Proven benefits

Eating breakfast before your workout can definitely have its benefits. In a recent study comparing men who either ate breakfast or fasted overnight prior to exercise, eating breakfast increased the rate at which their body burned carbohydrates. Those who ate breakfast also increased digestion, absorption, and metabolism of carbohydrates consumed post-workout. In short, this means that consuming carbohydrates prior to exercise can have you burn or “use” more carbohydrates both during your workout and provide those same benefits with carbohydrates consumed post workout versus going into a workout in a fasted state.

Does this apply to every workout?

Now, does this hold true for every workout? No. The type of exercise, duration and intensity plays a large part in whether or not your body will reap these benefits. The study’s “workout” was a high-intensity, hour-long spin class. The majority of benefits seen with consuming a breakfast including carbohydrates is prior to higher intensity exercise. Duration of exercise is more subjective. If the exercise lasts longer (at least one hour), but it’s low intensity there may not be a benefit to consuming carbohydrates beforehand. If you’re planning on going to a quick 30-minute HIIT class (high-intensity interval training) the intensity most likely calls for you to eat a carbohydrate-filled breakfast.

For example, is consuming breakfast prior to a gentle yoga class going to provide you with these same carbohydrate burning benefits? Most likely not. However, if it is a higher intensity yoga flow class it may. Essentially, the higher the intensity, the more likely you are to experience a metabolism increase—both during and after your workout. On the flip side, if you’re planning to do a higher-intensity workout, and decide to skip a carb-filled breakfast you run the risk of muscle fatigue, impaired skill and concentration, and increased perception of effort—meaning you may not be able to get your best workout in and may feel heavily fatigued.

Timing is important

Not only is it worth asking yourself “should I eat prior to exercising?”. There’s also the matter of when you should eat. The timing of when you eat plays a large factor in how you perform and how you feel during your workout. You want to make sure you give your body enough time to digest before you jump (no pun intended) into a workout. It’s typically recommended to consume meals 2-4 hours before exercise and snacks 30-60 minutes prior. This provides you with the nutrition you need, and helps avoid discomfort during your workout.

What should I eat and when?

So by now, you know we should consume carbohydrates before a high-intensity or longer workout, but is that all you should focus on? Studies have shown that a combination of carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein before exercise can help prevent muscle damage, which often makes our muscles feel strained and sore. Therefore, the ideal pre-workout meal or snack would consist of carbohydrates + moderate amounts of protein. To avoid any gastrointestinal issues, it’s best to avoid any high-fat and high-fiber foods prior to most workouts.

Check out the examples below to help you determine what you should eat and when.

Meals (at least 2 hours before)*

  • Greek yogurt + fruit + small amount of granola or nuts
  • Oatmeal with 1 tbsp. nut butter + fruit + cinnamon
  • 1 slice toast + 1 egg + 2 oz. smoked salmon + fruit
  • Open-faced egg & cheese sandwich + berries
  • 1 slice toast + 1 tbsp. nut butter + fruit
  • Fruit smoothie: fruit + nut butter or protein powder + leafy greens + milk/milk alternative of your choice (one of my favorite is my Jolted Mocha Smoothie)

*Tip:
If you have an early competition where you will need extra fuel and a snack won’t do it, set an alarm 2-3 hours before your competition. Eat a meal, then go back to sleep. 

Snacks (30-60 minutes before)

  • Fruit + 1 tbsp. nut butter + cinnamon
  • Greek yogurt + fruit
  • Granola bar (with at least 5g of protein & less than 5g of sugar)*
  • 1 egg + fruit

*Keep in mind that even though granola or protein bars can be a quick pre-workout snack they are still processed. It is better to consume whole foods most of the time.

Finally, each person is different. Testing the type, timing, and amount of foods and fluids consumed is crucial to see what works best for you and your workouts.

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