Whether or not you consider yourself a Morning Person, there are some undeniable benefits of working out in the morning. An a.m. workout can help you shake out stress, boost your mood, and make it easier to manage anxiety levels throughout the rest of the day. Squeezing physical activity into your morning gives you one less thing to worry about at the end of the day, and it can help you fall asleep faster at night.
These are all great things, but if you're waking up earlier than usual, scheduling a workout first thing in the morning can screw up your breakfast routine. Most of us have a hard time locating our workout leggings first thing in the morning, let alone making a full meal, but eating the right thing before a morning workout could make the experience more pleasant for a few reasons.
For starters, when you wake up earlier than usual, you might experience mild nausea due to low blood sugar and an out-of-whack circadian rhythm, Daniela Jodorkovsky, MD, a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, told Refinery29. And that's probably not how you want to feel going into an indoor cycling class or hot yoga studio. The best way to remedy this kind of queasiness is to eat a snack or small meal, just to get something in your stomach.
Now, if you're looking to really optimize your workout, you'd want to eat something high in carbohydrates before your workout, Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, CSSD, assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University, told Refinery29. This increases your energy levels during exercise, which you might need if you're feeling groggy, and allows you to exercise at higher intensity levels, she said. To reduce any nausea or other unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms, you'd ideally eat something low in fat and fiber, that can digest quickly, she added.
For example, you might want to eat a breakfast of peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, oatmeal with fruit and walnuts, a banana and toast, Greek yogurt, or an egg on an English muffin, Dr. Pritchett told Refinery29. All of these food combinations would provide that carb-y energy kick that you need for your regular morning workout, without making you want to barf mid-burpee. However, if your workout is on the intense side (like, if you're training for a marathon and completing a long training run), then your body would need slightly more fuel before, during, and after.
Meal timing is the last factor that can affect the way you feel during a morning workout. Ideally, you should eat about an hour before a workout so you have time to digest the food, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you have two to three hours to kill before you head to the gym, then you can get away with eating a little bit more, and you should feel fine, Dr. Pritchett told Refinery29.
While eating before a morning workout is generally net positive, there are some people who prefer to work out in a "fasted state," aka an empty stomach. The rationale is that fasted workouts help your body learn to use fuel efficiently, which over time can help you work out harder and for longer, Tiffany Chag, MS, RD, CSCS, a performance coach and registered dietician at Hospital for Special Surgery, told Refinery29. This really comes down to a matter of preference; some people find that they feel okay enough to work out without any fuel, while others need a snack to feel human.
Basically, find what breakfast routine, foods, and technique works the best for you and your workout schedule. Who knows? Maybe eating a snack is what you really need to work out and feel like a legit morning person after all.