Which is Better: Exercising Before or After Breakfast?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  147 comments   :  70,272 Views

Last week we learned eating a less than ideal breakfast is better than skipping breakfast all together. Planning ahead helps make breakfast selections healthful and limits the need to face that choice. Working out first thing in the morning can make breakfast schedules difficult and planning that much more important. One member shared her morning routine includes getting up at 3:30 AM to be at the gym by 4:00 AM for a workout. I myself head out for my workouts at 5:30 AM most mornings. Although everyone is different, some people like me have no problem exercising on an empty stomach while other people experience negative effects. Professionals and experts alike do not recommend exercising on an empty stomach. Other points of view suggest not eating breakfast especially before a workout is more beneficial. This caused me to ask the question, "which is better, exercising before or after breakfast?"

There are several things to consider when looking at this question and more than likely, the answer will be different for each person. Food consumed can only provide fuel for exercise if it has been digested and absorbed by the body. The rate of digestion is dependent on both the composition as well as the amount of food consumed. Foods higher in fat, protein, and fiber take longer to digest than foods high in carbohydrates. A mixed meal takes about 3-4 hours to be ready for use as fuel while a lighter snack might take only 1-2 hours. Since most of us exercising early in the morning are not interested in getting up an hour or two earlier just to eat before we exercise, we exercise in a fasted state. Normally the body uses free sugars from cells and circulating blood sugars first. Exercising in a fasted state causes the free sugars to be depleted very quickly. In the absence of free sugars, the hormone glucagon is released which initiates the release of free fatty acids from fat stores. This process is known as lipolysis. Because of this normal metabolic process, more fat is used as exercise fuel after hours of fasting compared to workouts at the same intensity and duration level following a meal or snack. However, following this practice makes it difficult for many people to exercise as long or hard as they do when they have eaten recently. This may mean you don't burn any more total calories which may negate the fat burning benefit.

The bottom line

Proper fuel is necessary for the body to perform at its best. This is especially important when you are working out to burn calories to promote weight loss. People lose fat when they burn more calories than they consume. Eating a healthy diet, observing good portion control, and exercising regularly can help that happen. Eating before exercise, even in the morning helps ensure you will have the fuel necessary for a longer and more intense workout, which will maximize your calorie burn. Sometimes we don't want to shift our schedules to eat before working out, especially if we are working out early in the morning. This may result in limited fuel availability and a shorter, less intense cardio session and fewer total calories burned.

If exercising before breakfast is the only way to fit a workout in during a busy day, it is better than no exercise at all. Some people feel fine while working out in a fasting state but it is also possible to experience periods of dizziness due to low blood sugar especially if there are other medical conditions that could limit the lipolysis process. This can be dangerous for a variety of reasons with the biggest being the risk of fainting on longer, more intense workouts. Keep a carbohydrate gel or sports drink handy in case you begin to feel lightheaded during your pre-breakfast workout. It is also advisable to work out with another person, carry a cell phone, and have emergency information on you in case something should happen. Be sure to include a nutrient rich and well-balanced breakfast once your workout is complete.

Do you pay much attention to your eating schedule related to your workouts? Do you notice a difference in your workout intensity or duration related to your eating schedule? Do you think it could make a difference related to your weight goals?

