90 minutes, it’s probably best to have a small meal or snack first.

This type of exercise might include:

During exercise, your body uses a mix of carbohydrates and fat as fuel. However, your body burns fat much more slowly than carbohydrates to fuel your muscles and sustain the workout.

Therefore, opt for a small meal or snack that contains 15–75 grams of carbohydrates plus some protein. Eat at least 1–3 hours before your workout — this gives your body time to digest the food.

Foods you could fuel up with include:

Low to moderate intensity, long duration

Light exercise makes fewer demands on your body. Therefore, you don’t necessarily need to eat as much beforehand.

Exercise in this category might include:

If you’re finding that you’re hungry in the middle of your workout, you may want to try having a small, protein-rich snack before you start. This will help curb your appetite without unwanted stomach discomfort.

Foods you could fuel up with include:

Summary: For workouts longer than 60 minutes, opt for a small meal or snack containing 15–75 grams of carbohydrates paired with a protein source. For low-intensity exercise or exercise shorter than 45 minutes, you can have a small snack or go without eating.

Strength training

Strength training requires greater power bursts but less “fuel in the tank” than the activities described above.

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However, having a small meal or snack before a strength training session can give you the energy to sustain the workout longer and at a higher intensity. Otherwise, you may feel too fatigued or lightheaded to perform your best.

Ideally, you’ll want to eat a meal or snack with carbohydrates and protein. The carbohydrates will provide energy, and the protein will help with muscle growth and recovery.

If you’re susceptible to stomach discomfort, aim to have your pre-workout meal or snack 1–3 hours before your workout. Alternatively, eat a light snack that you find easy to digest 30 minutes before your workout.

Foods you could fuel up with include:

Summary: A pre-workout meal or snack before strength training may help improve performance, though researchers have found mixed results. It’s best if the food you choose contains both carbs and protein. Experts don’t recommend going without food.

Specific goals

You may want to adjust your morning pre-workout nutrition if you have specific lifestyle goals.

Weight loss

Contrary to popular belief, eating fewer calories before your workout won’t yield better results. It may slow down your weight loss.

Athletes need enough fuel to perform their best. However, many other people trying to lose weight may exercise at low or moderate intensity for a relatively short duration.

If you’re one of these people, you may do just fine eating little to no food before exercising. Whether you eat before working out should be based on your preference and weight loss goals.

Before your morning workout, fuel your body with whole, minimally processed carbohydrate and protein foods such as:

Muscle growth

Beyond your genetics, you can build muscle through strength training and eating a high-protein diet. Protein can help you build stronger muscles when you pair it with various forms of resistance training.

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To continue to build muscle, you need to practice progressive overload, which means slowly adding more load (weight) or volume to your strength training routine.

If you aren’t adequately fueled before your workout, you may not feel like you have the energy to challenge your muscles enough to stimulate muscle breakdown and repair.

That said, it is still possible to gain muscle if you work out without eating beforehand. Ensure you meet appropriate daily nutrient intake goals, including consuming enough protein.

In the end, it’s up to your preferences.

If you choose to eat before working out to gain muscle, consider eating a small snack or meal with carbohydrates and protein about 1–3 hours before your workout.

To eat enough protein throughout the day to support muscle growth, consider consuming about 0.6–0.9 grams of protein per pound (1.4–2.0 grams per kg) of body weight per day.

Summary: For weight loss and muscle growth, you’ll want to ensure you’re eating enough to fuel your workouts for optimal performance. If you’re exercising when you have low energy, your workouts will suffer.

Tips

Here are some tips to help you stay on track with your morning pre-workout nutrition:

Summary: Make your morning pre-workout meals as easy as possible by planning and preparing them. Try experimenting with different foods and drinks to find out what feels best.

Summary

Eating before your morning workout will help provide your body with the fuel it needs.

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For certain types of exercise, such as strength training and long-duration cardio exercise, experts highly recommend eating a small meal or snack containing carbohydrates and a bit of protein 1–3 hours before you start.

On the other hand, if you’re doing cardio exercise for 45 minutes or less, you can probably get by without eating.

If you have blood sugar issues, feel lethargic or weak when you haven’t eaten, or feel better when you have eaten, then having a meal or snack is a good idea.

Eating before a morning workout is highly individualized, and it may take trial and error to see what works best for you.

Expert tip: Are you planning a workout tomorrow morning? Prepare your pre-workout snack or meal tonight and have it ready when you wake up. You could make some oatmeal, hard-boil a few eggs, or cut up some fruit. That gives you one less thing to worry about in the morning.

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