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Should You Exercise Before Or After Eating Breakfast? 

oatsmeal and fruits for breakfast
Photo by Brooke Lark

There are many things you should do when it comes to exercise that will protect you, like running on softer surfaces to prevent shin splints. But then, there are things which are optional, such as if you should eat breakfast before or after exercise.

Some people have fairly strong opinions on the topic, but whether you should eat before or after exercise will depend on a variety of personal factors.

Working Out Before Breakfast: Fasted Cardio

Personally, I prefer to engage in fasted cardio. This term means I do my cardio on an empty stomach. Part of why I opt to workout before breakfast is because it forces my body to use fat as a fuel source, rather than using the food fuel I ate recently.

There has been quite a bit of research to help back up the idea that fat burns faster when you do fasted cardio. A recent study looked at participants in two groups. The first group worked out before eating, and the second group ate then worked out.

Those who worked out on an empty stomach had lower blood sugar levels — which can be incredibly helpful if you struggle with high blood sugar — and higher fat oxidation. This fat oxidation allowed these participants to burn fat, rather than glucose (sugar) and potentially muscle. In the group that ate before their workouts, their blood sugar and insulin levels were significantly higher while having lower fat oxidation levels.

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Benefits of working out before eating

Along with the research, you may find a variety of personal benefits when it comes to working out then eating. Some of these reasons are:
  • No discomfort while exercising due to food sitting in your stomach.
  • Less likely to throw up when doing vigorous cardio exercise.
  • Burn fat for fuel rather than easy food glucose.
  • Feel less sluggish and more active so that you can stick to your workout routine.
If you get a bit lightheaded after working out on an empty stomach, I highly recommend getting a home treadmill. I use mine throughout the winter, and on mornings where I know I need to help get the kids ready for school, and I can’t be late getting back from a run. With a home treadmill, you can go from workout to eating in no time flat.

Why Eat Breakfast Before Working Out

But, even though I like to workout before eating, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a good case for eating breakfast then working out. For one thing, if you can’t do morning workouts, then it makes perfect sense to eat breakfast and go about your day. However, some people like to have a pre-workout snack, and they are back at the question of whether to eat before their workout.

Well, there is an interesting study that specifically looked at many different researchers studies regarding food and endurance cardio performance. Generally, if your cardio workout goes over 30-45 minutes, it is considered an endurance workout.

In these studies, the participants were marathon runners, triathletes, and cyclists. Those athletes who ate before their workouts were found to have improved performance when compared to peers that did not eat before working out.

However, if you want to eat breakfast before working out, be sure to avoid greasy foods like bacon and sausage, as well as dairy products. These foods are often linked to gastrointestinal issues when you workout.

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Benefits of eating breakfast before working out

Below, I have created a clear list of some of the main benefits of eating breakfast before working out.
  • Can improve performance when it comes to endurance workouts.
  • Helps you focus on your workout and not your empty stomach.
  • Ensures that you are properly fueled and hydrated for the workout ahead of you.
  • You can take the time to properly cool down and foam roll rather than needing to hurry up and eat.
Whether you choose to eat breakfast then workout or eat after your exercise session, the most important thing is finding what is sustainable for you. That way, you can make regular exercise a permanent part of your life.
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