Mornings can be brutal, especially early mornings. When that alarm goes off at the crack of dawn for your workout, rolling out of bed can feel next to impossible. You may be tempted to snooze away the gym and sleep in instead.
But don’t give in! Dragging your sleepy soul out from under the covers and getting in a morning sweat session does wonders for your health and productivity. Studies show starting your day with exercise makes you less stressed, more motivated to eat well, and more focused at work.
The trick is fueling up properly so you don’t feel like a zombie stumbling through your workout. Eat the right foods before early morning exercise and it can provide lasting energy to turn you into a fitness machine. Skimp on your pre-workout fuel and you’ll probably lack the power to even turn on your fitness machine, never mind use it!
Choosing the best foods and timing your snacks correctly allows you to power through your early exercise, prevent muscle loss, stabilize blood sugar, and set yourself up for an awesome day. Read on to learn how to fuel up!
Benefits of Eating Before an Early Workout
Working up a hunger before your early morning workout provides some excellent benefits beyond just energy:
Maintains Energy Levels
Exercising first thing fasted makes it very difficult for your body to maintain blood sugar and energy levels. Eating something small one hour before provides a source of fuel to draw from so you don’t bonk halfway through your workout. No one wants to be that sad sack crawling to the finish on the treadmill!
Prevents Muscle Loss
Going into a workout without fueling up, especially if you lift, can lead to excess muscle loss versus fat burning. Give your body energy it can use instead of forcing it to gnaw away at valuable muscle stores just to get you through. Protect your hard-earned muscles and eat first!
Keeps Blood Sugar Stable
Eating a mix of smart carbs, protein and fats before an early workout maintains steady blood sugar levels. This prevents the spike and crash cycle that can leave you feeling drained when exercising on an empty tank. Stable blood sugar = steady energy that lasts through even the longest workouts.
The 13 Minute Rule
For the best bang for your caloric buck, it’s ideal to finish eating about 30-45 minutes prior to working out. This gives your body adequate time to digest some or all of the pre-workout meal/snack. Any longer and most of the fuel will already be used up or stored away. Any less and you risk a belly ache mid-burpee!
I call this the 13 minute rule because let’s be honest – no one has time to perfectly plan some elaborate breakfast an exact half hour before working out at 5am. But most of us can scramble together a quick bite 13 minutes before dragging our butts to the gym. Choose your fuel from the options below and follow the 13 minute rule for the perfect balance of uninterrupted energy.
Foods That Provide Sustained Energy
Starting your day with some unrefined whole grains provides slow burning carbs with fiber to gently maintain blood sugar and energy levels. Whole grains take longer for your body to break down than refined breads and cereals, giving you hours of unwavering energy instead of a quick spike and crash. Exactly what you need first thing in the morning before a workout!
Oatmeal is truly the breakfast hero, especially for early morning workouts. It comes packed with complex carbs, 4 grams of satisfying protein and 4 grams of fiber per serving to provide time-released energy. Studies also show people feel fuller longer after eating oatmeal versus cold cereal, keeping hunger pangs at bay well into your workout.
Simply mix some quick oats with peanut butter and maple syrup or fruit and milk of choice at least 13 minutes before your workout. The complex carbs, protein and healthy fats blaze energy over time, not all at once. Steel cut or overnight oats work great too if you prep them the night before!
Whole Grain Toast
If oatmeal isn’t your jam, never fear. Even something as simple as whole grain toast topped with peanut butter and banana provides lasting fuel for your early workout. Look for bread with at least 3 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per slice to stabilize blood sugar and give those muscles strength.
Fruit works wonderfully for a quick pre-workout energy boost thanks to natural sugars and vitamins. Pair fruit with a protein like yogurt or nut butter to optimize energy even more.
Grab and go! Bananas contain 12% of your daily value of potassium, an electrolyte which helps your muscles contract and function properly. The resistant starchfunctions as a healthy carb, broken down slowly for hours of energy release.
Simply snack on a banana about 13 minutes before your workout. Or take it up a notch by smearing it with almond butter or slicing into Greek yogurt for a powerful protein punch.
An apple a day keeps the energy crash away! Apples provide a hefty 14% daily value of fiber to help control blood sugar levels so energy stays steady throughout your sweat session. Apples are also high in B vitamins which convert carbs into glucose, an easily accessible energy source.
Pair apple slices with nut butter, or blend it into a fruit smoothie with protein powder for an energizing pre-workout drink.
Dairy products like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese contain powerhouse blends of protein, carbs and vitamins which fuel energy levels long term before an early workout.
Creamy, satisfying Greek yogurt provides an ideal balance of carbohydrates and protein for sustained energy. Just six ounces offers around 17 grams of hunger-quelling protein plus probiotics for healthy digestion and gut function.
Mix your yogurt with fruit, nuts, seeds or nut butter to add extra staying power. Granola or other whole grain crunchy toppings also balance out the texture nicely first thing in the morning.
Did someone say protein? Just half a cup of cottage cheese packs a whopping 14 grams, including the slow-digesting casein protein to provide ongoing energy for hours. Even plain cottage cheese contains healthy probiotics, plus 9% of your daily calcium needs for just 80 calories.
Jazz up boring cottage cheese with sliced fruit, nuts, honey or chia seeds as an energizing early morning treat before your workout.
Packed with protein, iron, vitamins and minerals, eggs are an athlete’s dream food to power tough morning workouts. Eggs fill you up, make muscles strong and boost metabolism to turn that pre-workout fuel into serious energy.
Scramble one or two whole eggs plus extra egg whites to pack roughly 17-20 grams of protein into your early morning meal. Pair your eggs with whole grain toast, veggies or fruit to balance out the meal nutritionally.
Some people experience nausea when eating protein-heavy foods like eggs too soon before working out. If that describes you, stick to lighter proteins or non-egg options within the 13 minute pre-workout fuel window.
Other Tips for Boosting Energy Before an Early Morning Workout
Hydrate – Don’t forget to drink up! Being even mildly dehydrated zaps energy and strength fast. Sip at least 16oz water as soon as you wake up then continue drinking in the 30+ minutes leading into your workout. Factor in extra hydration if you sweat heavily.
Caffeinate (carefully) – That strong morning coffee provides a lovely energy lift via caffeine without spiking blood sugar. But for some people, drinking coffee soon before exercise causes urgent bathroom issues! Caffeinate safely by having coffee at least 30 minutes prior to lacing up.
Avoid Fatty Foods – While healthy fats provide sustained energy from meals, too much can delay digestion and feel heavy for workouts. Limit high-fat options like cheese, greasy meats, fried foods or creamy sauces close to workout time.
Reduce Sugar – Simple sugars and refined carbs like juice, candy, soda, white bread, cereal and flakes digest almost too fast. They spike then drop energy quickly, something to avoid right before hitting the gym. Limit added or refined sugars pre-workout.
Time it Right – As a general guideline, have a snack or small meal about 30-60 minutes pre-workout so you begin exercising before hunger sets in. But even just 100 calories of perfectly timed fuel 13 minutes beforehand provides an energy assist.
The right foods at the right times can help you crush early morning workouts, no matter how much you love your snooze button. Follow the 13 minute quick bite rule, emphasize smart carb and protein combos over refined foods, and drink plenty of water.
With sustained energy stores to power through exercise and prevent muscle loss, you’ll bounce out of bed