What to eat before an early morning run, practice, strength training session or workout class, so you won’t end up with a stomach ache.
Finding the time for fitness isn’t always easy, and many find the early morning hours to be the only suitable time to get a workout in. Since sleep is a precious commodity, it’s likely you hit the snooze button as many times as possible, only to roll out of bed, throw on your workout gear and head out the door.
But doing so means neglecting a key element from your workout –fuel! Not only does food give you energy for exercise, but it also jumpstarts your metabolism. [Related: What’s The Deal With Fasted Workouts?]
In case you need a little reminder, carbohydrates, like those found in fruits, vegetables and grains, are the primary fuel source to power you through a workout. The body can digest carbohydrates quicker than protein and fat, so they provide quick acting fuel for morning exercise.
The body also stores carbs in the liver and muscles–this is called glycogen. After fasting for 8+ hours while asleep, your glycogen stores are basically depleted. And if you don’t eat anything, that means you’ll be running on empty (literally).
What should I eat before an early morning workout?
I know what you’re thinking… “I’m already waking up at the crack of dawn to workout, and I really don’t feel like eating that early.” Maybe it’s 5 or 6am, and food just doesn’t seem appealing. Or maybe you’re concerned that you’ll eat the wrong things and get a side stitch or stomach ache.
But if you eat the right thing, you’ll be able to avoid all of these worries. It does take some trial and error to find out what’s the right food for your body early in the morning, but it’s worth it once your figure it out.
Okay, so you wake up an hour before your workout. What should you grab?
Join the 5-Day Fueling Challenge to see if you’re fueling properly before, during and after exercise.
Opt for a food or drink that is mostly made up of simple carbohydrates. These are easy to digest and won’t sit in your stomach and cause GI distress.
How much should I eat before an early morning workout?
The answer to this questions is highly individualized. For example, I can eat a small slice of toast with nut butter an hour before a run and feel okay. Other people can’t tolerate more than half a banana.
You really need to experiment with the amount of food you eat before an early morning workout. My suggestion is to choose one thing on this list and see how it makes you feel. If you feel hungry, add another option. If you have stomach issues, eat half of that one thing.
Below are 10 easy grab and go options that require little to no preparation on busy mornings.
Some of my clients call bananas “potassium sticks” because they are packed with this important electrolyte. That said, they are also rich in easy to digest simple sugars.
Plus, bananas won’t bother your stomach. As a matter of fact, they are recommended to people who recently had a stomach virus as a tolerable food. If you feel like you can eat a little more, put a tablespoon of nut butter on your banana.
2. Dry cereal
Cereal is packed with carbs, which is what you’re body needs before an early morning workout. Look for ones that are lower in fiber and added sugar.
Some of my favorites are plain Cheerios, Chex, Puffins and Life Cereal. Grab a few handfuls before a workout and shovel them into your mouth. There’s no need for milk, which may cause some GI trouble if eaten too soon before a workout.
Although granola is often thought of as a health food, it’s actually just some oats covered in sweeteners. That’s really what your body needs before a workout. Oats are a healthy carb that can be digested quickly. And a little sugar doesn’t hurt right before exercise.
4. Apple sauce
Apple sauce is a mixture of pureed apples, spices and sometimes a hint of sweetener. Since the apples are usually peeled before making the sauce, it’s low in fiber and high in digestible carbs.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try some apple butter instead. It’s made in the slow cooker, so you can set it and forget it!
I love dates so much. They are so naturally sweet, delicious and nutritious. And they work really well in low-sugar desserts. Whenever I feel like I need a little extra fuel before a workout, I pop 2 or 3 dates in my mouth and enjoy their sweet taste and quick-acting carbs.
6. Dried Fruit
There are other dried fruits that work just as well as dates for pre-workout fuel. For example, raisins, dried apricots, dried mango, dried apples, dried watermelon and dried pineapple. I recommend looking for options that don’t have any added sugar, since the dried fruit is naturally sweet enough on its own.
7. Honey or Maple Syrup
Speaking of sugar, some people feel like they can’t eat anything in the morning, so they prefer to take a spoonful of honey or maple syrup. Since these options are essentially just sugar, they provide some quick acting fuel that will give you energy for about 20-30 minutes.
If you’re working out for longer than 30-minutes, you may need to stop to eat something. Try a banana!
8. Homemade Sports Drink
Many sports drinks on the market contain unnecessary additives, colors and flavors, but you can make your own at home with just three key components–fluid, electrolytes and carbs. The carbs in sports drinks help provide energy for exercise, and this is a great option for people who can’t stomach real food in the morning.
9. White toast
White toast is lacking in the protein and fiber department, which means it won’t keep you full for long. That said, because it’s pretty much just carbs, white toast is easy to digest and provides quick acting energy. If you like the taste of something starchy in the morning, opt for a slice of white toast.
If you have some leftover white or sweet potatoes from the night before, stick them in the microwave and eat for breakfast. Potatoes are full of incredible starchy fuel that is easy to digest. [ Related: 11 Healthy Carbs For Athletes]