Getting up with the sun to exercise is hard enough, but then you have to face a serious dilemma: to eat or not to eat? According to SHAPE, finding the best food for your morning workout is key to getting the most out of your routine. You need to give your body some fuel so that you can put maximum effort into your workout, but you also don't want to eat an entire brunch-worthy spread or you'll feel stuffed, sluggish, or worse, nauseous during exercise, as Women's Health explained. Eating is important to kick-start your energy-creating metabolism and support your body while you sweat, since without food your body will start breaking down your muscles to provide energy — definitely something you don't want.
The key is to find a snack that mixes both carbohydrates and protein. Forget what you've ever heard about carbs being bad for you; as the Harvard School of Public Health explained, carbohydrates are an essential nutrient. Complex carbs provide glucose, which your body converts to energy. Meanwhile, according to the University of New Mexico, protein will give you the building blocks to rebuild the muscles you wear down as you move, leading to faster recovery times, improved strength, and overall awesome results in the toning department.
So now that you know what you need, what foods should you eat that will provide that perfect blend of carbs and protein? As a fitness instructor, through the years I've had both my share of early morning workouts and experience in knowing what to eat before them. I've put together some morning snack ideas that just about anyone can eat, whether you're a gluten-free vegan or tend to regularly get down with some Flaming Hot Cheetos. They're tasty, nutritious, and will power you up without weighing you down, setting you up to have an energy-filled day.
1. Apple Slices With Almond Butter
Super easy to throw together and a great blend of carbohydrates and protein, you can’t go wrong with apples and almond butter. Almond butter is a better option than peanut butter since, according the Lauren Felts, certified nutritionist, author, and voice behind the health blog The Holy Kale, peanuts can cause inflammation. If you’re allergic to nuts, try a sunflower seed butter. You can also go with a banana instead of an apple if you want to switch things up. The natural sugars in the fruit will help you wake up, and the fibers will keep you from crashing before your final Child’s Pose.
If you don’t feel like you can handle even a little bit of food in your stomach right after you wake up, a smoothie is a perfect option since it’s a drink you can take with you to slowly sip on as you work out to keep you energized the entire time. Personally, a smoothie before my workout always gets me ready to exercise. Another bonus? It's difficult to get tired of smoothies since the flavor combinations are truly endless; throw whatever fruits and vegetables you’ve got in your fridge and give them a whirl. Add protein powder or a scoop of nut or seed butter, some ice, water (or coconut water, if you want to get extra fancy) and hit the ground running, literally.
Your mom loves it, and for good reason: Oatmeal is not only delicious, but, according to Health, it is also full of healthy nutrients with plenty of fiber and complex carbohydrates to power you through an extra-long workout. A serving topped with berries for an antioxidant bonus and protein-filled nuts (try chopped walnuts) or seeds will make you feel warm, cozy and sated for a long time until your next post-workout meal. Your mom would be so proud.
4. Toast With Egg
Eggs are an incredible source of protein. The benefits to eating eggs range from improving your vision to reducing your risk of cancer, according to Women's Health. Pair an egg with whole-grain toast or gluten-free bread to get carbohydrates and to make your morning snack feel extra decadent. Bonus points if you get extra creative with your toast and spread some avocado on top with sliced hard boiled egg (you can also try scrambled, poached, etc.). Add some spices like red pepper flakes, salt and pepper on top and you’ll start to look forward to waking up early just to eat this tasty snack.
5. Energy Bars
If you simply don’t have the motivation to do much more than grab something to eat and go, a nutrition bar is a solid option, but be sure to check the ingredients, as some bars are actually not that good for your workouts, according to The Holy Kale. A good rule of thumb: The less ingredients, the better, and even better if those ingredients are real foods you recognize. Some solid choices include some Lara Bars (I like the Apple Pie flavor), Rise Bars, and my personal favorite, Ritual Energy bars, which contain only six ingredients and have 150 mg of natural caffeine to help give your workout that little bit of extra oomph as you rise up to seize the day.
Waking up in the morning to exercise is hard enough as it is without having hunger pains in the middle of your spin class or an upset stomach as you finish out your run. Take note of how your breakfasts affect your workouts and try one of these options if you want a surefire way to jumpstart your exercise.