Eating Before Exercise

Whenever I work out in the morning, I always have something to eat beforehand. I give myself about an hour to wake up, eat and warm-up before I move into my workout and it’s what works for my body.

But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.


I know a lot of people who run really early or go to the gym without eating anything; then they scarf down a big breakfast afterward. That’s fine if that’s what works for them. I’ve tried doing that and learned the hard way that my body is not impressed with a tough workout without fuel. Whenever I visit my Aunt Sue in New Hampshire we hit up Planet Fitness around 5 or 6 a.m. One time I tried going sans food and nearly passed out on the arc trainer after 30 minutes.

Another time I tried just eating an apple and once again, after 30 minutes on the arc trainer I thought I was going to either pass out or throw up. I even had to go in the bathroom to make sure I didn’t throw up on any gym equipment! I didn’t actually vomit, but it wasn’t an experience I’d like to repeat.

The only sunrise I've captured on camera. I need to get up earlier.

Since then, I’ve done a lot of experimenting with different types of breakfasts to see what works best for me. How big of a breakfast should I have? How little? What kind of food? How much to drink? I changed each variable one at a time until I found what gave me the most productive workout. I felt like I was a scientist performing an experiment on myself 🙂

The results? When I go for a run that’s five miles or less, I’ll eat one slice of whole wheat toast or a bagel thin with a thin layer of natural peanut butter and a banana. If I’m running more than five miles, I’ll throw in another slice of toast. Sometimes I get bored with the same thing though, so I swap out the banana for a thin layer of jelly instead.

PBJ = love.

If I’m going to the gym, I’ll eat oatmeal with some type of fruit mixed in: strawberries, blueberries, apples with cinnamon, whatever. For some reason the oatmeal sits with me better when I do some warm-up cardio and then hit the weights hard. I recently tested out overnight oats before heading to the gym and this was a success as well!

Deliciousness in a jar.

As for drinks, I only have water beforehand. I don’t drink coffee and milk doesn’t sit well before a workout. Bring on the chocolate milk afterward, though! If I run farther than 5 miles, I make sure to carry water or Gatorade with me, and I always have a full water bottle when I’m at the gym.

I really want the Camelbak Groove. Someone buy it for me? Or send me one?


I’ve done some research on the topic and it seems as though scientists argue about which is the better choice. Based on the articles I read, it looks like the decision ultimately depends on what your fitness goals are. Are you overweight and looking to burn more fat? If so, working out without fuel beforehand might be the best route for you because “studies suggest exercising while your body is low on food may be a good way to trim excess fat.

I’m more interested in completing an intense workout than trimming fat, so this article suggests that I’m right in deciding to eat more. A professor of sport, exercise and health sciences at Loughborough  University in Britain was quoted in the MSNBC article saying that exercise on an empty stomach “might help you get very good at burning fat, but you won’t be very good at whatever exercise it is you’re doing. Without enough fuel, you won’t get the intensity of training you need to get improvements.” I want to improve my strength and stamina, so bring on the breakfast!

What about you? Do you eat before a morning workout? What foods are best for your body?


Posted on June 13, 2011, in Exercise, Food, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I figured I’d comment here instead of on FB 🙂 I usually have 1 gluten free buckwheat waffle with 1 tbs dark chocolate chips melted on top and 4-5 sliced strawberries with a tablespoon of honey drizzled over the whole ordeal and a glass of V8-splash and of course, 1-Rhodiola tablet with 2 8-ounce glasses of water before I workout. I am looking to burn more fat, but I find that if I dont eat a good breakfast then I start to get a headache within 30 minutes and feel unbelievably exhausted and fatigued. I like that breakfast combo because i get to crave my sweet tooth but stay below 300 calories for breakfast and the V8-splash is a great way to sneak in veggies. Post workout I usually opt for a Luna gluten free protein bar and 1/2 a banana and a small glass of chocolate milk or 0% Chobani (lemon is my favorite) with 1/4 cup gluten free granola and sliced almonds for added protein. Since I’m up at 5 or 6, I usually opt for this great 500 -600 calories into my day by noon and then have lunch around 2pm and dinner by 6pm.

  2. Thanks for jumping over to the comment section 🙂 It looks like you’ve got some great eats in the morning! I’m like you — if I don’t eat beforehand, I’m a goner 30 minutes into the workout. I usually go hard during my workouts and not giving myself something beforehand just isn’t going to cut it. I’m the type of person that needs to be covered in sweat to feel like I got a great workout in and exercising on an empty stomach never does it for me.

  3. OK Sam, I think you have hit it on the head! I am training for long distance running in particular my first full Marathon. I have over the years been overweight and in fact am still aiming to loose a couple of KG’s (5lb’s). I have never been able to have a good run after eating first. I do run early in the morning, 5 or 6am. As you quoted an article ‘exercise on an empty stomach “might help you get very good at burning fat”‘ would sugest this would be an advantage for distance runners as its the biggest source of energy one can have that could last the distance is body fat!
    I ran a 42.2km (Marathon distance) training run last weekend without eating first and managed it 60sec under 4 hours. I used drink fountains for water on the way which only helped at about 25km & 35km. When finishing my run I walked 3km home and drank a protien shake (400mls skim milk + 40g protien powder) a drink of Hydralite, a banana and 1/2 hour of stretches. 98% of leg pain disapeared by bed time that night and I was able to run a 7km recovery run the next day.
    It works for me 😉

  4. Great post. I think its so important for each person to do what works best for him/her as long as they fuel properly and with enough food overall. I think it boils down to making choices that allow you to workout efficiently and provide your body with ample nutrition. Thanks for sharing!

  5. hurry up and get heeere!

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