The best time to have breakfast if you exercise early in the morning

If you go for a run before sunrise or take a spin class at 5 a.m., it can be hard to figure out whether it’s best to have breakfast before or after an early morning workout (or both). With so much being said about the importance of both pre-workout and post-workout meals, it feels like an awful lot of food and calculations crammed into a small window.

Nutritionists say there isn’t a definitive answer for everyone, but there are guidelines that can help you make the right decision.

“It’s a bit of an individualized recommendation,” he said Kristen Smitha spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the founder of 360 Family Food. “While not everyone needs to eat something before a workout, it may be helpful for some to eat a small, high-carb snack.”

And some people may prefer to eat small amounts before and after exercise, Smith noted.

While it’s a personal choice how to balance your meals with your workouts, nutritionists and fitness experts explain that there are several factors to consider when deciding when to eat. Also, certain foods are best for pre-workout and post-workout meals.

The benefits of eating before a morning workout

You do fuel needed to exercise. Research suggests that eating or drinking carbohydrates before exercise can improve exercise performance and allow you to exercise for longer or at a higher intensity, said carol espel, fitness director at Pritikin Longevity Center.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating carbs and protein one to four hours before exercise — but that’s not always feasible if you’re working out at 5 a.m.

Some people have stored enough energy from what they ate the night before to sustain their early workout, he said Kat Comea fitness expert and founder of Studio Sweat on Demand. “It’s all about eating intuitively and exercising intuitively, and being in tune with your body,” Kom told HuffPost. “There is no ready-made solution.”

How to Test Your Tolerance to a Pre-Workout Breakfast

People have different needs and those needs can change from day to day. Kom said if you’re just starting to exercise, you might want to eat something beforehand. If you’re a seasoned athlete, maybe not. Some people have sensitive stomachs and are at risk of getting sick if they eat before exercising.

“I can’t eat anything for two hours before my workout,” said Kom. “While my husband could probably eat a burrito and then do a HIIT workout. I always suggest my clients try different things to see what works best for them.”

The most important thing is to pay attention to how you feel during your workout, Kom explained. Do you feel sick? Light-headed? Do you feel you have enough energy to exercise at the intensity level you prefer?

If you eat before exercising and your stomach feels queasy, try skipping your pre-workout meal. If you’re not eating and feel light-headed or struggling to get through your fitness routine, try eating something next time.

“It’s important to experiment and determine what eating pattern works best for your body,” Smith said.

Several other factors can also affect when to eat, Smith said. For example, nutrition and fitness goals, medical history, length and intensity of physical activity, and the timing of your last meal.

“If you’re not a fan of eating before a workout and it doesn’t affect your performance, definitely don’t force yourself to eat anything,” Smith said.

Pre-workout hydration is more important than eating

Choosing to eat before your morning workout may be a personal choice, but Kom said everyone should try to drink water first.

Research suggests that drinking water before breakfast helped people reduce their overall calorie intake throughout the day. Studies also show that hydration plays a key role in fitness performance, injury prevention and recovery.

If you’re dehydrated, your energy levels will drop and your workout will suffer. Kom suggested drinking about 16 ounces of water in the hour before exercise.

“As soon as I get up, I’m drinking water,” she said. “I drink water on my way to the gym and when I work out.”

What to eat before exercising

If you choose to eat before your morning workout, it’s best to avoid foods high in fat and protein, as they may take longer to digest, Smith said. And don’t eat too much.

The goal is to prevent abdominal pain and minimize nausea, Kom noted.

“In general, you want to eat carbohydrate-containing foods, such as dry cereal, dried fruit, peanut butter with fruit, or oatmeal with milk and fruit,” Smith said.

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For your post-workout meal, opt for unprocessed carbs and protein, such as whole-wheat bread, peanut butter, and banana.

You should always have a post-workout meal

A post-workout meal is crucial whether you eat before exercise or not. The Mayo clinic suggests eating carbs and protein within two hours of exercise.

“After exercise, your body starts immediately rebuild glycogen stores and regrow muscle proteins,” Espel said. “Creating up these processes soon after exercise helps your body get this done faster.”

Opt for unprocessed carbs and protein, she noted. Think of: Whole wheat bread, peanut butter with banana, fruit and yogurt, a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with vegetables or a recovery smoothie.

“This can maximize protein and glycogen synthesis, boost metabolism and most importantly improve recovery,” Espel said.

Even if you’re not trying to gain a huge amount of muscle, you need to eat protein. It provides essential amino acids that your body cannot provide on its own.

According to a story previously published by HuffPost, a generally healthy person who isn’t very active should consume 0.8 grams to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (that would be about 68 grams of protein for someone who is 150 pounds), and a super-active person would need about 1.2 grams to 1.7 grams per kilogram per day (82 grams to 116 grams of protein for a 150-pound person).

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