BIG Nutrition: Eating and early morning exercise


BIG Nutrition: Eating and early morning exercise

Most people would agree that being well fueled prior to a workout is a good idea reasoning that they’ll get more out of the workout. But when the rubber hits the road at 5:00 or 6:00 am (or perhaps 8:00 or 9:00 am on the weekend), it can be difficult for some people to even think about eating food. There are also morning exercisers that believe that they might burn fat if they exercise on an empty stomach. Let’s sort some of this out.

Overnight while we sleep, the body’s cortisol levels are higher maintaining normal blood sugar levels and fuel for the brain. The highest levels of cortisol are in early morning and one of cortisol’s functions is muscle breakdown to produce energy for body functions. Eating a meal or snack reduces cortisol levels and stops the muscle breakdown process.

There is not much research support, at this time, for exercising on an empty stomach and muscle breakdown continues to provide the body fuel for activities rather than burning fat. Training with limited carbohydrate availability may result in some metabolic adaptations in trained athletes, but there is not enough research to show this results in better performance than those with adequate carbohydrate intake, and research shows that training intensity and duration are compromised.

But what if you are not used to consuming anything prior to an early morning workout?

  • Start with water. Even a small amount of dehydration results in decreased performance. Drink 1-2 cups (16 oz.) in the hour before a workout. Get half of this in before a workout and it is a definite step forward!
  • Try eating a few bites of food (1/4 banana, 2-3 crackers, or 2 spoons of rolled oats or steel cut oatmeal) 20-30 minutes before a workout. Remember, the first 15 minutes of class is a time to warm up, so digestion will proceed during that time.
  • Practice! Your body needs to adapt to consuming some food before heading into a workout.

Food and water are amazing assets to getting the most out of exercise, so help those early morning workouts by giving it a try!

Also, for those who celebrate, Happy Passover and Easter!

Happy and healthful eating,

Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN

Need help with what to eat before a WOD? Contact me at [email protected]. Private Nutrition Services are available for BIG Members (@ 30% discount) and the Community. They are listed here.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Evidence Analysis Library. Accessed April 15, 2019.

Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Accessed April 15, 2019.