Have you ever experienced planning out a morning workout the night before, and feeling pumped up to start this morning routine? Then the clock hits 6 a.m. and as you groggily rouse yourself up, you feel that loud grumbling in your stomach, and you wonder what you should eat before you take on the task at hand. Have you ever internally debated whether you should take a cereal or a smoothie, a bagel or a bowl of oatmeal, or whether it is better to eat nothing at all?
Acing your breakfast is crucial if you also want to ace your morning workout. The quality of your morning workout depends on what you eat before hitting the gym. Portion control and macronutrient ratios are difficult enough, but this time of day is tricky. Consume too much, and you’ll likely see it again shortly after your workout begins. Consume too little, and your performance may suffer as a result.
Read on to find out what to choose—and what to avoid.
Guard Your Muscles with Protein
All throughout the day, keep your protein intake in mind. If you rush into your morning workout without having eaten anything, you’re training in a fasted state. Roughly three hours after a protein-rich meal, your body returns to a negative protein balance in which you can’t protect precious muscle mass from significant breakdown. So, your body’s liable to very catabolic after eight hours of sleep.
In order to prevent this extreme negative balance, you should consume protein prior to training. Amino acids (what proteins are broken down into) directly instigate muscle building and also assist with recovery and growth over time.
What to Eat and How Much
Any low-fat source of protein is a great option such as egg whites, lean deli meat and chicken breast to take the edge off of hunger and stop muscle breakdown that can happen when you go a long time without eating. If you want to minimize any risk of stomach discomfort heading into your workout, you may prefer a faster-digesting protein source, like whey protein or a BCAA supplement. Either choice works out great, but if you drink rather than eat this first meal, choose a whey protein supplement in place of a BCAA supplement.
You should consume at least enough protein to provide 2-3 grams of the amino acid leucine, (the key amino acid responsible for instigating muscle building) whatever your protein source may be. This amount is called the leucine threshold which varies based on age and size. Once that minimum threshold is reached, muscle building ensures.
Carbohydrates as Your Primary Fuel Source
Carbohydrates are your muscle’s primary energy source. When it gets broken down into glucose, it serves as fuel to your muscles and brain. When carbs aren’t immediately used as fuel, they are either stored in the liver or muscle as glycogen, where they can be harvested at a later time, when energy demands are high (such as during exercise). Liver glycogen is significantly depleted overnight, as the brain and central nervous system require fuel to carry out essential functions throughout the night.
Since liver glycogen is also the first source of energy during low-intensity exercise, jumping into a workout after waking up without any carbs can be problematic. A depleted fuel tank can lead to early-onset fatigue and a paltry workout. Yet eating too much, eating the wrong type of carb, or eating at all, may slow you down and sabotage performance.
What to Eat and How Much
There’s no one-size-fits-all pre-workout portion size for carbs. Rice cakes, Fig Newtons, pretzels, dried fruit, and bananas are all excellent options. Maybe you have an iron stomach and can tolerate a cup or two of oats. Maybe half a banana is all you can handle. Try a few different amounts and a few different foods. You can also mix your whey protein or BCAA supplement with a sports drink or dextrose powder. Begin sipping on this drink as you head to the gym, and continue it throughout your workout.
To maximize energy availability and minimize stomach discomfort, choose low-fiber, quick-digesting carbs. See how you feel and perform during your training. Over time, you’ll find that go-to source to maximize your energy during training.
Save Fats For Later
If you’re pressed for time, a high-fat meal won’t do you any good since fat sows digestion. Small amounts won’t hurt, but choosing high-fat proteins or dollops of peanut butter may work against you.
Here are some combinations that should leave your body primed for excellent performance early in the morning:
- Rice Cakes and Whey Protein Icing: Mix 1 scoop of whey protein with a drizzle of water and stir until viscous. Spread atop a few rice cakes.
- Lean Deli Meat Wrap: Place 6-8 slices of your favorite lean deli meat (chicken breast, turkey breast, ham, roast beef) atop a low-fiber tortilla.
- Breakfast Sandwich: Quickly scramble a few egg whites, roast up a few slices of Canadian bacon, and throw each atop a plain mini bagel.
Start these ideal morning pre-workout breakfast now!