Workout before breakfast?
March 15, 2007 2:04 AM   Subscribe

I prefer to do my fairly intense 20 min. workout first thing in the morning before I eat...else I never get it done. If I eat, then I have to wait before working out, then I get distracted, start drinking caffeine, etc. Working out in the evening doesn't really work. I work evenings and my family and I have dinner together before I leave for work. Before dinner, I'm busy doing activities with my children (my wife and I homeschool). My question is this: Is it OK to workout (lift weights, run sprints) before I eat? If I must eat first, how long must I wait before working out? How soon after taking caffeine can I workout?
posted by keith0718 to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've learned that it isn't usually a good idea to work out before eating at least some carbohydrates. Your body has just gone an eight hour period without eating, so imagine blood glucose and glycogen levels are going to be pretty low. Eating a little at first will help your body exercise better.

I don't think you have to wait too long before working out if exercise with food in your body doesn't cause discomfort... although your digestion will be delayed because blood is going elsewhere and that part of the nervous system is being suppressed. Err... ok, that might be just for intense exercise, probably someone else with better knowledge could get on that.

If you don't at all want to eat anything before working out, I'd recommend at least drinking some juice first to help your blood sugar levels. Not ideal, but it's better than an empty stomach. As for caffeine... I'd stay away from it before exercising. Diuretic and all that.
posted by Mister Cheese at 2:31 AM on March 15, 2007

You don't really have to wait after eating.. although its not very pleasant to work out on a full stomach. As long as you stay hydrated and are comfortable, drinking caffeine shouldn't be much of a problem. When you start working out, your body figures out pretty fast that's the mode its in, & will stop digesting & the like. Its definitely good to have some carbs, but you don't have to eat a full breakfast.
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:51 AM on March 15, 2007

Eat something light. Granola bars or a slice (ONE slice) of leftover pizza. Put something in the engine before you rev it up. Afterwards, I'll eat a more filling breakfast.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:43 AM on March 15, 2007

In my experience, caffeine is just fine prior to any kind of athletic activity, and it's been shown to increase your performance. Also, in people who used caffeine, then exercised, it's been shown that the diuretic effect is diminished.

I'm not a morning person, but I like to do road races (running, 5k, etc.) that are often held at 8:30 or 9am. I tend to drink a coffee about an hour ahead of time, and it definitely helps me out.

Regarding the eating: Everything I've read has said the most important thing is that you actually exercise. When you do it, whether it's in the morning, or evening, before or after eating, is entirely up to you.
posted by knave at 3:43 AM on March 15, 2007

I also prefer to work out in the morning. When I started personal training a few months ago I had some breakfast before my workout and felt like I was going to throw up. Now I have a protein shake about an hour before my workout and then have a fruit salad after I finish.

You're better off having a little something before working out but I wouldn't advise working out intensely on a full stomach.
posted by snatchos at 3:44 AM on March 15, 2007

I work out first thing in the mornings without eating and I have no problems. I simply make sure to eat a lot of carbs in the evenings because the energy in your muscles comes from the things you ate many hours before your workout. I also drink a lot of water before going to bed. (Lots of nighttime trips to the bathroom.) I think you can simply do what feels best to you. This short article may help: Timing Meals.
posted by loosemouth at 3:49 AM on March 15, 2007

I think a lot of the responses here are giving what works for them. The key to me is that you've been working out prior to eating, and it's been working for you. My suggestion is that you keep doing what appears to be working fine. If you find yourself performing at a lower level than you're capable of, feeling easily tired, or feeling faint, then you probably should be eating something small (granola bar, banana) prior to exercising. If you're not experiencing any problems, then don't worry about it.
posted by knave at 3:50 AM on March 15, 2007

I second loosemouth. I have been working out for years in the morning and have found that not eating prior works the best. You get your best fat burning first thing in the morning and eating will cancel that out. The most important thing is to stay well hydrated prior, during and after. About a 1/2hr after your workout, you will want to have a protein shake to help replenish your muscles and aid growth.
posted by wile e at 4:12 AM on March 15, 2007

You get your best fat burning first thing in the morning and eating will cancel that out.

Not true. The only thing that burns fat is burning more calories than you take in. Timing of your exercise has very little impact.
posted by knave at 4:29 AM on March 15, 2007

Well not going to get into an argument over this as I am not an expert, nor claim to be, but I have discussed this with multiple trainers and they have all agreed with the above philosophy.

