Skipping meals, especially before a workout, can thwart your goals to slim down. A pre-workout breakfast gives you the energy to go harder and burn more calories during exercise. When you make the right choices, breakfast can also help curb your appetite later in the day so you stick to a lower calorie plan and see results faster.
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Planning Your Meal
A meal higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fat gives you the energy you need to complete a hard strength or cardio session. Your body digests protein and fat slowly, so these calories aren't readily available to burn during your workout. But a small amount of protein provides amino acids that assist muscle repair and may reduce post-workout muscle soreness. Carbohydrates provide you with the fuel you need right away. Examples of higher carb, lower protein breakfasts include a slice of whole-wheat toast with a smear of peanut butter and half of a banana, an English muffin with a poached egg, or a cup of plain yogurt topped with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey.
You're going to exercise, which burns calories, but that doesn't give you license to splurge at a pre-workout breakfast. Keep your intake between 200 and 400 calories, depending on your total budget for the day. Don't be concerned that a pre-workout breakfast will put you over your daily calorie limit. A study published in July 2011 in "The Journal of Nutrition" found that participants who ate breakfast consumed 17 percent fewer calories, on average, at lunch. If you skip breakfast, you're likely to consume more calories later to compensate.
Timing Is Everything
If you've got three to four hours before you hit the gym, a full breakfast that contains 300 to 400 calories -- such as a whole-wheat waffle with berries and yogurt or a large smoothie with whey protein and frozen fruit -- digests and satisfies while offering up quality fuel. When you eat breakfast so far in advance of your session, have a 100-calorie snack, such as a banana or string cheese with a few crackers, just before you work out, if you're going 60 minutes or longer. If your workout falls an hour or two after your breakfast, keep your meal small -- a 200-calorie bowl of whole-grain cereal with 1/2 cup of low-fat milk, or a smoothie made with half a banana, a few berries and whey protein will suffice.
Be Wary of Convenience
A whole-foods breakfast offers the most benefit before you work out. Labels on energy bars tout their supposed nutritional benefits, but in reality, they're often just candy bars in healthy wrapping. Energy bars can be high in sugar and calories, without offering a lot of satisfaction. If you can't resist their convenience, opt for ones with just 200 calories, about 5 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbohydrates. Also look for those made with mostly whole-food ingredients -- those that you can pronounce and recognize as real food, such as dates and nuts.