Training in the morning is the only way that many athletes can fit workouts into their day and therefore knowing what to eat and how to fuel your body is very important.
What you should eat will depend on the type of training you plan on doing.
Low Intensity Steady State
When you’re planning a relatively low intensity steady state session, you may be able to do it in the fasted state. Fasted training simply involves exercising without fuel (in the morning before any food consumption).
The research into fasted training has shown that exercising with low muscle glycogen may pose significant benefits to endurance athletes due to molecular adaptations that occur in the muscle cells. These adaptions mean that athletes may be able to ‘train’ their body into utilising fat oxidation for energy production and subsequently spare muscle glycogen.
This could play an important role in optimising endurance performance as the sparing of muscle glycogen will help to delay fatigue. This mechanism provides rationale for why athletes might want to try fasted training; however it must be noted that fasted training should only be carried out for exercise of a low intensity.
Muscle glycogen is still extremely important for high intensity exercise and therefore no strenuous session should be completed in a fasted state. Fasted sessions should be no longer than 90 minutes and done no more than 2-3 times a week.
If you find fasted training too difficult, try eating a breakfast high in protein such as an omelette before these morning sessions.
It may help to relieve the hunger and make you feel psychologically more prepared for your session. If this doesn’t work, don’t stress! Fasted training isn’t for everyone and you can still make the most performance gains from fed training.
After these sessions, make sure you recover properly in a decent recovery meal (a proper breakfast!) as soon as possible after you finish. A great breakfast might be crumpets with jam and peanut butter with some water for hydration.
High intensity interval training or intense endurance session
These sessions place huge physiological demands on the body and therefore should not be done in the fasted state. Fuelling your muscles properly and maximising muscle glycogen stores will allow you to work to a much higher intensity; something which is very important for training adaptation.
Therefore, whilst fasted training may provide some benefits, it is very important that you do hard or strenuous sessions in the fed state to mirror race day efforts and maximise training potential.
If you’re an athlete that exercises at a high intensity in the morning, getting up even earlier to take on some fuel can be challenging. Food can take a long time to digest and therefore exercising just after you have eaten may leave you experiencing GI issues.
If you are happy to get up earlier and can stomach real food, aim for a breakfast high in carbohydrates with some added protein. A great example would be porridge with a banana and nut butter.
After these prolonged or intense sessions, it is important that you have a recovery strategy in place to encourage training adaptation. Try to get some nutrients in as quickly as possible. A great way to do this is in the form of recovery shakes. These typically contain both carbohydrates for muscle glycogen replenishment and protein to contribute to muscle growth and maintenance.
These can be consumed immediately after exercise to kick-start the recovery process. Remember to follow this with nutrient dense food at your next meal.
This should again include carbohydrates and protein (along with some vitamins and minerals!). A great option would be a baked potato with tuna and leafy green vegetables.
If you’re doing an early morning strength training session, you will want to aim for a breakfast high in protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
This is very important as you will wake up after an overnight fast in which muscle protein synthesis is dramatically reduced and therefore food stimulus is needed. Some good examples of breakfasts include an omelette or high protein yogurt with almonds. If you feel you need a bit of carbohydrate as well, try adding something small like a banana.
After your strength training, it is again very important to refuel and recover properly. Aim to take on some carbohydrates and some protein as soon as you can. A great way to do this would be to use a Recovery Bar as its protein content is ideal for post training recovery.
It also contains some carbohydrates, but not in a high dose such a Recovery Shake and is therefore ideal for sessions which don’t place huge demands on muscle glycogen. Again make sure you follow this with a proper recovery meal.
This should contain high protein and some carbohydrates for optimal recovery. A good option would be boiled eggs with a slice of wholegrain toast along with plenty of water for hydration.