Should I Eat Breakfast Before Or After A Workout


Should I eat breakfast before or after a workout? That would depend on a few factors. If you’re like most people, you’re concerned about your weight and would like to know whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If your routine involves exercise, you would want to learn the advantages and disadvantages of eating breakfast before or after your workout. That way, you can take the necessary steps to enhance your performance.

Breakfast Before or After a Workout?

Should I eat breakfast before or after a workout?

There are some debates you and your buddies will never settle. That’s all right. We’ll do it for you. (We did it for a reader’s debacle over the most important exercise, pushups or pullups.)

The question of the day remains preferential: Is it better to eat breakfast before or after a workout? Some people aren’t hungry in the morning, while others believe they won’t have enough energy without getting something in their system before hitting the gym or pounding the pavement. But research has taken a stance.

The premise: Breakfast is billed as the most important meal of the day—but you may want to hold off on eating it until after your daily workout. Researchers in Belgium set up a six-week study to determine if the order of men’s morning routines would make a difference in terms of weight loss and other health aspects. “We hypothesized that training in the fasted state would be a better strategy to improve fat metabolism,” says the study’s lead author Karen Van Proeyen, Ph.D. “However, we were rather surprised that almost all measured parameters were more beneficially affected following a training program before breakfast, compared with a similar training session after breakfast.”

The set-up: The researchers recruited 28 healthy, active men and tweaked their daily diets to include 50 percent more fat and 30 percent more calories (to enhance the effect). The men were then broken into three groups. The first group endured no exercise at all, while the other two groups were both given grueling morning exercise routines. Four times a week, they ran and cycled at intense levels. However, of those two groups, one worked out after a carbohydrate-rich breakfast and drank sports drinks throughout their workout. The other group drank only water and ate breakfast after hitting the gym.

The results: The group that didn’t exercise at all gained an average of more than six pounds (we’re surprised it wasn’t more!). They also developed unhealthy conditions that are often precursors of diabetes including an insulin resistance. The men who ate breakfast before exercising also gained weight (although only about half as much as the first group) and similar cautionary diabetes signs. The group that exercised before breakfast gained almost no weight and showed no signs of insulin resistance. They also burned the extra dietary fat more efficiently.

Benefits of Fasted Workouts (Exercising Before Eating)

fasted workout is where you abstain from all food and drink other than water, for anywhere from eight to 12 hours before a workout.

Fasted cardio is low-intensity steady-state cardio performed first thing in the morning; on an empty stomach. Here’s the benefits of fasted cardio: 

1 – Burn fat

By working out when our glycogen stores are depleted, our bodies begin to burn fat for energy. 

You burn more fat when exercising before breakfast.

In one study of 10 healthy men, the group who exercised before eating breakfast (the other group worked out later in the day—after eating) showed increased fat oxidation for up to 24 hours after their workout. Both groups burned the same amount of calories, but the group who exercised before eating burned more fat.

In another study of nine healthy females, those who exercised before eating breakfast—after fasting overnight—also showed an increase in fat oxidation for up to 24 hours after their workout, compared to those in the study who worked out at other times during the day after meals.

The intensity of the workout matters when you’re fasting. 

According to one meta-analysis of recent fasting studies, the researchers found that low-to-moderate intensity aerobic exercise performed in the fasted state led to higher fat oxidation compared with a fed state. 

However, there was no significant fat oxidation difference between fasted and fed states during moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise.

A group of students practicing yoga in class.
Lower-intensity workouts before eating can burn more fat.

2 – Easier to commit

When you get straight to your workout before having breakfast, there’s less of a chance you’ll be derailed. 

Tip: Make working out the first item on your daily to-do list if you have a tendency to get sidetracked.

3 – Regulate blood sugar levels 

Eating carbs can cause blood sugar levels to spike. By exercising before eating, we can burn off some of the glucose, help keep blood sugar levels in check, and reduce risk of insulin resistance.

4 – Boost metabolism and improve appetite control

Exercise helps to increase our resting metabolic rate, which means that we burn more calories even when we are not actively working out. It’s beneficial for both weight loss and weight management.

