How to Fuel Your Morning Workout
So, the plan is for an early-morning pre-work workout. You’re up, you’re dressed…now what? Eat the normal breakfast that you eat every day? Eat something light? Don’t eat at all?
Of course, everybody’s gut is different and what one person can tolerate another may not. But, there are some general guidelines to follow to fuel your body sufficiently to get the maximum benefit from getting your workout in the books early.
What Happens to Blood Sugar While You Sleep?
According to an article published in Sleep Medicine Clinics, even though you do not eat for extended period of time, blood glucose levels remain stable or dip slightly after sleep. Author Matt Fitzgerald concurs. In Fitzgerald’s book, Performance Nutrition for Runners, he notes that there is enough glycogen stored in the liver that will allow blood glucose levels to stay normal for 24 hours, even without taking in any carbohydrates. So, if the plan is for a short, easy morning jog, you can probably get away with waiting to eat until you return or eating something in the simple sugars category that will provide a quick increase of glucose into the bloodstream. The upside of this is that you get a burst of quick energy but the downside is that it won’t last very long and you will feel hungry again quickly.
If however, you need to get in a long run or a more intense workout such as intervals or fartleks, it would be advantageous to eat foods that will give you sustained energy over the course of a couple of hours. This may take a little more forethought and planning but will be well worth the effort as it will allow your body to better reap the benefits of a long run or an up-tempo workout.
So What Should I Eat?
According to nutrition expert, Kathleen M. Zelmen, something as simple as a glass of orange juice and high-fiber cereal with skim milk will provide steady increase and slow decrease in blood sugar that will last for several hours. The best pre-workout meals are high in carbohydrates, both simple and complex, have a moderate amount of protein and are low in fat since proteins and fats are more difficult to digest and can cause GI issues.
Some of Zelman’s favorite foods to fuel a workout include:
- Whole-grain cereal, berries and skim or low-fat milk
- Oatmeal made with skim milk, sprinkled with crushed flaxseed
- Half of a whole-grain bagel with peanut butter and banana slices
- Smoothie made with low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit and orange juice
- Poached egg on whole-wheat toast with half of a grapefruit
In the article “The Perfect Breakfast for Every Runner” on RunnersWorld.com, nutritionist Amy Gorin points to the following as some good options:
- Rice cereal with low-fat milk, topped with a dash of cinnamon with a side of grapes and diced pineapple (gluten-free)
- Instant oatmeal made with water and mixed with a spoonful of peanut butter, topped with raisins, peaches, a little maple syrup and nutmeg (vegetarian or vegan)
- Smoothie made with mango, banana, low-fat milk, low-fat Greek yogurt, a spoonful of instant oatmeal and a honey (sensitive stomach)
- Soy yogurt with diced apple and low-fat granola topped with honey and scrambled egg whites (dairy-free)
When and How Much?
In general, the more you eat, the more time you will need to digest what you’ve eaten. Although everyone processes food at different rates, the usual rule of thumb is to try to eat 30 minutes prior to a workout to give your stomach time to settle and to avoid any potential GI distress while you are out on the road.
Eating too much or foods that are high in fat will make digestion difficult, particularly because when you exercise, the body delivers blood to the muscles that need to work the hardest and in so doing, divert blood from the internal organs like the stomach, intestines and colon. The longer and more intense the workout, the more blood is sent to the working muscles and away from the gastrointestinal tract, which can result in GI issues such as cramping and diarrhea.
And Don’t Forget the Recovery!
So, you fueled yourself appropriately and had a great run. Your first impulse might be to hit the shower, dress and dash off to work. But eating for recovery is important too. According to Fitzgerald, workouts deplete energy stores, break down muscle tissue, suppress the immune system and affect the function of other body systems.
Post-workout, your body begins a variety of processes to restore homeostasis, or your resting state. Some of the processes include replacing muscle energy stores, repairing muscle proteins, restoring resting hormonal levels and resetting the neuromuscular system. All of these processes that work to get your body back to neutral constitute recovery.
In her article “What to Eat After Running”, USATF Certified Running Coach Meghan Reynolds says, “The goal is to replace lost fluids, carbohydrates (glycogen, which is your energy source during exercise) and proteins in order to speed up recovery time and be ready for the next workout,”
Your first priority should be to replace lost fluids but that within 30 to 45 minutes after running, you should also eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein at a 4-to1 ratio, meaning four grams of carbohydrates to one gram of protein. Some of Reynolds’ recommendations include scrambled eggs or an omelet with whole wheat toast or avocado and turkey slices on whole wheat toast. And if you are short on preparation time, she also recommends a protein shake with either milk or water, 12 ounces of chocolate milk, Greek yogurt or a banana or apple with nut butter.
Keep in mind that these and the pre-run food lists are only suggestions and you will need to experiment to see which are the best options for you.