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  • 147
    Cannot workout after a recent meal. I become very nauseous. It must be at least a 2 hour wait. I also cannot drink any water while exercising. - 1/21/2016   9:16:37 AM
  • 146
    Cannot workout after a recent meal. I become very nauseous. It must be at least a 2 hour wait. I also cannot drink any water while exercising. - 1/21/2016   9:16:37 AM
  • 145
    I cannot work out before eating, not even if I drink a fruit-yogurt smoothie right before. I am just too hungry and also too groggy-I need some wakeup time to be functional. Because of my Meniere's Disease, I often don't take a shower until late morning or even afternoon because of balance problems. If I am not awake mentally, my physical balance can be even worse. - 1/17/2016   1:06:54 PM
  • 144
    I mostly workout early as it is the best part of the day. I go for a walk and then home for breakfast.
    - 8/30/2015   12:23:48 AM
    Usually I do some strength training before breakfast. After breakfast I do cardio. - 7/4/2015   1:42:13 AM
  • 142
    I cannot workout in the morning before breakfast, I feel dizzy and weak. Actually, I have to eat something even if I wake up very very early, and everyday before going to work. Skipping breakfast has never been my problem! - 3/2/2015   4:16:41 AM
  • 141
    Working out after breakfast works for me. I feel I have more energy than if I didn't eat anything. Usually, I try to eat within the first hour of waking and then do my workout an hour or so after eating. - 8/7/2014   8:27:19 PM
  • 140
    I have to be up for a couple of hours before i eat or i get sick. I take my shower and leave for work after exercising and since i get motion sickness after exercising all i can do is have something to drink until i get to work - 6/21/2014   5:35:18 PM
    I find that this works for me. As soon as I wake up I have an apple or a banana. Then continue to prepare for the day. Dishes, meal arrangements, set out clothes e.t.c. After about 20 minutes I begin my workout which lasts anywhere between 45 - 75 minutes. Shower right after workout and then healthy breakfast. If I have done weight training or need a long bath then immediately after workout I have a protein shake. and regular breakfast after shower.
    Alternatively if it is my light workout day just 25 minutes on the treadmill then I can do that without a fruit before. - 4/10/2013   8:22:43 AM
  • 138
    I work out better on an empty stomach. If I'm hungry, I'll eat something light - a banana, apple, or if I'm low on carbs I'll have some toast or something... but much more than that and I feel like I can't get a good workout in. I workout in the AM 2-3 times a week and in the PM 2-3 times a week and at all times I prefer to not eat anything a least 3-4 hours before. However, there have been times when I've felt lightheaded doing this. I think you learn to gauge yourself and how you feel before a workout. If I wake up hungry, I eat before a workout. If I'm so hungry I eat more than a little snack, I work out lighter. It's all about safety while you're getting your healthy activity in! - 8/10/2011   9:29:12 PM
  • 137
    Whenever you possibly can carve out the time! In this busy world we do what we can WHEN we can! - 6/10/2011   1:01:50 PM
  • 136
    For me, I have tried both ways but find i do better with some food in my stomach before i exercise. Sometimes i will eat a protein bar before hitting the exercise routine which also helps. But i am not one to rise in the middle of the night to start exercising! - 2/2/2011   6:57:10 PM
  • 135
    I cant exercise after I eat...for some reason if I eat early in the morning and then go out to run, it makes me really sick where I can't finish my run...so what I do it my strength training first then drink milk with chocolate and go out for my run. I make sure I drink a lot of water and my green tea before hand but to eat food would just ruin it. I exercise three times a week early in the morning and that has been my route since the second day because the first day I got sick and didn't even finish so not eating for me works but i would think it depends on the person, some can't exercise without eating first and others can, I say do you what makes you feel good and keeps you on track - 11/13/2010   12:04:06 AM
  • 134
    I exercise between classes, so I end up eating a banana in class 1, some cheerios/almonds in class 2, working out for an hour, and then eating lunch an hour or two later in another class or back at home. I've sort of lost the concept of three meals a day, what with my day being so segmented. The bottom line for me is that I like to eat something beforehand if I can space it about an hour before my workout. I can't eat and then immediately run, or I feel gross. - 10/8/2010   7:32:53 PM
    I drink some milk, with or without tea, before I exercise just to fuel me through my morning workout. Right after working out I'm not hungry, so I shower and then eat breakfast. - 10/2/2010   11:14:37 AM
  • MICKEYG2413
    I just start working out at the gym but I have to eat something before I work and as soon as I finish working out I have to have a snack - 9/17/2010   12:27:32 PM
  • 131
    I've never been much of a breakfast eater. I almost always exercise before eating. I never have any problem with dizziness. If I eat before exercising, I feel full and lethargic.

    - 9/14/2010   3:58:44 AM
  • 130
    I didn't have a choice in the matter when I was in the Army - it was morning PT at 6 am, 5 days a week for most of my 4 years. And the mess hall wasn't open early enough to eat before PT, so you did PT on an empty stomach.

    Now that I'm getting myself back in shape, I find that I need to follow that same routine, except now I have to get out at 5:00 am. There's NO WAY I'm getting up any earlier than I have to; I do C25K on a few sips of water (don't want to slosh or need a pit stop). So far, so good.