PSA: Not everyone should do fasted workouts. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded, unwell, or extremely fatigued while working out fasted, your body is telling you something is not right. Consult your medical provider if you are concerned about this. You might find fed workouts are best for you.

What Makes a Good Post-Workout Meal?

Eat 30 to 60 minutes after exercise. Aim for 15 to 20 grams of protein to replenish your protein stores. Add complex carbs to replenish your muscle glycogen stores. A protein shake with chia seeds is an easy option.

PSA: The post-workout meal is extra important if you chose to do a fasted workout, so this step shouldn’t be skipped.

Man and woman drinking protein shake after workout

Benefits of Fed Workouts (Eating Before Exercising)

fed workout is where you eat or drink something with calories, within four hours before a workout. Here are the benefits of fed workouts:

1 – Better Performance During Workout

Your metabolism keeps working overnight, and by the time morning comes, you are often slightly dehydrated and depleted. If you work out before eating breakfast, you won’t have as much energy available to perform at your best. 

Woman in the middle of a high-intensity workout

2 – Keep Cortisol Levels Under Control

Working out before eating might harm weight loss efforts. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, when your body resorts to gluconeogenesis in order to fuel your workouts, your cortisol rises. 

Why is cortisol important? High cortisol levels can suppress the amount of calories your body burns throughout the day. When you begin converting other macronutrients to fuel, you can deplete your glycogen stores, leading to less strength gains.5

3 – Hydration

Taking time to eat breakfast before your workout can improve hydration. According to the American Council on Exercise, even small amounts of dehydration can negatively impact athletic performance. When you’re dehydrated, it’s easier to overheat, get tired, and develop cramps.

Tip: If it’s hard to eat a full meal before your morning workout, eat something small, like a smoothie or oatmeal.

The Best Pre- and Post-Workout Breakfasts for Every Exercise Practice

Light Exercises (Easy Yoga Class or Walk)

What to eat for a pre-workout breakfast:

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 the muscle breakdown that can happen when you go a long time without eating, says Kimball.

Try: A hard-boiled egg (about 7 grams of protein), a serving of Greek yogurt (about 17 grams of protein), or half of a protein bar (about 10 grams of protein). (Want to mix up your morning munchies? Try these high-protein breakfast ideas that don’t include eggs.)

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, explains Kimball. “Just go on about your normal day,” she says.

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

What to eat for a pre-workout breakfast:

If you’re going hard and long for an hour or longer, 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 10 grams of protein, too, suggests Dr. Gerbstadt. Healthy fats can help sustain exercise, but too many can cause gastrointestinal upset, so make sure your food has that balance, adds Kimball.

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., an NYC-based registered dietitian and nutrition partner with KIND. “Oats provide complex carbs, which take a while to digest and provide the body with sustained energy throughout your workout,” she explains. (

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 class.

Try: A shake with whey protein, milk, and fresh fruit.

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

What to eat for a pre-workout breakfast:

“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 a 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 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.

Try: A handful (about 4 to 6) of whole-grain crackers (e.g. Triscuits) with a 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 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 for a pre-workout breakfast:

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,” she explains. You’ll also want about 20 grams of protein, says Dr. Gerbstadt.

Try: A fold-over sandwich (e.g. 3 ounces sliced turkey folded into 1 slice of whole-grain bread, optional spinach leaves and 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 making 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 your body’s carbohydrate stores, she says. “Amino acids from protein can start that repair process in the muscles,” she adds.

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

Exercising before breakfast may be most healthful choice

Figuring out when to exercise could be just as important as the exercise itself, according to new research on the relationship between meal times and workouts.

woman eating breakfast in workout clothes
New research suggests that working out before breakfast has ‘profound’ health benefits.

Some studies suggest that the effectiveness of exercise may be tied to when a person eats.

However, it is rarely possible to translate findings from studies in lean people to those with obesity.

So, scientists from the Universities of Bath and Birmingham, both in the United Kingdom, set out to see if meal and exercise timing had a similar link in people with overweight or obesity.

Having obesity and living a relatively sedentary life can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

This is because insulin sensitivity is reduced, and hyperinsulinemia — a condition characterized by excess insulin levels — is increased.

Finding a way to prevent these insulin-related effects could potentially prove to be life-saving.

