A happy man leaning on his kitchen counter while eating breakfast before a workout.

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Should You Work Out Before or After Eating Breakfast? These Pro Tips Make It Easy to Decide

While some people may have enough energy to exercise before breakfast, others should eat something first.

By Kathleen FeltonJune 28, 2024


Food is fuel, and you know that breakfast gives you the energy you need to power through your upcoming day, including the workout you have planned. But if that sweat session is going to be happening in the morning, you may wonder if you should work out before or after breakfast.

You certainly don’t want to feel overly full before exercising, since too much food in your belly (as well as anything heavy or hard to digest) can cue up bloating, gas, and gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort—not exactly the recipe for a fun workout. But a totally empty stomach can also make it hard to exert yourself for as long as you’d like. 

So is it better to eat something before working out in the morning, or should you wait? And if you are going to eat a pre-exercise breakfast, what should that look like? Here, nutritional experts weigh in on how to navigate the workout-or-breakfast dilemma.

Should You Work Out Before or After Breakfast?

Unfortunately, whether you should exercise before or after breakfast isn’t one-size-fits-all. “I know everyone wishes there was one ‘right’ answer to this question, but it’s highly individual,” says Anthea Levi, RD, a registered dietitian based in Brooklyn, New York.

In general, experts recommend eating about three hours before you exercise. But when it comes to fueling up before a workout, there are a number of factors to consider—when you last ate, how long or intense your workout is going to be, and whether you’re actually hungry, to name a few.

However, most people do perform best after eating at least a light snack before working out in the morning, says Frank B. Wyatt, a professor in the department of athletic training and exercise physiology at Midwestern State University. 

“If someone schedules their workout for early morning, they have basically fasted during their sleep period, which could be up to eight hours,” he explains. In this case, having something in your belly—even if it’s just a smoothie or a few bites of banana—can deliver essential energy

But, again, everyone is different, and depending on how you’re feeling when you wake up or how long your workout is going to be (a quick 15-minute yoga flow doesn’t require as much fuel as a sweaty 60-minute indoor cycling class, for example), you may feel OK holding off on breakfast.

You may have also heard that not eating before a workout has benefits. But while fasted cardio is sometimes touted for its ability to burn more fat by drawing on the body’s fat stores, research on the practice has been mixed. One small study, for example, found no meaningful change in body mass, BMI, percent body fat, or waist circumference between participants who fasted before working out and those who didn’t. “Bottom line: Even if your goal is to lose fat, fasted workouts are not the most important piece of the puzzle,” Levi says.

When to Eat Breakfast Before a Morning Workout 

So you have an early workout scheduled and aren’t sure whether breakfast should come first. According to experts, there are a few situations in which you’d likely want to eat before your morning exercise:

  • You’re hungry. It sounds obvious, but if your workout is first thing in the morning and you wake up starving, food is a must. Since experts usually recommend giving yourself about three hours between exercise and meals to digest, opt for something light in this situation, such as a banana, apple, or small piece of toast with nut butter.

  • You’re working out later in the morning. Keep the overall timing of your day in mind, too. Wyatt tells us that a pre-workout breakfast is especially important if it’s been more than four hours since you last ate. So, if you wake up at 6 AM and plan to go for a run at 11 AM, make an effort to eat breakfast around 8 AM.

  • Your workout is going to be a tough one. “If you’re planning on doing a very high-intensity workout or exercising for longer than 60 minutes, incorporating carbohydrates before or during your workout can be helpful,” Levi says. A pre-workout snack (check out some of the ideas below) will help you avoid fatigue and support your muscle recovery.

When to Eat Breakfast After a Morning Workout

Eating before early-morning exercise isn’t always essential, especially if you’re the type of person who often wakes up with high energy (lucky you!). You might decide to eat breakfast after your workout if:

  • You’re not super hungry. You know your body—and hunger levels—better than anyone. Some people do just fine when they work out before eating, experts say. So if you wake up and feel like you have the energy (and don’t have the appetite), go ahead and exercise first.

  • You’re not going to be pushing yourself too hard. “If your workout isn’t expected to be super high-intensity and last for longer than one hour, it may be OK to skip breakfast, especially if your energy levels aren’t affected by the lack of food,” says Lena Bakovic, RDN, a registered dietitian based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. 

  • You’re planning a huge meal later on. Say you’re craving a full breakfast complete with eggs, bacon, and hash browns—while delicious, your best bet is to wait until after your workout to dig in. A big, heavy meal, especially one that’s high in fat, can make you feel overly full and uncomfortable while you exercise. 

  • You have a health condition that calls for unique guidance. Some people may need to wait a little longer between meals and exercise, such as those who have diabetes and take insulin. To prevent low blood glucose, the American Diabetes Association recommends waiting three hours to work out after mealtime insulin. When in doubt, ask your practitioner what they recommend.

