While we’ve thankfully gotten a break in 90+ degree temperatures, hopefully many of you took Neal’s safety tips to heart, and have adjusted your schedule during the summer to exercise in the mornings or evenings instead of during the midday heat. If you’re like me, and would prefer to get your workout in before the end of the day, that leaves a pre-workday exercise session as the best option.
However, with early morning exercise, comes the additional challenge of proper nutrition since A.) you may not be hungry when you first wake up, and B.) you don’t want a pre-exercise morning meal to give you tummy trouble and interfere with your workout.
So what if you have zero appetite in the morning and eating first thing after you wake up is an unpleasant chore? As long as you don’t get lightheaded or dizzy and can still make it through a workout, it won’t kill you to skip breakfast before exercising. However, eating something, even something very small, will likely allow you to work out longer and at a higher intensity than if you had skipped a pre-workout snack altogether, and longer and/or more intense exercise usually yields better results. Although you may hear people talk about the benefits of “fasting cardio”, or working out on an empty stomach, the research isn’t convincing. Studies show that while it may be true that you burn slightly more fat during exercise in the fasted state, you’ll likely burn less fat during the remainder of the day, resulting in zero net gain.
Here are my recommendations for choosing a pre-workout snack:
- Consider the type of exercise. A snack that might work well for you before weight-lifting or cycling might spell disaster before a run due to jostling and the increased stress on your digestive organs.
- Keep it small. 100-300 calories should suffice. You need only to consume enough to fuel your workout, not enough to equal a half-day’s worth of calories. If you have more time before your session (2+ hours), then increase the calories slightly.
- Focus on carbohydrates. Carbs provide an easy, ready source of energy for your body. Adding some protein too can help sustain you. See below for specific ideas.
- Think low-fiber, low-fat. Fiber and fat take longer to digest. Be kind to your body and give it something quick & easy to process.
- Experiment. What works for you may not work for your friend and vice versa. Be patient and try a few different options to see how you feel.
Suggested pre-workout snacks:
- Slice of toast or English muffin with peanut butter & jelly/honey
- Cereal with milk
- Granola with yogurt
- High-carb energy bar
- Banana (with or without peanut butter)
- Pre-made smoothie
- Instant oatmeal
- Juice or sports drink
Make sure to hydrate a little bit too before you start working out, and if you plan on exercising longer than an hour, bring a source of calories, such as an energy gel or dried fruit, along with you.
Finally, whether or not you eat before an early morning exercise session, eating afterwards is very important. Replenish your body with a healthy, balanced meal that includes carbohydrates & protein, ideally within 2 hours after finishing exercise.