The Best Pre- and Post-Workout Breakfasts for Every Exercise Practice

You shouldn't be fueling the same way for every exercise. Here, sports nutritionists reveal what you should eat for pre- and post-workout breakfasts.

Anyone who's ever experienced a growling stomach during Savasana or that on-the-verge-of-fainting feeling during an early morning spin class knows that a pre-workout breakfast is crucial if you want to ace your morning workout.

Fueling for — and recovering from — exercise matters most when you up the duration and intensity of your workout, says Molly Kimball, R.D., C.S.S.D., a sports nutritionist in New Orleans, Louisiana. So while pre-yoga eats may simply curb hunger, triathlon training meals are key in helping you perform (and then rebuild). So, that means that what you should eat before a workout highly depends on what type of exercise you're doing.

No matter your a.m. exercise of choice, though, it's important to consider the content of your pre- and post-workout breakfasts, and to consume any small snacks at least 20 to 30 minutes before you exercise, which leaves time for digestion. Keep any bigger meals to at least two hours before your workout, says Kimball.

All throughout the day — not just for pre- or post-workout breakfast — keep protein intake in mind. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training, says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., an assistant professor at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. That means if you weigh 140 pounds (about 63.5 kilograms), you'd aim for between 76.2 and 127 grams of protein per day.

So how does that translate into real food? Consider this your guide to how and what to eat for a pre- or post-workout breakfast.

Light Exercises (Easy Yoga Class or Walk)

What to eat for a pre-workout breakfast:

When you think about carbs as fuel, you'll realize that you don't need a lot to make it through a workout that isn't as taxing, says Kimball. Whole grains (and lots of fiber) can also make you gassy and bloated before a workout (not ideal), says Dr. Gerbstadt. If you find that you're always starving by the middle of class, consider a little bit of protein pre-workout to take the edge off of hunger and stop the muscle breakdown that can happen when you go a long time without eating, says Kimball.

Try: A hard-boiled egg (about 7 grams of protein), a serving of Greek yogurt (about 17 grams of protein), or half of a protein bar (about 10 grams of protein). (Want to mix up your morning munchies? Try these high-protein breakfast ideas that don't include eggs.)

What to eat for a post-workout breakfast:

If you ate beforehand and your workout is under an hour and not particularly grueling, you don't really need to worry about post-workout breakfast and nutrition, explains Kimball. "Just go on about your normal day," she says.

Long, Intense Exercise (Workouts Lasting 60-90 minutes)

What to eat for a pre-workout breakfast:

If you're going hard and long for an hour or longer, you're going to want to load up on about 30 to 40 grams of carbs — an amount that will fuel your muscles and energize you, but not weigh you down, says Kimball. Aim for a little bit of fat and about 10 grams of protein, too, suggests Dr. Gerbstadt. Healthy fats can help sustain exercise, but too many can cause gastrointestinal upset, so make sure your food has that balance, adds Kimball.

BTW, this isn't the time to wolf down a protein bar. Protein bars are ideal for post-workout snacking to replenish tired muscles, but you're better off munching on an energy bar before a long sweat, as they're typically higher in calories and carbs — the main energy source during exercise — than protein bars, says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., an NYC-based registered dietitian and nutrition partner with KIND. "Oats provide complex carbs, which take a while to digest and provide the body with sustained energy throughout your workout," she explains. (

Try: Two grainy slices of bread with almond butter or a milk and fruit smoothie with banana.

What to eat for a post-workout breakfast:

Recovery meals matter here. Mostly, you want to think about adding carbs and protein within 20 to 30 minutes of your workout, says Kimball. "The ratio that has been shown to be really effective in enhancing muscle recovery is 3 to 4 grams of carbs for every 1 gram of protein," she says. So, keep that in mind before making a post-workout breakfast after a grueling class.

Try: A shake with whey protein, milk, and fresh fruit.

Short, High-Intensity Exercise (Spin Class, HIIT Training)

What to eat for a pre-workout breakfast:

"With high-intensity, short-duration exercise, the big thing is that people can feel like they're going to get sick if they eat too much," says Kimball. Plus, if your spin class is only 30 minutes, your body has enough carbs stored in your muscles to last you beyond it (60 to 90 minutes). But for a quick energy and blood sugar lift, consider 15 grams of carbs mixed with protein, she says. Skip the fats, which can pull blood to your GI tract — away from the muscles and the cardiovascular system, says Dr. Gerbstadt.

And if you have energy bars on hand, this is an ideal time to pick one up. Your body will need quickly digestible carbs to provide energy during endurance workouts that get you huffing and puffing for at least 30 minutes, such as running, cycling, swimming, HIIT workouts, boxing, and rowing, says Rizzo.

Try: A handful (about 4 to 6) of whole-grain crackers (e.g. Triscuits) with a thin slice of cheese, or fresh fruit and string cheese or Babybel snack cheese.

What to eat for a post-workout breakfast:

What you eat for breakfast post-HIIT workout depends on your goal, says Kimball. A general rule of thumb? Aim for a 2:1 carb to protein ratio when putting together a healthy post-workout breakfast, she says.

Try: A KIND Protein bar. (For even more advice from the pros, check out what trainers say are their favorite post-workout snacks.)

Strength Training

What to eat for a pre-workout breakfast:

Weight training requires high bursts of power, so getting carbs beforehand can be beneficial, says Kimball. "Even 15 to 30 grams of carbs can give you that boost to get you through strength without adding a big calorie load to your day," she explains. You'll also want about 20 grams of protein, says Dr. Gerbstadt.

Try: A fold-over sandwich (e.g. 3 ounces sliced turkey folded into 1 slice of whole-grain bread, optional spinach leaves and tomato slice) or a power bar (e.g. a Quest Bar).

What to eat for a post-workout breakfast:

Aim for a 1:1 ratio of carbs to protein when making a post-workout breakfast after strength training, says Kimball. Carbs are your muscle's primary source of fuel for exercise. So, incorporating carbs immediately post-workout helps with muscle recovery by starting the process of replenishing your body's carbohydrate stores, she says. "Amino acids from protein can start that repair process in the muscles," she adds.

Try: About 1/2 cup of cottage cheese with peaches.

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