Welcome to Ask Daily Burn, a new column dedicated to answering YOUR fitness and nutrition questions. To submit a query for a future column, join our Daily Burn 365 Facebook group.
The Question: “When and what should you eat if work out first thing in the morning? I usually wake up at 5:30 a.m. and work out, and either eat right after the workout, or I shower, get ready, and then eat. But should I also eat before my workout? I want to make sure I’m getting the most out of my morning workouts.” — Lisa N. Nathan Scheibe, Daily Burn 365 participant, Yorkville, IL
The Expert: Board-certified sports dietitian Marie Spano, RD, CSCS, CSSD.
The Answer: First of all, bravo for making your morning workouts a priority! But, yes, you should eat before you sweat — even if it’s at 5:30 a.m.
While eating up isn’t absolutely necessary before performing light workouts, like a brisk walk around your neighborhood or a little yoga flow in front of your computer, it’s vital if you want to crank out any high-intensity interval, circuit or endurance workout, Spano says. Basically, if your morning workout of choice leaves you huffing and puffing — even if it’s only for 20 or 30 minutes — or sporting awesome sweat marks, not eating beforehand will sell it short.
“First thing in the morning, you blood sugar and glycogen levels are low, decreasing the amount of carbohydrates your body has [available] to use as energy,” she explains. “Eating a higher carbohydrate breakfast — or even a small snack — can improve your brain’s ability to focus on the workout while providing the energy needed to make the most of your training.” It can also help prevent you from getting dizzy or passing out on your mat — always important!
Wondering about all of those people who say that if you want to lose weight, you should exercise on an empty stomach? While it’s true that when you work out in a fasted state, your body burns a greater proportion of calories from fat than carbohydrates, you also burn fewer calories overall. Plus, when you attempt strength training or an explosive workout on an empty stomach, you also increase the amount of breakdown in your muscles, causing you to burn calories from muscle instead of fat, Spano says. And remember, building muscle (not breaking it down) is key to boosting your metabolism.
So what should you eat before your a.m. workouts — and when? After all, you don’t want to vom after a few stomach-jostling burpees! If you’re on a tight morning schedule (and who isn’t?), throw back a handful of salted pretzels, a cup of hydrating and carbohydrate-rich fruit like a watermelon, grapes or strawberries, or a small plain or honey-drizzled waffle (or English muffin) within an hour of exercise. You’ll fuel your tank, leading to a better workout — and better results. If you manage to wake up a couple of hours before you’re scheduled to knock out your first circuit, a larger snack like two slices of toast with just a little jam or jelly on top will do the trick.
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