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Fueling your Morning Workout with Healthy Nutrition

July 29, 2015 by Ginger Hultin MS RDN

Have you ever wished so much that you could be a person who gets up and works out first thing in the morning? I’ve got good news for you: this is totally possible if you can just figure out the logistics. I’ll just tell you what you need as a foundation here at the very beginning of the post. You need to find something that you’ll actually look forward to doing. Once I nailed that aspect, I was able to get up for those 6 and 7am workouts no problem. I have lots of tips for you below so you can be prepared with everything you need to change your habits and be a morning exerciser. Part of that is absolutely strategizing food, water and coffee. So I wrote this whole plan for Fueling your Morning Workout with Healthy Nutrition so you’re completely prepared to make this change. 

It’s true that if you do workout first thing in the morning, things are less likely to get in your way as the day goes on and things pop up that could block your afternoons. I remember so many times trying so hard to get to the gym after work and getting called back for any number of ‘emergencies’. I l love morning workouts and they can be amazing for meeting your goals but often you’ll find yourself dragging yourself out of bed and having subpar workouts if you’re not able to nail the sleep/water/food schedule. This can absolutely be the difference between success and failure for morning workouts. 

Fueling your Morning Workout with Healthy Nutrition

Moving to Morning Workouts 

Have you tried working out on an empty stomach? How did you feel? If you felt sluggish, nauseous, weak and had a lack of energy, it might be because you didn’t fuel properly before your workout. What about working out on a full stomach? Very unpleasant. There’s a happy medium that involves the right balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat in a small meal or snack beforehand. 

The amount of food you should eat depends on how quickly you digest and the time between when you eat and when you work out. Your digestion depends heavily on the food you eat. If you have a meal or snack only minutes before working out, you may not be able to adequately use that fuel because your body will need time to digest. In fact, it may even slow you down the ability to use the fuel from your snack depends on what that snack consists of, too. 

In general, choosing a snack or small meal that is higher in carbohydrates, has a moderate amount of protein, and has a lower amount of fat is key. Protein and fat digest slower than carbohydrates, especially fat. As a rule of thumb, the closer you are to working out, the simpler and smaller your meal should be. Choose easy-to-digest foods like a banana or an apple with some nut butter, or even yogurt with some fruit for a pre-workout snack. 

The difference between working out in the early morning versus any other time of day (besides the early-morning wake-up call) is that in the morning we are coming out of an overnight fast. If you work out without fueling yourself first, your body will pull the energy from other places in your body and, depending on the intensity and duration of your workout, break down muscle! I am assuming you are wanting to build muscle and not break it down, so you need to fill your tank! I know, it can be tough to wake up in the morning and go when you don’t have the energy to do so. By having a snack before you go you will provide your body with energy to get to the gym and have a great workout. 

Fueling your Morning Workout with Healthy Nutrition

If you are still struggling to get up and go, or are having trouble planning ahead, here are my tips for Fueling Your Morning Workout with Healthy Nutrition:

  1. Set an alarm (…or 2). Even with one alarm it can still be difficult to wake up, and it is really easy to “accidentally” snooze it. Set a couple alarms to make it more difficult to snooze or shut it off.

  2. Find an accountability buddy. It is really easy to make a promise to yourself and break it, but it is more difficult to make a promise to someone else and break it, especially when they are expecting you. Find someone who is as motivated as you to keep you accountable to show up!

  3. Prep food ahead of time. If you are having trouble getting up in the morning don’t make it harder on yourself by having to make or prepare food. Instead, make your food the night before, or the weekend before if you meal prep on the weekends. It is much easier to grab-and-go than wake up earlier to make food.

  4. Keep snacks in your workout bag. Missed your alarm? Snoozed it a little too long? Nobody is perfect, but since getting to the gym is a priority, keep back-up snacks like my cran-almond energy bars or my coconut cherry energy oat balls in your bag so that you can still fuel yourself before your workout.

  5. Set coffee and tea out. Are you sensing a theme here? Basically the goal is to not have to do anything but wake up and roll out of bed in the morning. So, pre-make your coffee or tea so all you have to do is heat it up, or invest in a coffee maker that you can preset for a certain time in the morning.

  6. Put your gym bag by the door. By packing your gym bag the night before and setting it by the door you don’t have to scramble in the morning trying to gather what you need and you won’t end up leaving without it.

  7. Commit to a class. Sign-up online or better yet, pay for your class ahead of time as the extra motivation for you to go. Certain gyms such as OrangeTheory and SoulCycle require you to pay for a class in advance, so it is much harder to bail than a class you didn’t pay or sign up for.

  8. Check the weather and prepare for it. If poor weather is a barrier for you, check the weather the night before and prepare accordingly. Living in the Pacific Northwest, rain is almost a daily occurrence, so pack your rain boots, rain jacket and something warm! This will never get in your way again. 

Give these tips a try if you are having trouble Fueling your Morning Workout with Healthy Nutrition, or if you are struggling with getting up in the morning for your workout. And, once you get into a routine, it will become much easier. If you need help with other quick and delicious breakfast ideas, check out these simple recipes that I love making ahead of time for my pre-workout meals and snacks like my Ginger Pumpkin Breakfast Smoothie, Honey-Kissed Autumn Cherry Breakfast Quinoa, Easiest Blueberry Coconut Oatmeal Bake, and Banana Ginger Oats.


  1. Alanna on July 29, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Yay for smoothies!!! These all sound so good and incredibly refreshing right now, since it’s been crazy hot! Thanks so much for including my Green Energizing Smoothie 🙂 P.S. push-ups are also my nemesis

  2. Jamie @ Dishing Out Health on July 30, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Awesome round-up! Thanks for including my carrot cake protein smoothie! Cheers!

  3. Jennifer @NourishedSimply on July 30, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Great list. I can’t wait to share it with clients. Thank for including me.

  4. Marie on July 31, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    This is such a great round up of smoothie recipes. Thanks for including me. 🙂

  5. Nita Sharda on August 24, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    Hi Ginger! Thank you so much for including Carrots and Cake on your roundup. I’m a huge fan of my tropical green smoothie but this roundup left me motivated to try my hand (and blender) on some new varieties. Even RD’s need to change up their game!

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Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO

Integrative nutrition specialist helping clients navigate complex health conditions to reduce inflammation and feel better.

Thanks for visiting! If you're struggling with a cancer diagnosis, autoimmune condition, gut health problems, or even a medical mystery, nutrition can make a HUGE difference in your day-to-day life. I run a virtual, concierge private practice where I partner with my clients over time to help them improve their health through nutrition. Be sure to visit the blog for easy, plant-based, anti-inflammatory recipes and our "Resources" page for a variety of self-paced programs, books, e-books, and nutrition podcast episodes.

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