Keith0718 I would atleast look into it as I can't reference anything at the moment.
posted by wile e at 4:38 AM on March 15, 2007

I believe that your body will let you know if what you're doing isn't so great. If you eat, workout, then throw up, don't do that anymore. If you exercise, eat and feel okay, that's what you should do.

As for caffeine, it's not going to harm you unless it's in vast quantities. I know a number of athletes who drink caffeinated drinks or take a caffeine pill (in regular doses) before they compete, just because it makes them feel a bit sharper.
posted by tomble at 5:12 AM on March 15, 2007

If I eat, then I have to wait before working out

Why? Don't pig out and everything will be fine. A bowl of cereal will not interfere with an intense workout, even eaten ten minutes prior to starting. As for caffeine, it cona only enhance your workout, although it probably won't make a difference one way or the other.
posted by caddis at 5:20 AM on March 15, 2007

I intense interval work four mornings of the week for an hour and a half or two hours. Not eating and drinking gatorade or accelerade works fine for me. A banana or cup of yogurt can also be okay. If it is working for you, then I don't think you need to change it.
posted by dame at 5:51 AM on March 15, 2007

It's fine, as in, nothing bad will happen to you. If it works for you then go ahead and let it work for you.

Eating successfully before working out is largely a matter of intensity and amount eaten. I routinely eat lots when I'm running long distances, but my intensity is low.
posted by OmieWise at 5:51 AM on March 15, 2007

If you read and try to make sense of all the advice out there on timing work outs and meals, your head will spin and you'll end up doing nothing. Do whatever works for you as long as you feel well.
posted by sid at 6:03 AM on March 15, 2007

Maybe you get optimal results if you eat the right things before working out, but you get much better results from working out than from not working out because you were a perfectionist about eating. If you're feeling okay, keep it up and don't worry about it!
posted by Salamandrous at 6:09 AM on March 15, 2007

FWIW I eat something light -like a yogurt or, heaven help me, a poptart-and then go exercise. I always do much better with some carbohydrates.

Oh, and it's better to avoid the caffeine AFTER exercising rather than before, actually.
posted by konolia at 6:17 AM on March 15, 2007

i've just like you--i need to work out immediately after waking up, or it just doesn't get done. i've been doing this 20+ years without a problem.

i've actually lifted weights while drinking hot tea. caffene doesn't seem to be a problem for me.

in other words, what sid said.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:24 AM on March 15, 2007

Have something light like wheat toast with a little bit of peanut butter.
posted by zackola at 7:36 AM on March 15, 2007

This is probably one of those topics that all the fitness and nutrition experts disagree about. I know that I read in Body For Life that doing interval cardio training in the morning is good for fat burning. The program the book describes is 20 minutes of interval training such as biking or running, alternating from medium to high intensity. Overall, it says it's more important that you do it at all than at any particular time, but it does say that doing so in the morning on an empty stomach will "jump start" the fat burning process, I guess because fat will be the only fuel readily available to the body if you haven't eaten yet.

So if morning workouts before eating aren't causing you any noticeable problems I'd say you're probably fine. Me? I can't get my lazy butt out of bed to do anything that active in the morning, so I go to the gym on the way home from work in the evening.
posted by dnash at 7:58 AM on March 15, 2007

You get your best fat burning first thing in the morning and eating will cancel that out.

Not true. The only thing that burns fat is burning more calories than you take in. Timing of your exercise has very little impact.

I don't think Knave is entirely right either. Like dnash, I have read widely that there are, in fact, benefits to working out first thing in the morning. Your metabolism is at its peak ability early in the day, and exercising in the morning notches up the performance of your metabolism for the entire day. In other words, if you exercise in the morning you will burn more calories throughout the day, even at rest, than if you did not exercise at all.

That said, I agree that the most important thing is to exercise. Period. If the only time you can exercise is in the evening, that's certainly better than opting not to do it at all.

