As an elite sports nutritionist to some of the highest performing professionals, James Collins knows how to fuel for a training session. Below, he shares his tips on how to boost energy levels for a morning workout and optimise recovery.


Next, read what should I eat if I exercise in the evening? Discover what to eat for a run, swim and cycle, plus find out the benefits of carb-loading.

What should I eat if I exercise in the morning?

If you plan to exercise early in the morning, leave yourself a little time to fuel and aim to have a small, snack-like breakfast that can be digested easily and quickly. This is useful because after a night of sleep your blood sugar levels will be lower than when you’ve recently eaten. Ideally, include carbs such as a banana, low-fat yogurt, bowl of cereal, smoothie or a glass of milk. Avoid foods that are high in fat or fibre because they take longer to digest and may cause stomach discomfort during exercise.

As well as supporting your performance a small breakfast taken pre-exercise appears to support mood and help manage appetite later in the day.

How much you need to eat and in what proportions will depend on the time you have before your exercise starts, the intensity of your planned session as well as your individual needs. Remember what you eat is only useful once it’s been digested, so the timing of your meal or snack is relevant. You may be able to get away with not eating beforehand if your planned session is of low-intensity or for less than one hour – but you will need to have a balanced meal soon after. If you find it difficult eating early in the morning, consider having some protein such as a milky drink or a protein (casein) powder mixed with water about 30 minutes before you go to sleep, doing so may increase your metabolic rate and muscle strength the next morning and may support body composition over the longer term.

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Three bowls of apple and linseed porridge

How to eat enough for your workout

According to elite sports nutritionist James Collins, if you're exercising in the morning, it's best to have a fuelling breakfast containing low-GI carbs, such as oats, before training to maintain energy levels during your session. Follow your workout with a fuelling lunch or snack to help your muscles recover. By the evening, the fuel requirements for your body will typically be lower if you exercised in the morning. A maintenance snack and meal containing plenty of protein is what your body needs. To learn more about what counts as 'fuelling' and 'maintenance,' check out James's Energy Plan.

On a single-session training day – for example, if you run first thing in the morning before work – you should aim to eat:

  • Two 'fuelling' meals
  • One 'maintenance' meal
  • Two snacks (one 'fuelling', one 'maintenance')

What if I want to train low?

Exercising before breakfast is often called ‘training low’ – this can prime the body to burn more fat during a workout. However, the downside is that for hard, intense exercise sessions, you may run short on energy. In this case there are two options:

1. Have a fuelling snack, such as yogurt with banana, before training and eat breakfast after your session
2. Have a fuelling meal for dinner the night before, such as baked sweet potato, to increase your fuel stores ahead of your early morning training session

If you are training low during the week, it’s important that you eat a fuelling meal or snack before workouts on the weekend. This is so your body remains accustomed to using carbs as a fuel source (otherwise your carbohydrate metabolism may become less efficient), plus, for prolonged weight-bearing exercise (such as marathon training), this is important because it will reduce the stress on your bones.

Recipes to support your workouts

Whatever exercise you do, the recipes below will support your training sessions. We've included three meals and two snacks to give you options, however, if you prefer to only have one snack, that’s fine.

Mexican-style beans with avocado on toast

Fuelling breakfasts

Mexican beans & avocado on toast
Apple & linseed porridge
Poached eggs with smashed avocado & tomatoes

Morning fuelling snacks

Berry yogurt pots
Avocado & strawberry smoothie
Homemade protein shake

A bowl of rice, beans, tofu and avocado

Fuelling lunches

Black bean, tofu & avocado lunch bowl
Cajun blackened chicken with supergreen quinoa
Turkey burgers with beetroot relish served with quinoa tabbouleh

Afternoon maintenance snacks

Chinese-spiced seed mix
Nutty chicken satay strips
Basil & olive eggs

A turkey burger served with pitta bread and beetroot relish

Maintenance dinners

Black bean chilli (without rice) served with a 10-minute stir-fry
Thai-style steamed fish with a chilli green salad
Moroccan spiced tuna with Asian greens
Please note: your nutritional requirements are unique to you, so you may need to adjust portion sizes to meet your specific needs.

Keep up the momentum

Consistently following a healthy, balanced diet is vital for maintaining energy levels not only during your workout but at home and work, too. Check out our healthy recipes and 10 fitness foods to include in your meals.

Learn more about this approach in James’ book, The Energy Plan, where he explains how to monitor your progress and what to eat on days when you exercise more or less.

Enjoyed this? Now read..

What to eat for a run
What should I eat when training for a marathon
What to eat on rest and low intensity training days
What to eat on heavy training days

This article was reviewed on 11 December by Registered Nutritionist, Kerry Torrens.

James Collins is the author of The Energy Plan, published by Penguin. For more information and to find a stockist, visit

James Collins is recognised as a leading Performance Nutritionist through his work with Olympic and professional sport. Over the last decade he has worked with Arsenal FC, England and France national football teams and Team GB. Previously elected President of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Food and Health Forum, he has a private practice in Harley Street where he sees business executives, performing artists and clients from all walks of life:


All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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