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.
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.
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.
Fuelling breakfast – Mexican beans & avocado on toast
Get the recipe: Mexican beans & avocado on toast
Morning fuelling snack – Berry yogurt pots
Get the recipe: Berry yogurt pots
Fuelling lunch – Black bean, tofu & avocado lunch bowl
Get the recipe: Black bean, tofu & avocado lunch bowl
Afternoon maintenance snack – Chinese-spiced seed mix
Get the recipe: Chinese-spiced seed mix
Maintenance dinner – Black bean chilli (without rice) served with a 10-minute stir-fry
Fuelling breakfast – Apple & linseed porridge
Get the recipe: Apple & linseed porridge
Morning fuelling snack – Avocado & strawberry smoothie
Get the recipe: Avocado & strawberry smoothie
Fuelling lunch – Cajun blackened chicken with supergreen quinoa
Get the recipe: Cajun blackened chicken with supergreen quinoa
Afternoon maintenance snack – Nutty chicken satay strips
Get the recipe: Nutty chicken satay strips
Maintenance dinner – Thai-style steamed fish with a chilli green salad
Fuelling breakfast – Poached eggs with smashed avocado & tomatoes
Get the recipe: Poached eggs with smashed avocado & tomatoes
Morning fuelling snack – Homemade protein shake
Get the recipe: Homemade protein shake
Fuelling lunch – Turkey burgers with beetroot relish served with quinoa tabbouleh
Afternoon maintenance snack – Basil & olive eggs
Get the recipe: Basil & olive eggs
Maintenance dinner – Morrocan spiced tuna with 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 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.
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