    I don't always do this; some days I work out in the afternoon. Some days I do both, like today. I do try to make sure I have something at least 1/2 hour before I do afternoon sessions. - 9/13/2010   1:17:22 PM
  • JMAC23
    I eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, putz around for half an hour checking my emails and what-not, and then go exercise. I get hungry if I don't and I feel like I can exercise harder if I have some food in me, but I have to let it digest a little before I go work out. I also drink a glass of water during that "putz" time. If I'm dehydrated when I work out the WO is always a lot more difficult for me. - 9/12/2010   8:56:30 PM
  • 128
    I'm definitely a morning person when it comes to exercise. I actually hate eating before I workout. I'm usually NOT hungry when I wake up, so I just skip it. But I do try to eat a solid breakfast as soon as I finish my post-workout shower. - 9/9/2010   10:53:57 PM
  • KHASH20
    I work out pretty early in the morning so I'm usually not hungry before working out. If I feel like I do need something I usually eat part of a powerbar. - 9/7/2010   2:59:17 PM
    Like another commenter said, I usually have a glass of apple juice or banana or something with instant sugar before my morning run. If not, I get dizzy quickly. After, I have a protein bar or protein shake. It's a balance to get it right - if I have a protein or energy bar beforehand, I usually get a stomach ache when I run. If I have nothing before, I get dizzy and lightheaded - and then feel bad b/c I haven't performed well. I try not to give myself built-in excuses like not having fuel before working out. - 9/6/2010   8:38:03 PM
    I will usually have juice or a shot of honey if I'm exercising in the morning. That way I have a little something in my system and my stomach isn't upset. Then I eat a real breakfast after I workout. - 9/4/2010   9:08:44 AM
    I am in the minority here because I usually work out before breakfast. Funny thing is the rest of the day I do feel weak and lethargic if it has been more than several hours since I ate but first thing in the morning I am full of energy. After my workout I'm ready for breakfast though! - 9/2/2010   2:49:12 PM
    I run at 5:00 am most days and try to at least have a banana. Anything else will upset my stomach. - 8/31/2010   9:00:34 AM
    I have to eat before a workout, as an instructor it is important that I challenge not only myself but members. If I workout on an empty stomach I feel weak and
    sometimes dizzy. But this is also true when I eat something heavy before a workout . It seems like I have less energy and get nuasested. So I stick to yogurt about and hour or 2 before a workout. I also need to eat about 2 hours after a workout or I feel tired. - 8/25/2010   7:10:11 AM
  • 121
    This is the main reason i don't work out early in the morning. I am one of those people who needs to eat breakfast so that i don't get dizzy/faint or ill. i have not been willing to get up early enough to eat breakfast first. i really wish i could, but it has never worked for me. i do like to have a small snack 1/2 - 1 hour before running or working out. - 8/24/2010   4:24:05 PM
    I am borderline diabetic so eating before I work out is very important. Without breakfast I become very dizzy. - 8/24/2010   1:20:54 PM
  • 119
    I definitely notice a difference in a hard workout if I haven't eaten before. I have to have breakfast if I'm going to work out to my full potential. It doesn't matter as much if it's a less intense workout, such as walking, for me, but I think it's better to eat first. - 8/24/2010   1:31:58 AM
    I feel that you must eat breakfast first; your body requires sustenance after fasting thru the night. - 8/23/2010   8:46:22 PM
  • 117
    I don't do morning workouts usually, but I always pay careful attention to my food intake before and after my workouts. I make sure I get a boost of carbs beforehand and some protein in whatever I eat after. If I time things right, I can make my body feel great during my workout and feel refreshed long after too! - 8/23/2010   9:31:20 AM
  • 116
    I don't usually work out in the mornings, but regardless of the time of day I exercise, I always prefer to eat something before I go. As long as it's light it doesn't bother me to eat immediately before exercise or even during a break, and I can work out much more intensely when I'm not hungry! (Being well-rested and having had my coffee help a lot, too.) - 8/23/2010   8:38:37 AM
  • 115
    I exercise before I eat breakfast for 2 reasons: 1) if I don't get out and exercise within 15-30 minutes of getting up, I'm not exercising; 2) my dog needs to relieve himself and walking lets him take care of his business as much as he needs to. I'm not hungry that early in the morning (6-6:30 am). I usually drink 16 oz of water before we walk and eat later.
    - 8/22/2010   7:29:30 PM
  • 114
    I eat a Trader Joe's cereal bar as I'm heading out the door before my morning walks. It's just what I need and gives me the right amount of energy. - 8/22/2010   6:38:11 PM
    I agree with GREENEYES_78. For most exercising I will at minimum drink a protein drink before exercising. However, if it is yoga, I will exercise first as the positions one must get into to can are not exactly comfortable if food is jostling around in one's stomach (and one can't exactly relax if one is afraid they are going to up-chuck). - 8/22/2010   6:19:29 PM
  • 112
    Since I eat every three to four hours. I eat breakfast first. Then I workout. Within an hour of when I am done with my workout its within an hours time to eat again. So I also get a meal within one hour after eating. - 8/22/2010   5:42:11 PM
  • 111
    I usually have a protein shake about 30min before my morning workout, because if I eat something that needs chewing up, it feels like everythings going to come up..
    so with a drink I don't feel any discomfort in my stomache or exhausted and can push myself a bit harder - 8/22/2010   4:50:12 PM
    I need to eat before a workout, and then wait about 30 minutes after eating. Otherwise I've got not energy plus I'm feeling sick. - 8/22/2010   9:25:27 AM
  • EVLOBOS310
    It may be different for other people, but for me this depends on what kind of exercise I do. If I'm doing aerobic exercise, something relatively vigorous, then I eat before I work out. But if I'm doing yoga, I wait to eat until I'm finished working out. - 8/22/2010   7:28:50 AM
  • 108
    I used to workout before eating but after hearing some stuff about how bad it is I started making a point of eating a little something. Since I workout at home and therefore have a very short window between getting up and exercising I would set out a small snack so I could have it first thing. I would have a little protein and a little carb - a half oz of nuts and half a banana or some grapes worked well. These are easy to digest and was just enough to give me some energy without upsetting my stomach. I found that this made a BIG difference in my performance. When I wasn't eating before a WO I would hit a wall after about 30 min and just couldn't go on. Once I started have a little snack before exercising I could go much harder and longer. - 8/21/2010   10:23:26 PM
  • 107
    I can't eat before a workout. It may be out of habit from being in the army where we would do PT first in the morning and then eat breakfast. But also if I'm going to do a high intense workout like Plyometrics or heavy cardio I don't want to lose my breakfast cause I didn't have time to digest it. I prefer eating after a workout. - 8/21/2010   2:21:25 PM
  • 106
    This varies for me. I always make sure I eat breakfast in the morning and I try to eat something prior to a workout. I find that my blood sugar does drop in the evening so I need that food to get my blood sugar up and keep it stable. However, I've noticed that I can't eat prior to a run. If I run in the morning, I have to eat breakfast after the run. If I eat before, I end up with cramps. Oddly enough, this doesn't happen if I do some other workout.

