What should I eat if I exercise in the morning?

Discover a three-day meal plan, chosen by performance nutritionist James Collins, to fuel a morning workout and boost your energy throughout the day.

A woman running in the morning

If you exercise first thing in the morning, it can be difficult to know what to eat before and after your workout – and throughout the day – in order to fuel your fitness and keep your energy levels high. We asked James Collins, author of The Energy Plan, to put together an exclusive meal plan from our recipes.

James says...

For this meal plan, we've focused on a medium day (a single-session training day) – for example, if you run first thing in the morning before work. On a medium day, you'll want to eat:

  • Two 'fuelling' meals
  • One 'maintenance' meal
  • Two snacks (one 'fuelling', one 'maintenance')

Read our guide to James's Energy Plan to learn more about what counts as a 'fuelling' and 'maintenance' meal or snack.

If you're exercising in the morning, the ideal structure is to have a fuelling breakfast before training (to maintain energy levels during the session), followed by a fuelling lunch or snack to recover. A maintenance snack and evening meal are then taken, as the fuel requirements for the body are typically lower in the evening.

What if I want to 'train low'?

Training before breakfast (called ‘training low’) can prime the body to burn more fat during a workout. However, the downside is that for hard, intense exercise sessions, you could be short on energy. In this case there are two options:

1. Have a fuelling snack before training – and eat breakfast after your session
2. Have a fuelling meal for dinner the night before, to increase your fuel stores ahead of this training session

If you are ‘training low’ during the week, it is important that you eat a fuelling meal or snack before your weekend sessions. This is so your body remains accustomed to using carbohydrate as a fuel (otherwise carbohydrate metabolism can become less effective); plus, for prolonged weight-bearing (e.g. marathon training), this is important as it will reduce the stress on your bones.

Do I have to eat two snacks each day?

We've included two snacks for each day in the meal plan to give you more options around your training sessions. If you prefer to have just one, that’s fine too.

Day 1

Fuelling breakfast – Mexican beans & avocado on toast

Mexican-style beans with avocado on toast

Get the recipe: Mexican beans & avocado on toast

Morning fuelling snack – Berry yogurt pots

Yogurt pots topped with berries

Get the recipe: Berry yogurt pots

Fuelling lunch – Black bean, tofu & avocado lunch bowl

A bowl of rice, beans, tofu and avocado

Get the recipe: Black bean, tofu & avocado lunch bowl

Afternoon maintenance snack – Chinese-spiced seed mix

Spiced seed mix

Get the recipe: Chinese-spiced seed mix

Maintenance dinner – Black bean chilli (without rice) served with a 10-minute stir-fry

Black bean chilli with rice

Get the recipes: Black bean chilli and 10-minute stir-fry

Day 2

Fuelling breakfast – Apple & linseed porridge

Three bowls of apple and linseed porridge

Get the recipe: Apple & linseed porridge

Morning fuelling snack – Avocado & strawberry smoothie

Avocado and strawberry smoothie in a glass

Get the recipe: Avocado & strawberry smoothie

Fuelling lunch – Cajun blackened chicken with supergreen quinoa

A bowl of quinoa salad with chicken breast

Get the recipe: Cajun blackened chicken with supergreen quinoa

Afternoon maintenance snack – Nutty chicken satay strips

Nutty chicken satay strips

Get the recipe: Nutty chicken satay strips

Maintenance dinner – Thai-style steamed fish with a chilli green salad

Steamed with with Thai flavours

Get the recipes: Thai-style steamed fish and chilli green salad

Day 3

Fuelling breakfast – Poached eggs with smashed avocado & tomatoes

Avocado on toast topped with a poached egg

Get the recipe: Poached eggs with smashed avocado & tomatoes

Morning fuelling snack – Homemade protein shake

A protein shake in a glass

Get the recipe: Homemade protein shake

Fuelling lunch – Turkey burgers with beetroot relish served with quinoa tabbouleh

A turkey burger served with pitta bread and beetroot relish

Get the recipes: Turkey burgers with beetroot relish and quinoa tabbouleh

Afternoon maintenance snack – Basil & olive eggs

Basil and olive stuffed eggs

Get the recipe: Basil & olive eggs

Maintenance dinner – Morrocan spiced tuna with Asian greens

Moroccan spiced tuna steaks

Get the recipes: Morrocan spiced tuna and Asian greens

Keep the momentum

Maintaining a consistent medium day structure, as outlined in the three-day plan above, is an important first step to maintaining your energy levels at work, home or during a workout. You can then assess how your body is responding and refine your energy plan. My book, The Energy Plan, explains how to monitor your progess and what to eat on days when you exercise more or less.


James Collins is the author of The Energy Plan, published by Penguin. For more information and to find a stockist, visit www.penguin.co.uk.

James Collins is recognised as a leading Performance Nutritionist through his work with Olympic and professional sport. Over the last decade he has worked with Arsenal FC, England and France national football teams and Team GB. Previously elected President of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Food and Health Forum, he has a private practice in Harley Street where he sees business executives, performing artists and clients from all walks of life: www.jamescollinsnutrition.com.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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