The secret to maxing out your sweat sesh? Breakfast. Here, sports nutritionists reveal exactly what you should eat for pre- and post-workout breakfasts.

By Cassie Shortsleeve
Updated November 09, 2020
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Anyone who's ever experienced a growling stomach during Savasana or that on-the-verge-of-fainting feeling during a 6 a.m. spin class knows that acing breakfast is crucial if you also 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 Elmwood, Louisiana. So while pre-yoga eats may simply curb hunger, triathlon training meals prove key in helping you perform (and then rebuild).

TL;DR — what you should eat before a workout highly depends on what type of workout you're doing.

No matter your sweat session of choice, though, it's important to consider what to eat before a morning workout and consume any small snacks at least 20 to 30 minutes pre-workout, which leaves time for digestion. Keep any bigger meals to at least two hours before your workout, says Kimball. (Related: Tasty Meal and Snack Ideas for Before and After Exercise)

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 2.0 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 kg), you'd aim for between 76.2 and 127 g per day. (More here: How Much Protein Do You Need Per Day?)

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

Light Exercises (Easy Yoga Class or Walk)

What to eat before a workout: 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 muscle breakdown that can happen when you go a long time without eating, says Kimball.

Try: A hard boiled egg (about 7g protein), a Greek yogurt (about 17g protein), or half of a protein bar (about 10g protein). (Want to mix up your morning munchies? Try these 10 High-Protein Breakfast Ideas.)

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, says Kimball. "Just go on about your normal day."

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

What to eat before a workout: If you're going hard and long for over an hour, 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 10g protein, too, says Dr. Gerbstadt. Healthy fats can help sustain exercise, but too many can cause GI upset, says Kimball, so make sure your food has that balance.

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., a NYC-based registered dietitian and nutrition partner with KIND. Rizzo's recommendation: KIND Energy Bars, which have 230 calories with oats as the first ingredient. "Oats provide complex carbs, which take a while to digest and provide the body with sustained energy throughout your workout," she explains. (Related: Best Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks for Every Workout)

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 sweat sesh.

Try: A shake with whey protein, milk, and fresh fruit. (Blend up this Olympian's post-workout recovery smoothie.)

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

What to eat before a workout: "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 the 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 extra 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.

Note: Exercise is a key component of this equation. As delicious as energy bars are to eat while relaxing at home or sitting at a desk — something 75 percent of people do, according to KIND — energy bars are higher in calories, larger in size, and contain more carbs than other bars, so you'll want to save them just for pre-workout munching. If you're going to snack while on-the-go, opt for a bite that's higher in protein and healthy fats, two nutrients that satisfy hunger and keep you full in between meals, says Rizzo.

Try: A handful (about 4 to 6) whole-grain crackers (e.g. Triscuits) with 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 (or HIIPA class) 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 before a workout: 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." You'll also want about 20 grams of protein, says Dr. Gerbstadt.

Try: Fold-over sandwich (e.g. 3 ounces sliced turkey folded into 1 slice of whole grain bread, optional spinach leaves/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 putting together 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 our body's carbohydrate stores, she says. "Amino acids from protein can start that repair process in the muscles."

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