Why eating breakfast before hitting the gym is so worthwhile

Fill up on porridge; it’ll give you all the energy you need for your early morning workout. [Photo: Getty]

If you’re part of the breakfast club – and no, not the 1985 hit film – but just part of the group that really enjoys the morning meal then this is welcome news: eating breakfast may make your workouts more efficient.

According to the study from University of Bath – with support from the Universities of Birmingham, Newcastle and Stirling – eating breakfast before hitting the gym ‘primes’ the body to burn carbohydrates and supports more-rapid food digestion after a workout.

The first study of its kind, Dr. Javier Gonzalez explores how eating breakfast before a workout impacts post-exercise meals.

“This is the first study to examine the ways in which breakfast before exercise influences our responses to meals after exercise,” said the researcher from University of Bath.

“We found that, compared to skipping breakfast, eating breakfast before exercise increases the speed at which we digest, absorb and metabolise carbohydrate that we may eat after exercise.”

Published in the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, the study explored the effects a pre-workout breakfast may have when compared to overnight fasting. Researchers divided 12 study participants into two groups before an hour of cycling.

For the control test, participants ate a breakfast of porridge made with milk. While it may not be the bacon and eggs of your dreams, separate research has shown that a daily bowl of porridge boosts immunity, reduces cholesterol and may even help prevent cancer.

All 12 volunteers either ate their porridge two hours before exercise or had their breakfast followed by three hours’ rest. After each group’s exercise and rest, researchers tested the blood glucose levels and muscle glycogen levels of the volunteers.

The study discovered that on top of burning post-exercise carbs, eating breakfast increased the rate of burning pesky carbohydrates during exercise – and not just the ones from breakfast.

“We also found that breakfast before exercise increases carbohydrate burning during exercise, and that this carbohydrate wasn’t just coming from the breakfast that was just eaten, but also from carbohydrate stored in our muscles as glycogen… This increase in the use of muscle glycogen may explain why there was more rapid clearance of blood sugar after ‘lunch’ when breakfast had been consumed before exercise,” said PhD Student and Study Co-leader Rob Edinburgh.

“This study suggests that, at least after a single bout of exercise, eating breakfast before exercise may ‘prime’ our body, ready for rapid storage of nutrition when we eat meals after exercise.”

Long-term implications for this study are unclear due to the small sample size – made up of only healthy men – but Edinburgh admits they are exploring the topic further.

“We have ongoing studies looking at whether eating breakfast before or after exercise on a regular basis influences health,” he said. 

“In particular there is a clear need for more research looking at the effect of what we eat before exercise on health outcomes, but with overweight participants who might be at an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease… These are some of the questions we will now try to answer.”

While you may not have needed a study to inspire you to eat your morning meal, this research proves breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.

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