Even if you’re not normally a breakfast eater, eating something before you move will likely boost your performance. (First, you have to become a morning person, though.) When you roll out of bed, your body has fasted for eight or more hours, so your energy supplies are depleted. Your muscles need glycogen (the way the body stores carbs) to fuel exercise—so you want to make sure to take in some carbohydrates to refill your tank, says registered dietitian Robyn Kievit Kirkman. Ideally, you’ll eat a mix of carbs and protein an hour before you sweat. The carbs give you a kick of energy, and protein will help that energy last longer.
But what exactly should you eat pre-workout? That depends on the type of exercise you’re gearing up for. (This 20-minute workout is a surefire way to start your day right if you’re looking for morning movement inspiration.) Consider this your breakfast fuel cheat sheet.
If your workout is…low intensity
Less intense morning workouts, such as barre or yoga classes, don’t call for quite as much food as other more taxing routines. You should fuel up with 30g of carbs and 8g of protein, says Kievit Kirkman. A banana with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter should do the trick.
If your workout is…moderate intensity
For workouts that fall in the middle of the exercise-intensity spectrum—a 4-mile run or hopping on the saddle for a 45-minute spin class—shoot for 30g of carbohydrates and 15g of protein, says Kievit Kirkman. That could be an English muffin topped with two eggs.
If your workout is…short and intense
If you’re knocking out a 15-minute HIIT session, you want to take in the same as you would for a low-intensity workout—about 30g of carbohydrates and 8 or so grams of protein. Kievit Kirkman suggests a banana and a hard-boiled egg.
If your workout is…all about endurance
You really need to load up for a workout that’ll last longer than an hour. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating a minimum of 30g of carbohydrates per hour of exercise, which is just over a half cup of oatmeal. Kievit Kirkman recommends supplementing that with the same amount of protein. Try adding a scoop of protein powder to your oatmeal, for instance. (Or blend up one of these protein smoothie recipes that will keep you full all day.)
And if you’re running late for your workout
Don’t have an hour to spare to fuel up and digest pre-workout? “It’s about getting 30g of easily digested carbohydrates just five minutes before,” says Kievit Kirkman. The easiest thing to grab on your way out the door: a banana. But keep in mind that what works for you won’t work for everyone, she says. When you figure out what to eat before a morning workout, stick to it so your body will begin to recognize how to stay energized from warm-up to cool-down.