What Should I Eat After a Morning Workout?

Oatmeal is a great protein food after your morning workout.
Image Credit: OksanaKiian/iStock/GettyImages

A morning workout routine of running, swimming, strength-building or yoga can provide you with the ability to lose weight, as well as become a far happier and more energetic person. But in order to really glean those benefits, you also need a solid post-morning workout meal.

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After an aerobic or strength-building morning workout, your body needs healthy, nutritious and protein-packed fuel in order for your muscles to rebuild and your energy to stay level throughout the day.

Focus on Protein

A morning workout can be vital to sparking your energy for the day, stretching out tight muscles and jumpstarting your metabolism. But it also uses up a lot of your energy store that you'll need to replenish through food.

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When you exercise, your muscles use glycogen — stored sugar from glucose — as well as adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, to contract and expand. Once your body uses up the glycogen and ATP, it will turn to extra oxygen but will often build up some level of lactic acid if it's not getting enough oxygen. Lactic acid is often referred to as that pain in your muscles you feel when you're holding a tough pose in yoga or running longer than you normally have.

During exercise, your body depletes these stores of glycogen, and your muscles also experience tiny tears. Your body will automatically aim to rebuild its glycogen and regrow muscles right after your workout, and eating a solid post-morning workout meal will assist your body not only in replenishing itself, but also growing new muscle.

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In fact, some will even argue that eating nothing after a workout offers no advantage and could even put you at a disadvantage, according to a September 2018 study published in Frontiers in Nutrition.

Taking the breakdown of muscle proteins during exercise into account, you'll want to focus on consuming a good amount of protein post-workout. The same September 2018 study noted that eating protein before and after workouts helped people reach peak physical performance and positively influenced their recovery for both resistance and endurance training.

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According to Harvard Health Publishing, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), or recommended daily intake, for protein is at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. But an active individual who's routinely exercising every morning will require more protein — closer to 1.4 to 1.6 grams per kilogram a day.

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To calculate how much protein (and other nutrients) you need based on your age, gender, activity level, height and weight, use a daily reference intakes calculator.

Getting Your Nutrients and Vitamins

Protein isn't everything you need after a workout. You'll need a wide variety of carbs, fats, vitamins and nutrients to fully replenish your body.

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While research has shown breakfast is an important meal no matter what, it's even more important to eat it if you're exercising in the mornings. An October 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology also found that eating breakfast could help protect against heart disease.

Another January 2019 study published in the Journal of Nutrition pointed out that skipping breakfast was associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Not to mention skipping breakfast after a workout will simply leave you feeling fatigued, dizzy and weak.

In addition to protein, you'll want to refuel with carbs and minimal fats, as well as nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables like blueberries, bananas or avocados. Despite the fact that carbs are often considered a foe of weight loss, they are important for keeping your body energized during an active lifestyle.

An October 2017 study published in Nutrition Today found that decades of research still point toward carbs being an "indispensable" part of the athlete's diet. While protein and fat are important, the study states that carbs are still the only macronutrient that can be broken down quickly enough by the body to fuel high-intensity workouts. Good sources of healthy carbs include whole-wheat grains like pasta, oats or bread, as well as starchy foods like potatoes.

In addition to eating, make sure you're staying hydrated. A one-hour morning workout can cause you to sweat and lose a lot of fluid, and you may skip the water if you're rushing to work, cooking up a quick breakfast and grabbing your coffee to go.

But it's important to drink two to three cups of water after your workout, according to Mayo Clinic — and that same amount before your workout, over the course of two to three hours.

Read more: 11 Easy Post-Workout Foods and the Science of Why They Work

Tailor Some Quick Recipes

One of the best ways to ensure you're getting all the nutrients you need in your post-morning workout meals is by planning out recipes and meals for your week that you can make quickly and easily. Armed with the knowledge you'll need to replenish protein, carbs and some fats, you can prepare meals in simple ways. Some examples of quick recipes for your breakfast after a workout include:

  • Overnight oats: You don't need to just rely on eggs for breakfast proteins. Oats, a type of whole grain, are surprisingly nutritious. Packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants and a variety of vitamins and minerals (like manganese, copper, iron and magnesium), oats are an excellent way to get your protein and carbs in the morning. Mix some oats with almond milk or Greek yogurt in a mason jar; then leave them in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you'll have a ready-to-go meal that you can combine with chopped bananas, strawberries or other fruit, drizzled almond butter or nuts.
  • Smoothies: All you need is a blender, frozen berries, bananas, almond milk or Greek yogurt, and almond butter. Or make a "green" smoothie by adding in kale, spinach or avocado. Don't forget some type of protein to make sure you're not skipping anything — protein powder or Greek yogurt can give your smoothie the substance it needs.
  • Avocado toast with eggs: A millennial favorite breakfast is nothing other than avocado toast. Toast some whole-wheat bread, slather half an avocado over it; then poach or fry two eggs and place them on top of your toast. Not only is avocado a good source of healthy fat, but the eggs will give you a protein boost.
  • Protein pancakes: To try something completely different, experiment with protein pancakes after a Saturday morning workout. You can make these pancakes with oats instead of regular flour, making them gluten-free, and combine the oats with coconut oil, protein powder, one egg, some vanilla extract, cinnamon, baking powder and a bit of salt in a blender until smooth. Fry them up in a pan and serve with bananas, strawberries or apples.

Read more: Post-Workout Meal for Weight Loss

Pre-Workout Nutrition

While your post-morning workout meals are crucial for your energy levels throughout the day, it's important to eat three solid meals a day, including healthy snacks in order to keep you fueled for your workout the next morning.

Eating a protein, fat and carb-packed breakfast doesn't mean you should fast or avoid filling meals the rest of the day. In fact, eating several hours before workouts (or the evening before workouts) can be just as important.

According to the American Heart Association, the best ways to eat before exercise include drinking enough water and consuming healthy carbs about two hours before your workout. Eating too much or too little before your workout can be detrimental to your body and can impair the benefits you'll get from exercise.

In addition to healthy pre- and post-workout meals and hydration, you'll need plenty of rest and sleep in order to see progress in fitness, endurance and muscle growth. Eating a healthy, well-balanced dinner and sleeping eight hours a night will prepare you for your morning workouts and optimize your energy.

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