Have you ever wondered what to eat before a morning workout, especially early in the morning? Like 5 am or 6 am morning?
I mean, should you even eat? If so, what? Carbs? Fats? What about protein? Whole grain toast plus peanut butter? Fruit? Protein shakes? The list goes on…
If you workout later in the day, then the food topic tends to be a bit easier of a discussion. But for those early morning workouts… well, the rules can change a bit.
What to Eat Before a Morning Workout
Below is a exert from a blog post we did, “The 5 am Workout” <== click there.
In an ideal workout, to have the best workout possible in the morning, you would want to have some food/fuel before working out, ideally about 90min to two hours beforehand. But, being real here, that won’t be the best decision if you’re getting up at 4 or 4:30 to get to the gym.
So you have a couple of options:
1.Eat a larger dinner
2a. Eat a small snack as soon as you wake up
2b. Drink a protein shake
But let’s get a bit deeper on this to help you decide what YOUR best option is.
Option 1: Don’t eat before a workout; instead, have a big dinner.
Who is this best for? – Those that tend to get nauseous with anything sitting in their stomach before a workout. Meaning that it doesn’t take much for your stomach to feel sour, so the least amount of food sitting in your gut, the better. You tend to do best feeling light, BUT you also need SOME fule for a good workout; otherwise, you have an energy crash about 30min into your session.
If this sounds like you, then eating a larger dinner can be an ideal answer.
What should you eat? – If you fall into the above category, then your last meal of the day can be your largest meal of the day can look something like this:
- 4+ oz of lean protein – such as lean steak, chicken, turkey, egg whites.
- 1/2 – 1 1/2 cup of cooked potatoes or rice -I tend not to recommend pasta or bread before bed due to their processed nature. This can lead to stomach discomfort and impact sleep quality.
- 1 cup of cooked veggies – Anything goes, don’t overthink this part.
*Portion sizes can and should vary per person*
A few things to note – Keep your food choices as at least processed as possible; the closer to nature, the better. We have found that too much-processed foods tend to cause stomach issues which can lead to crappy sleep.
As for meal timing, I would recommend 1-2 hours before bed.
Option 2a: Eat something small as soon as you wake up.
Who is this best for? – You tend to get nauseous or not have a good workout if you don’t eat; but, if you eat too much, then you get nauseous as well. You want some energy, but you want something light, something that doesn’t lean you feeling heavy for a workout.
If this sounds like you, then you have TWO options. Eat a small meal/snack or prepare a shake. (see below option 2b)
What should you eat? – We need to keep this one light. You want energy but not something heavy, something that does not take up a lot of room in your stomach. A piece of fruit or even a serving plus nut butter will give you enough fuel to get through a workout. This takes up very little stomach volume, but the natural sugars and electrolytes in fruit will curb the nauseous feeling. The nut butter will provide some slow, stable energy throughout the workout.
A few things to note – Don’t overthink this one. The goal is to get something easy and light in your stomach. It doesn’t have to be fruit either, some people do great with toast and nut butter, and others do great with nut butter only. Some are better with fruit only. There is no one size fits all model here; start with the fruit and a serving of nut butter and change it up from there, seeing what feels best to you.
Lastly, if you are sensitive to fats (nut butter, bananas, etc…), then even toast with low sugar jam or jelly is a good option. Even yogurt is excellent. Truthfully it’s hard to mess this one up; just something light that feels best to you is the correct answer.
Option 2b. Have a protein or intra-workout shake.
Who is this best for? – Just like option 2a, too much food will make you nauseous, and it doesn’t make sense to wake up at 3 am to eat then go back to bed to wake up again for a 5 am workout.
But… food may not be your best option. You want to get up and go; you prefer to drink the cals instead of eating them.
What to eat? – I recommend about 15-25g of protein powder of choice mixed with about 25g of carbs in the form of a carb powder (Gatorade is a good example). You’ll mix this in a shaker cup and sip on it before and during your workout.
A few things to note – While this may sound like a lot of work, it’s not. The most challenging part is coming up with a flavor combination that works for you, and this is a trial and error. I have personally found that orange Gatorade powder mixed with vanilla protein powder was my go-to. It’s very easy to buy Gatorade or any carb mix powder from Amazon.
What about Pre-workouts?
This one is a loaded question, and I won’t dive too deep into it but let me give you some pointers if you are looking at taking a pre-workout with your early am workouts.
-Be careful of high stimulate pre-workouts (anything over 180mg in caffeine I consider highish). They can make SOME people a bit nauseous and leave you feeling cracked out during the workout… or leaving you with an energy crash.
-Vasodilators can help. A vasodilator means opening the blood vessels to allow better oxygen transportation and allowing you to have a better ‘pump’ during the workout. I like this option because, especially in the am, the more blood you have pumping in your system, the better. (I personally use THIS from Eniva, Vascular Advantage. No stimulate, but great with the blood vessels and pump.)
-If you do a pre-workout, don’t mix with your workout shake – Drink that one separately; mix it in a small amount of water, and move on with your shake.
-Pre-workouts tend to do best with a small amount of food – This can be a trial and error process, but those pre-workouts with high stimulates (caffeine) can leave you feeling nauseous. So drink this with your small meal. Yes, you can TRY to do a pre-workout by itself with no food early in the morning but be aware of the stimulate content.
Above are just some options, not to be taken as gospel. Everyone is different, so feel free to play around and see what feels best to your body. Once you get that down, you’ll notice that your early morning workouts are so much better 🙂
In Health and Awesomeness,
Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, (and other letters behind the name) is the Owner of Rowlett Transformation Center in Rowlett, TX.
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