Ask the Diet Doctor: Eating Before a Morning Workout
Eliminate one of your excuses for a morning workout by learning what to eat
Q: When I work out in the morning, I end up starving after. If I eat before and again after, am I eating three times as many calories as I normally would be?
A: Not only will you not eat that much more, you should always fuel yourself before you exercise in the a.m. The key with working out first thing in the morning is that you want to energize your training session so you can perform at your best. Feeling sluggish and dragging through your fitness routine is no way to work out.
Despite what you may have heard, training fasted doesn't lead to greater fat loss and instead allows for excessive muscle breakdown during and after working out. I have found that having clients fuel their training sessions is the quickest way to improve workout intensity and quality. I want you to have something before you train. But unless you get up early enough to eat a meal 90 minutes before your morning workout, you won't have enough time to digest and assimilate a full solid food meal. Instead, try a snack based on your goals.
There are two basic categories that I use for pre-workout fueling-weight loss and performance-and each has its own strategy.
Weight loss: If your goal is to drop pounds, having a scoop of whey protein or 10 grams of branched chain amino acids 20 to 30 minutes before you hit the gym can be all you need to power up your session. The amino acids in the protein or BCAAs will fuel your muscles and jumpstart muscle building while preventing excessive muscle breakdown. Their makeup allows you to readily access alternate fuel sources while training, like body fat, so you burn flab, not muscle.
Performance: Your training shouldn't always be about weight loss and when it isn't, I want add additional carbohydrates to your mix. Twenty to 25 grams of carbs in the form of coconut water or a sports drink in combination with the protein or amino acids mentioned above will give your blood sugar a slight bump so that there is ample fuel coursing through your bloodstream when you hit the track or gym.
One area of workout nutrition that we have long underappreciated is the carryover effect. When you have your pre-workout drink, these nutrients carry over to well after your workout is over. For example, one research study found that having a whey protein drink before a workout resulted in blood amino acid levels being increased for up to 2 hours following the workout. Your pre-workout shake does double duty of both pre- and post-training nutrition.
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After your workout, you don't need another shake, but instead have breakfast like you normally would. The performance pre-workout strategy only adds 150 to 200 calories to your day; if you opt for just the BCAAs pre-workout, there is no caloric value. Either way, you aren't adding a lot of extra calories to your day, and the upside is a more intense and more effective workout.