    I find having breakfast makes my workouts more productive. but, that's just me.
    - 8/21/2010   12:22:38 PM
  • 105
    I too get up and excerise first then eat. I do do better after I have eaten though. - 8/21/2010   10:42:55 AM
  • 104
    This information was good to know. I had heard that your were supposed to eat a protein and carb before and after you work out and when I did morning exercise I would do that. I really appreciate the knowledge of the hours it takes for this to get in my system. I don't want to hinder my weight loss either so I would have to get up early and eat breakfast then go workout in a few hours. I have a schedule where I can do this but others do not. I love morning exercise! - 8/20/2010   11:21:22 PM
    I eat then walk or ride my stationary bike about 30 minutes later. - 8/20/2010   6:30:51 PM
    I like to eat something before i exercise, usually a small bowl of cereal, then i'll have a serving of fruit 20 to 30 minutes after my workout. - 8/20/2010   6:06:49 PM
    I'm glad you wrote this blog because after reading last week's "donut or nothing" article, I knew I had to re-think my working out before eating routine. Before I (recently) retired, I would wake up at 5:15am and be out to the door to the gym or a bike ride 15-30 minutes later. No eating beforehand, even though I would be burning hundreds of calories. It seemed to work fine for me. In fact I have trouble eating something and doing physical exercise, with the exception of bicycling when I can eat whatever and immediately hop on my bike.

    Now I will be making a more conscious effort to eat before exercising, and I have that luxury because I don't have to be out the door immediately. But not everyone has the luxury, so this is an interesting dilemma. - 8/20/2010   5:01:13 PM
  • 100
    I like to have a light snack before a workout, and then have my main meal (lunch for breakfast...I work nights and I don't wake up until around lunchtime) after my workout. Smoothies and juice work well. Solid foods make my stomach cramp if I workout, and an empty stomach makes me feel lightheaded. Liquid snacks seem to agree with my workouts, though. - 8/20/2010   4:55:17 PM
  • 99
    I am with the group that likes to have breakfast. Unfortunately, I can not eat a lot before working out as I tend to get sick. What I found I could handle and still work out was a drink that I found in a Prevention magazine years ago. It was made with orange juice, banana, and yogurt. This allows me to work out with something in the stomach but not so much that I get sick. - 8/20/2010   4:50:43 PM
  • 98
    I make it a point to eat breakfast any rehydrate myself before exercising. I give my breakfast a chance to settle by checking my e-mail and checking in to Spark People after eating, then begin my exercise. - 8/20/2010   4:19:14 PM

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