To gain all the health benefits from physical activity, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of exercise five days a week or a total of about 150 minutes per week. What and when you eat can make a difference in getting the most from exercise, whether it's a brisk walk in the morning or training for a competition. Eating a large breakfast as part of your morning's preworkout routine can leave you feeling sluggish and cause indigestion. Not eating until after exercising might not give you the energy you need to finish your workout.
Whether you exercise before or after breakfast is really a personal preference and depends on your lifestyle, level of training and goals. Eating beforehand energizes your body and eliminates hunger, while eating afterward may aid in quicker fat loss.
Breakfast Before Exercising
The American Heart Association recommends taking in adequate food and fluid before, during and after exercise to help maintain blood glucose levels, maximize performance and reduce recovery time. Eating before exercising gives your body the fuel needed to sustain your energy level throughout your workout. If you exercise in the morning, give yourself time to finish breakfast at least one hour before your workout, advises the Mayo Clinic. Eating carbohydrate-rich foods to replenish glycogen stores after your overnight fast can give you the energy for a longer or more intense workout.
What to Eat Before Exercising
- Energy bar
- Fresh fruit
- Fruit smoothie
- Whole-grain toast with peanut butter
- Low-fat granola bar
If you have only five to 10 minutes before you exercise, eat a piece of fruit such as an apple or a banana. A small snack probably won’t give you extra energy, but it might ward off distracting hunger pangs. If your workout lasts longer than an hour, you should eat some carbohydrate-rich snacks during the workout.
Hydration is important, so drink water, diluted juice or a low-calorie electrolyte drink before, during and after your workout. Avoid saturated fats and excessive protein, which, according to the American Heart Association, digest slowly and take away oxygen and energy from your muscles.
Exercising Before Breakfast
Exercising before eating breakfast, known as fasted training, is when you complete your carbohydrate fueling after exercise rather than before. Research from Northumbria University found that fasted training may help boost your performance in certain circumstances.
The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, sought to find benefits to exercising after an overnight fast and whether it resulted in higher calorie consumption during the day. One finding was that the group exercising in the morning didn't experience increased appetite, hunger or food consumption later in the day.
The study also found a 20 percent increase in fat burned by the group that exercised in a fasted state compared to those who consumed breakfast before working out. The conclusion was that exercising on an empty stomach provides the best outcome for fat loss. This strategy is recommended only if your workout is not more than 60 minutes at moderate intensity.
What to Eat After Exercising
After your fasted workout, it's important to rehydrate and replenish your level of protein, which helps repair your muscles, and carbs, which help replenish your glycogen stores. Ideally, you should eat within 15 to 30 minutes after exercising with a meal that includes a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio, according to the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Although fat is necessary in your diet, you can help your body absorb carbs quicker by eating low-fat recovery foods. Some suggestions for recovery snacks and meals are:
- Fruit and nonfat yogurt
- A bowl of granola or whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk
- Almond butter and banana on whole wheat toast
- Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables
- Egg omelet with avocado on toast
What Research Says
Various studies have shown that fasted exercise increases fat oxidation and the use of fatty acids as a fuel source for positive weight loss. Australian researchers re-evaluated these findings with a systematic review of five previous studies involving 96 participants to examine the effects of morning exercise after fasting compared to exercise after breakfast on weight loss and body composition.
The outcome of the study, published in the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology in 2017, revealed no significant difference in weight loss or changes in fat index between the groups that exercised before or after breakfast. Results also found no detrimental effect on body mass and body composition with overnight fasting before a workout. The conclusion suggests that individuals can choose to eat before or after workout for equal improvements in body composition.
- American College of Sports Medicine: The Science of Exercise
- Mayo Clinic: Eating and Exercise: 5 Tips to Maximize Your Workouts
- American Heart Association: Food as Fuel Before, During and After Workouts
- Cambridge Core: Breakfast and Exercise Contingently Affect Postprandial Metabolism and Energy Balance in Physically Active Males
- Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology: Effect of Overnight Fasted Exercise on Weight Loss and Body Composition
- U.S. Figure Skating Association: What Is Recovery Nutrition and Why Is It Important?