Not sure how to fuel yourself for an early morning training session?
Often with an early start, we're short on time and can let our nutrition slip or you're simply not sure what to eat before you train. This can lead to below-average performance in the training session, so let's look at how to prepare properly for your early starts when you're time poor. It's easy enough to suggest that you simply go to bed a little earlier the night before and get up 30mins earlier in the morning to ensure you get a proper breakfast. But unfortunately life's not that simple all the time. Sleep is only one component of getting the most out of your training - the other factors are your training plan (intensity, distance, taper etc) and the other is optimal nutrition. Taking the time to properly consider what you're eating and drinking, how often and what time of the days is crucial to get the return on your training investment. Not only will you feel better for it, but you should start seeing real improvements in your training sessions and ultimately your next event.
For a shorter training session (up to 1 hour, low/medium intensity), you could get away with no fuel prior to training however you are likely to hit a wall and have noticeable energy loss in the second half of the session. If you really have no time before you head out, you can either consume carbohydrates during your session, or consider taking easy to digest fuel to consume in the car or on your bike on the way to the gym/training. Examples of good on-the-go carbohydrates are Pure Electrolyte hydration drink, a banana, a gel chew or half an energy bar. If you have time to eat before you head out, drinking plain water for a shorter training session will be perfectly fine as you will have fuel from your pre-training food. But listen to your body while you're exercising - if you feel yourself consistently waning during your training session then you're probably not giving your body enough fuel to perform properly so think about altering (increasing) your carb intake. Eating well & staying well hydrated the night before your training will also have an impact on your performance. Eat a curry washed down with a few vino's and you'll really feel the slug in the morning! So make sure you take more water than usual during your training if you've indulged the night before - your body will need it.
For longer training sessions (over an hour) you should definitely make sure you have gas in your body tank to get the most out of your training session. Ideally consume your fuel at least 20-30mins before you head out, so try to do this as soon as you wake and let it settle as you get ready into your training gear. If you head out on an empty tank, you'll struggle to get on track even if you take food/drink with you as it's hard to 'make up' the energy while you are exercising, so start out on the right footing (so to speak). Slow release carbohydrates are perfect for a longer training session - porridge with banana and yoghurt/honey is ideal but work with what you prefer. The 90-second microwave oats are perfectly fine when you're short on time!
Filling your tank with energy
To work out your carb intake required before you head out on a longer training session, a general rule of thumb is about 1 gram carbohydrates per 1 kg of body weight, multiplied the number of hours you have before you begin your training session. So if you weigh 70kg and you have 30mins before your training session, your requirements are: 70kg x 1g carbs per kg = 70g x 0.5hrs (1/2 hour) = 35g carbohydrates If you have 1 hour before your training, your equation would be 70g x 1 hour = 70g carbohydrates So what does 35 or even 70 grams of easy-to-digest carbohydrate look like? Here's some ideas, you can mix & match to make up your required intake quantities:
Remember that this is just to get you started and for up to the first hour of training - you need to keep fueling yourself for every subsequent hour during your training to keep your nutrition on track and to get the most out of your training. You will need similar amounts of carbohydrates for each hour you're exercising (at least 50g per hour), so you can achieve this with a 750ml bottle of Pure Electrolyte Hydration drink (37.8g) and top up with energy gels, a banana or a half an energy bar during your training. Have a look at what you normally take with you on your training sessions and read the nutrition panel to get a better understanding of your carbohydrate intake per hour. The key to good nutrition in a hurry is being knowledgeable about what your eating/drinking options are, and being smart about your choices with a little bit of planning ahead of time.
After your training session It's really important that you recover properly from any training session, particularly if you haven't eaten prior to a shorter training session, so that you have enough of the right type of food to keep you going during the morning.
Marewa Sutherland is a qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (BAppSc, Otago University) and co-founder of PURE Sports Nutrition. She is a former elite road cyclist and has previously represented New Zealand for rowing. Marewa keeps busy with her involvement at PURE along with looking after her 15 month old daughter.