A young woman sitting on the couch at home eating breakfast while wearing workout clothes.

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Breakfast Ideas for Before and After Morning Workouts

Now that you know how to decide the when of your morning meal, you may be wondering about the what—as in, what foods will fuel your body best before or after a morning sweat session. Below, find a few go-to breakfast ideas from Levi and Bakovic, whether you’re looking for pre-workout or post-workout recommendations.

Pre-Workout Breakfast Ideas

Easy-to-digest carbs are the star of the show before morning exercise: Too much fat or fiber can trigger GI discomfort, but lower-fiber carbs and a small serving of protein will give your body the quick energy it needs. Here are a few snacks and light meals that fit the bill:

  • Nut butter toast. A perfect protein-carb combination, Levi says, is two slices of toast with thinly spread nut butter and a drizzle of honey.

  • Not-so-basic banana. While you can never go wrong with a quick banana, make things a little more interesting by cutting it up in a bowl along with two chopped Medjool dates and a spoonful of peanut butter.

  • Quick-and-easy rice cakes. Top one or two brown rice cakes with jam and a sprinkle of hemp seeds for extra flavor and crunch. 

  • Oatmeal. Add chopped apples and a scoop of peanut butter to this classic dish for extra energy-boosting carbs and protein. 

Post-Workout Breakfast Ideas

Experts say the best post-exercise breakfasts also serve up a combination of carbs (for energy) and protein (to help repair those muscles you pushed so hard during your workout). Here are a few ideas:

  • A protein-packed smoothie. Bakovic likes blending a smoothie made with your choice of liquid or milk, plus fruit and a scoop of protein powder. (It’s a good idea to select a protein powder from the National Sanitation Foundation’s Certified for Sport® directory if you’re looking to try one.)

  • A yogurt bowl. Stir plain Greek yogurt with fruit, granola, and anti-inflammatory toppers like cinnamon and chia seeds, Levi suggests. Each bite will deliver a protein and carb fix, as well as a good dose of fiber.

  • Egg and veggie scramble. Toss leftover veggies (think mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach) with scrambled eggs, whole-wheat toast, and fruit for a serious serving of protein, carbs, and fiber. Bonus: Sliced avocado on top adds healthy fats.

  • A nourishing sandwich. If you’re working out later in the morning, your post-workout meal may well be lunch. Bakovic recommends a sandwich made with whole-wheat bread and a lean protein source, such as chicken or turkey breast. Not in the mood for deli meat? Whole-wheat toast with nut butter is another great way to check your carb and protein boxes.

  • A glass of chocolate milk. Both Wyatt and Levi say chocolate milk is an excellent post-workout treat: “It supplies both carbohydrates and protein,” Levi says.

What About Hydration?

Eating breakfast before or after a morning workout is key, but don’t neglect your water bottle either! The best way to set yourself up for a strong AM sweat session is by drinking a glass of water as soon as you start your day, experts say.

“Everybody, whether heading to a workout or not, should be drinking water upon waking in the morning, since we’ve likely gone many hours without any fluids,” Levi says.

Since the exact amount of H2O you need will depend on a few factors—how vigorous your workout will be, for example, as well as how sweaty you get during exercise—it’s best to focus on your thirst levels and urine color, which should be pale yellow. To get there, around 16–24 ounces of water the hour or two before a morning workout should be plenty for most people, experts tell us. 

Continue hydrating while you sweat, too: In general, someone doing a moderate-intensity workout should drink between 6 and 12 ounces of water every 20 minutes or so, Bakovic says. Then, throughout the day, aim to follow the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s guidelines of 11.5–15.5 cups of liquid per day from both food and beverage sources.

But if you’re someone who sweats profusely, you’re exercising outside on a super hot day, or you’re committing to an extra-tough session (think a workout that’s 60 minutes or longer), hydration becomes even more critical. If this sounds like you, Levi suggests choosing a sports drink instead of plain water or adding an electrolyte packet to your water bottle for a hydration boost.

And, of course, listen to your body, as chugging tons of H2O before a workout may not necessarily be a good idea, either: Too much fluid sloshing around in your belly can make you feel overly full or bloated.

The Takeaway

Eating something before a workout is usually a smart idea, but it can be tricky to get the timing right when it comes to breakfast—especially since experts often recommend waiting about three hours between meals and exercise. When deciding whether to eat breakfast before or after a workout, consider the type of exercise you’re planning (high-intensity fitness requires more fuel!), how long it’s been since you last ate (if more than four hours, you might want at least a light pre-workout snack), and your current hunger and energy levels. And whatever you choose, don’t forget to drink plenty of water before and during exercise to keep hydration levels up.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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