Give your body and brain the fuel they need, whether you're snagging breakfast before a workout, don't have much appetite, or are running out the door.

By Jessica Girdwain and Moira Lawler
Updated July 08, 2019
Photo: Betsie Van der Meer / Getty Images

What you eat after rolling out of bed has the power to banish cravings, turbo-charge energy, and keep your weight in check. That small cup of yogurt can impact your overall health in huge ways: A study in the journal Circulation found that those who regularly skip breakfast are 27 percent more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease compared to their routine breakfast-munching peers.

"Skipping breakfast makes you more likely to overindulge at your next meal or eat midmorning snacks that are high in calories and sugar to ward off hunger until lunch," says Amari Thomsen, R.D., owner of Eat Chic Chicago.

And if the a.m. is your time to exercise, you especially need to eat breakfast beforehand. When you wake up, blood sugar levels and carb stores are way down, explains sports dietitian Michele Macedonio, R.D. Breakfast before a workout provides what your brain needs to feel alert and what your muscles need to perform at their best-so you feel zippy on the treadmill instead of fatigued and, well, just blah. (Related: What Fit Women Need to Know About Intermittent Fasting)

Don't reach for just any cereal or oatmeal, though. Different morning routines call for different morning meals. Whether you're trying to drop 10 pounds or rip through a morning strength class, one of these eight satisfying breakfasts will help you start your day on a high note.

The Best Breakfast-Before-Workout Advice: Don’t Fear Carbs!

Think of carbs in your breakfasts before workouts as energizers rather than a six-pack's enemy number one. "Carbohydrates are fuel for your muscles," says Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., a registered dietitian and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness in New York City. "Without them, your muscles cannot work as hard." They're key to keeping your body going when things get tough. A study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that eating carbs 15 minutes before exercise helped study participants run 12.8 percent longer than when they had the placebo. (FYI: Here's how many carbs you should eat per day.)

Here's why a good-carb breakfast before a workout is crucial: Your body breaks carbohydrate molecules into glucose. Glucose then gets shipped off to the muscles, where it's converted into energy and stored until your body's energy supply runs low. Eating a high-carb meal four hours before exercising could raise glycogen levels by as much as 42 percent, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. As you probably have guessed, though, not just any carb will do (sorry, candy bars and doughnuts). You have to find the carbs that'll keep you going strong until cool-down. Here's how to choose the good carbs to eat before a workout.

"Good" vs. "Bad" Carbs

A good-carb breakfast before workout generally includes whole foods like whole-wheat bread, fruit, yogurt, milk, and starchy vegetables, says Rumsey. That unprocessed aspect qualifies them as "good," or unrefined. These carbs take a slow-and-steady approach to releasing energy (that's why a morning serving of oatmeal keeps you full until lunch). Refined carbs, on the other hand, are processed, which usually means they're stripped of any beneficial nutrients by the time they hit your plate. Your body quickly absorbs these refined carbs, such as white rice, cookies, and pasta made with white flour, giving you an instant energy spike. (Ever wonder what all that sugar *really* does to your body?)

In most cases, unrefined carbs are the way to go, and processed, refined carbs are out if you want to lose weight, but the winner isn't as clear-cut when exercise is on your agenda. Since refined carbs hit your system more quickly, they could be helpful if you need a quick boost from your breakfast before a workout, says Rumsey. (Related: This Study On Carbs Might Make You Rethink Your Keto Diet Aspirations)

The Best Good-Carb Breakfasts Before Workouts

Finding out which carbs your body finds agreeable before a workout comes down to trial and error. "The choice of refined or unrefined will depend on your tolerance and how your stomach feels," says Rumsey. Digging into a bowl of oatmeal an hour or two before exercising could help one person push through to the finish, while another person might not feel like it digests quickly enough, she says.

Don't limit your carbo-loading to solid food. Sports drinks can do the trick, too. U.K. researchers asked seven athletes to ingest sports drinks with different concentrations of carbohydrates. The athletes drank 5 milliliters per kilogram of their body weight five minutes before exercising and then every 15 minutes during the workout. When they drank a solution with 6 percent carbohydrates, their endurance increased by 34 percent compared to when they drank the 10 percent concentration. Since they ran longer, they also ran about 225 meters farther. (For reference, Gatorade Thirst Quencher is right at this sweet spot of 6 percent carbohydrate concentration.)

Having a good-carb breakfast before a workout doesn't mean only eating carbs; try adding a hit of protein, too. (Here’s a handy list of high-protein foods you should eat every week.) "Carbs are the fuel, while a small amount of protein helps to prime the pump to make amino acids available for your working muscles," says Rumsey.