I never liked eating before jogging. I always always got cramps. That said, I do think a small amount of complex carbs and protein together is the recommended way to go.
posted by theantikitty at 8:52 AM on March 15, 2007

I used to eat candy before exercising (in college) - gave me some energy, but didn't sit in my stomach. When I say candy, I mean Nerds, actually - almost pure sugar, and only about a tablespoon or so.
posted by amtho at 9:24 AM on March 15, 2007

Depending on how hungry I am, I eat a half or a whole balance bar / powerbar / whatever and chug one or two cups of coffee about 30 min before I lift weights or run. Makes me feel like friggin Superman, and the caffeine hasn't had time to dehydrate me. So I get the energy boost of the caffeine without the dehydration. (I have about a 1 hour window of opportunity to start working out after chugging caffeine or I'll start feeling dehydrated, however.)
posted by LordSludge at 10:18 AM on March 15, 2007

I suggest eating a banana or something really light just to have something in your stomach. Sometimes when I work out hard on an empty stomach, I start to get really dizzy, my heart rate gets really fast and I dry heave or vomit water.

Eat something. Even if it's a spoonful of peanut butter. Just a little something your body can work off of.
posted by spec80 at 10:57 AM on March 15, 2007

What do you WANT? To lose fat? To train for an event? Or to build muscle?

Somebody mentioned above:

Not eating before a work out speeds metabolism and is good for fat burning.

Eating a small energy bar or a juice drink before a work out will make your cardio performance better.

Eating a small protein bar or drink before (AND immediately after) a work out will provide more substantial gains if your strength training.

My advice is this: Drink a 8oz cup of juice (like Acai Berry or just OJ) and a sip of a protein drink. If you want to satisfy your ritual of caffeine.... make the juice hot. Usually THIS is what we crave. A hot liquid in the morning.

And that is all.

Now you have covered all your bases. You will perform, you will burn fat and you will have something to stimulate muscle development.

Caffeine is not bad for you if you are not dehydrated in the first place. First thing in the morning after the good morning piss it's likely you are a bit dehydrated. So drink water or juice first.

If you drink caffeine give your body some warm-up time before you enter the active phase of the work-out. It does constrict blood vessels slightly - why you have to extend your warm-up. And post 40 years old your warm up is critical. So if you don't have time for a lengthy warm up in the morning forgo the caffeine and sip some hot juice or decaf tea instead.
posted by tkchrist at 11:07 AM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

20 minutes is a pretty short workout, I suspect that you have enough residual energy in your system on waking to keep you going. If you like, have a glass of skim milk for a bit of carbs and protein and then set to it. Personally, I'm better off skipping the caffeine altogether before exercise, but for some people it enhances reaction times and performance in endurance sports.
posted by Manjusri at 1:11 PM on March 15, 2007

My cross country coach last year told us that caffeine is a vasoconstrictor (ie, it constricts blood vessels and thus prevents blood flow) and so it's not a great idea to have any when you're on a serious raining regimen -- at all (yes, he trained me off Coke). That's probably a LITTLE extreme, but I would guess that a cup of coffee before a long run would hinder performance. I'm not too sure about the intense workouts though.

Also, for what it's worth, I remember that a lot of the runners on my team used to eat half a Clif bar and drink a bunch of Powerade on race mornings (5Ks).

For me, I've found that having about 8 Ritz crackers and 8 oz. of Gatorade does the trick for my morning workouts. This is for my short easy runs, though -- nothing too strenuous.

The physiology differs from person to person. The most important thing to remember is to do whatever feels like it's letting you perform to your utmost.
posted by dondiego87 at 6:59 PM on March 15, 2007

For some rather contrarian thoughts on diet and exercise, go to

Among the takeaways are 1) workout on an empty stomach 2) avoid long, low intensity steady state cardio workouts in favor of shorter, higher intensity activities 3) avoid carbs.
posted by realpseudonym at 1:24 AM on March 16, 2007

I've been trying to lose weight by working out about three cardio and two weight training days for about a year and I lost no fat, and I think it was because I was eating before my workout.

My goal was to gain muscle because it's supposed to help you burn fat. I no longer believe that is true even though my trainer tried to tell me that and I didn't believe him. I did gain about 15 pounds of muscle and a lot of strength. Now I'm walking every morning for about 45 minutes before breakfast and I lost 5 pounds this week! This is the first weight loss in over a year, even one pound!

I think if you are trying to put on muscle then you need to eat some carbs beforehand, and lots of sugary carbs and protein (but no fat) right after lifting weights. When you have enough muscle and you need to lose fat, then start doing some cardio before breakfast and stick to slow digesting carbs like oatmeal and brown rice, and still get the protein with every meal. If you have carbs in your system then they have to be burned before the fat starts burning.
posted by dela at 8:57 PM on May 23, 2007

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