‘Profound’ benefits

The study, which now appears in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, aimed to examine how exercising before and after eating affected muscle fat stores and insulin response. It was the first to look at this relationship in people with overweight or obesity.

The experiment, which lasted for 6 weeks, involved 30 men the researchers categorized as either overweight or obese.

The team split these men into three groups:

  • one that ate breakfast before exercising
  • one that ate breakfast after exercising
  • one that made no lifestyle alterations

“Our results suggest that changing the timing of when you eat in relation to when you exercise can bring about profound and positive changes to your overall health,” says Dr. Javier Gonzalez, from the University of Bath’s Department for Health.

A greater burn

Participants who exercised before breakfast burned twice as much fat as those who exercised after eating the same meal.

There is a simple reason for this: When people fast overnight, they have lower insulin levels during exercise, allowing their body to use up more fat.

“Importantly, while this didn’t have any effect on weight loss, it did dramatically improve their overall health,” notes Dr. Gonzalez.

The muscles of those who exercised before breakfast responded better to insulin, better controlling blood sugar levels in the body.

Dr. Gonzalez says that this effect is “all the more remarkable, given that both exercise groups lost a similar amount of weight and both gained a similar amount of fitness.”

“The only difference was the timing of the food intake,” he adds.

The muscles of those in the group who exercised before breakfast also exhibited bigger increases in certain proteins — especially those responsible for delivering glucose to the muscles.

Even more notable was the fact that those who ate breakfast before exercising were no better off in terms of insulin response after eating than the control group.

Secret Effects of Exercising Before Breakfast, Says Science

woman lacing her shoes before a workout

The early bird gets the worm, but what does the early-morning exerciser get? A lot, apparently. Working out before breakfast isn’t just a great way to hit your fitness goals first thing in the morning—some research has associated the practice with unique benefits that you might not get by working out at other times of day.

Before we dive into those benefits, some caveats must be noted. Many studies exploring exercise and time of day are limited to small human trials or mouse studies—meaning that their conclusions aren’t necessarily definitive. Additionally, lots of the findings are conflicting. “The research is all over the map on the best time to exercise, mainly because research is looking at all different types of benefits from stress management to weight loss and body composition,” Bronwyn Bacon, ND, shared with ACE Fitness. Depending on your body, your goals, and the type of exercise you love, you may see lots (or zero) benefit to switching up the time of day you work out.

All of that is to say: The best time of day to work out is the one that works best for your schedule. If you’re not a morning person, forcing yourself out of bed to hit the pavement before you’ve had coffee is hardly conducive to a sustainable fitness routine. But if you’re an early riser—or are interested in shaking up your fitness—there are some potential benefits to working out before breakfast for your health, your mood, and more. Read on for what they are, and if walking is your exercise of choice, don’t miss The Secret Cult Walking Shoe That Walkers Everywhere Are Obsessed With.


You might get better results from your workout

woman runner tightening shoe lace

Your body might have more strength and endurance in the morning to handle cardio. A 2013 review of research found that people’s aerobic endurance may be greater in the morning, and that they tend to hit a higher heart rate during morning workouts than during evening ones. And for some exercise moves you should ignore at any time of day, don’t miss The Worst Abs Exercises You Shouldn’t Do After 40.


It will help wake you up

woman sweating and tired after exercising a workout

Your body’s levels of cortisol—the “stress” hormone that impacts our energy levels—are naturally higher in the morning, and tend to slough off throughout the day until bedtime. Moderate-to-high intensity exercise can also (temporarily) elevate cortisol levels. By working out first thing in the morning, when your cortisol levels are already elevated, you give yourself an extra spurt of caffeine-free energy that can help power you through the morning.


It may help burn fat 

asian female group doing namaste yoga pose in row at the yoga class

If weight management is one of your fitness goals, consider prioritizing the morning workout. A small 2015 study found that men who exercised before breakfast enjoyed increased fat oxidation (aka the burning of internal fat stores for energy) compared to people who did their workouts at other times of day. A 2016 review of studies also found that exercising in a fasted state—such as in the morning before breakfast—tends to burn more fat than exercising after eating a meal with carbohydrates. However, the researchers note that it’s unclear if these effects persist in the long-term.

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