Early mornings can be tight on time, especially if you’re fitting in a gym sesh before the office. But whatever you do, make sure you get some nosh and do not leave the house on an empty stomach. The age old saying of: ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is really very true.
Exercising without food translates to a less than quality workout, and a lack of glucose for muscles produces side effects of weakness, dizziness, and light-headedness.
You might think that exercising in a fasted state will do you good, but it actually means that during a strenuous workout, your body will pull fuel – glycogen (stored carbohydrates) from anywhere it can. Yes, the plus side is that once the carbs are gone, the excess fat will burn up, but there’s a catch! Quick fat burning will shock the body into adjusting its metabolism and to compensate for this rapid loss of its fat reserves, will enter survival mode and burn fewer calories. So by the time you come round to eat again, your body will choose to store more fat – completely counteracting any fat burning benefits you wanted.
If you’re able to get out of bed at 5 or 6am to head for a workout, chances are you won’t be keen to chomp down a big brekkie. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to pass on the food entirely. Your body needs a carb load up – even if that’s just a small intake. Think of it like petrol. There’s only so many miles a car can do on a minimal supply before it conks out. If you’re wanting to go hard on the tread mill or smash a HIIT session then fill up with some food fuel so you’re not working on empty. Try a smoothie, or indulge in some chocolate milk – this little treat has both carbs and proteins – two essential energy-boosting nutrients, and will top up your depleted blood sugar levels after a night’s sleep. Other options are: half a banana and a tsp of peanut butter, ¼ cup of dried fruit, ½ a bagel with a tsp of cream cheese or a hard-boiled egg and small slice of toast.
A rule of thumb is the later you leave it to eat before gymming, the smaller and simpler the meal should be.
When you have some time to play with, make yourself something more substantial, aiming to eat at least an hour before your training session. Prepare a smoothie bowl, making sure that the bulk of the content is oats (2-3 tbsps). Whizz up some milk, banana (for a carb boost), blueberries (for fibre) along with ice cubes, a handful of spinach and peanut butter or honey. Add some nut toppings for a crunchy finish.
You can afford to make a bigger breakfast if you’re not going to the gym straight away. In this case, go more top heavy on the slow-release proteins and fats. Enjoy a roast chicken sarnie with salad on whole-grain bread, or an egg omelette with avocado. If you’re ok to feel like you’re having dinner in the morning, combine brown rice, lean meat and roasted veg. Keep the portion size moderate as overeating will cause blood flow to be focused on the stomach instead of to your muscles which will make you feel sick when you’re pumping and there’s no juice to fuel the reps.
What food you eat at the start of the day depends on the type of exercise you plan on doing. Want to push yourself hard with intense cardio? Then feed your body easily accessible carbs. It might go against what you class as healthy, but eating white bread with jam, coupled with some OJ will give your body a quick boost so you can give that spin class all you’ve got.
For full on sessions, choose a breakfast high in carbohydrates, and ideally eat it at least 60 minutes before in order to give your body time to break down the meal and send the nutrients where they need to go. We digest fats and proteins at a much slower rate, so these calories aren’t as readily available to burn.
Fat however is the key ingredient for providing staying power if you’re engaging in a moderate to low intensity, but sustained workout. Since fats are absorbed more slowly than carbs, it’s important to eat it two-three hours in advance of starting at the gym. Get creative with parfaits and swap the yogurt for cottage cheese, layering it up with strawberries and granola to keep you feeling satisfied for longer.
Short sessions at the gym equals less food. A smartly timed morning snack can be the perfect answer for a workout session lasting less than 60 minutes. Aim for around 100-200 calories choosing snacks such as apple slices with peanut butter and raisins or Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit. Yogurt is an easily digestible carbohydrate which gives the body quick energy to go strong on the machines.
First thing, eat! This will keep your metabolism running and stop any sugar cravings later in the morning. Opt for eggs and don’t omit the yolk, as the yellow part is the protein goodness. Combine this with a second course of apple with a handful of raspberries.
If it’s all about muscle building, then you’ll want to stock up on the protein. This provides amino acids to assist with muscle repair. Have a couple of turkey slices wrapped around avocado with shredded carrots.
Your choice of breakfast will be as different as your workout. Choose the right nutrition and you’ll notice the better performance and recovery during and after each session. Skimping on food is definitely a huge no! Start your day off with a rendition of ‘food, glorious food’ and tuck in. You’ll be halfway there to a great workout right at your kitchen table!