Question:

I usually work out at 6 or 7 am and I want to know if it’s better to eat breakfast before or after working out. If it’s after what should I eat before working out? Thank you for your help

– Santiago C.

Answer:

Optimal eating before and after a workout is all relative to the type and extent of your morning training. Some research points to greater fat burning performing cardio in a fasted state. Yet everyone seems to have a different eating schedule that works for them. Do you feel energized by a light breakfast ahead before working out or does it leave you feeling dull? Are you ravenous after working out or do you not register any hunger then?

BEFORE (approx. 30 minutes prior)

Since you don’t have the 3-4 hours ahead of time for a full meal, you can focus on a quick energy boost to restore glycogen and prime blood sugar for working muscles. If you don’t tolerate food well first thing in the morning, choose a simple carbohydrate source such as a cup of applesauce or single serving of graham crackers/pretzels with a cup of water. Move up to a mini meal of one egg plus a slice of bread and glass of milk if you feel better with solids in your system. You can also blend up a breakfast smoothie with Greek or skyr yogurt, cracked flaxseed, berries and banana.

DURING

Don’t forget about the opportunity to consume some nutrition during physical activity. For an intense exercise bout that lasts at least an hour you may consider sipping on a glucose-electrolyte beverage, aka traditional sports drink. These provide simple sugars for energy and potassium and sodium for muscle contractions and nerve impulse stimulation, as well as hydration for temperature regulation and nutrient processing.

AFTER (within 30 minutes following)

Immediately you can eat a granola-type bar you’ve packed in your locker bag or grab a protein shake from the juice bar to start off your recovery. This time is critical to nourishing your body for the whole day. Now’s the time for a heartier meal (e.g. oatmeal, lean turkey sausage and grapefruit) or a healthy breakfast wrap of eggs, spinach, feta, salsa and wheat tortilla. Choose foods with some protein and complex carbohydrate – a little fat is okay, too!

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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