The Best Breakfast Before a Strength Training Workout

Make muscle-building protein a priority when you're eating breakfast before a workout that's strength-heavy, says Macedonio. Combine 1/4 cup each granola, rolled oats, chopped almonds, and raisins or dried cranberries with low-fat milk. Feel free to eat half and save the rest for tomorrow, depending on your calorie needs. (BTW, this is how much protein you should eat every day.)

After you leave the gym, aim for another 20 grams of protein, as studies show this is ideal for kick-starting the muscle-repair process. Try 6 ounces of fat-free or low-fat ricotta cheese, a cup of fat-free or low-fat Greek yogurt, or 3 ounces of sliced roast beef or roasted chicken. (Here are a few more tips about what to eat before and after a workout.)

The Best Breakfast for Weight Loss

A grande skinny caramel macchiato is not a breakfast, especially before a workout. For the same wake-you-up buzz of caffeine and healthful antioxidants and no calories, have green tea. Then make one or two eggs—the whole thing, not just the whites, since more than half of the fill-you-up protein is in the yolk—with a piece of fruit such as an apple or a cup of raspberries. This all clocks in between 135 and 240 calories and has 7 to 14 grams of protein and 4.5 to 8 grams of fiber to provide staying power until lunch, says Thomsen.

The Best Breakfast If You're Still Full from Dinner

First things, first: Eat! "That will keep your metabolism going," says Thomsen. Nibble on something light within an hour of waking up, such as a piece of fruit. And next time push up dinnertime. Eating two to three hours before going to sleep-including snacks-will give your body ample time to digest everything before the a.m.

The Best Breakfast Before a Workout Heavy On Cardio

Your muscles run on carbs as their main source of fuel when your heart's pumping while you run, spin, or sweat on an elliptical, so eat an hour before your exercise to boost energy and allow your body time to break down the meal. Swirl plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt into oatmeal and top with fresh fruit or raisins. If you have less time for breakfast before workouts, a fruit and milk or yogurt smoothie wins points for easy digestibility.

Post-sweat sesh, enjoy a mix of carbs to replenish glycogen stores and protein to maximize muscle repair, ideally within 30 minutes of your cooldown-this is the prime time when muscles are like a sponge, absorbing all those powerhouse nutrients. A 100-calorie whole-wheat sandwich thin spread with a thin layer of peanut butter and topped with a bit of honey or jelly is an easy choice, says Macedonio. (Read this if you're thinking "But what about fasted cardio?")

The Best Breakfast If You're Planning a Late Lunch

Slow-digesting fiber and protein are your BFFs when you want to quash stomach rumblings. Shoot for 7 to 10 grams of fiber and 15 to 20 grams of protein, which can deliciously be reached with a pseudo-parfait of a cup of plain fat-free or low-fat Greek yogurt, a serving of high-fiber cereal (look for those that pack at least 5 grams per serving), and fresh or frozen blueberries.

The Best Breakfast for Frequent Breakfast Skippers

The last thing you want is a pre-workout breakfast that sits like a rock in your gut, so an easy-to-digest smoothie is the way to go. Keep it healthy by blending frozen fruit and milk or a non-dairy alternative. Or buy a bottled one that contains less than 30 grams of sugar per serving and protein to slow the rate that your body absorbs that sugar and keep you fuller longer, says Thomsen. Either way, sip slowly through the morning for a dose of important vitamins and minerals. (Related: How to Make a Perfect Smoothie Every Time)

The Best Breakfast to Enjoy On the Go

On Sunday, prep Macedonio's favorite eat-on-the-run option for the week: Mix a whole-grain, high-fiber, low-sugar cereal (she likes Mini Shredded Wheat, Cheerios, or Chex); nuts (soy nuts, peanuts, or almonds); and dried fruit (raisins or cranberries), and portion out one-cup servings into sandwich bags. On your way out the door in the morning, grab a bag and a single-serving carton of low-fat milk. Or bake up a half-dozen fiber-rich breakfast muffins and freeze. Take one out the night before to thaw, or defrost it in the toaster oven when you wake up. Both options offer that perfect combo of carbs and protein to help kick your brain into gear and satisfy your hunger.

The Best Breakfast Before a Yoga Workout

Breakfast isn't one-size-fits-all for yogis. Intense, athletic-style classes call for any of the options listed previously for cardio or strength workouts. (These 10 yoga poses torch *major* calories.) Since milder versions of yoga typically don't burn as many calories, Macedonio recommends a piece of fruit or a container of applesauce before heading to the studio to pump up without weighing you down during an inversion.

Following any type of downward dog session, chopped fruit stirred into a container of fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt is a good bet, as it delivers carbs and protein to recharge your body.

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