It’s the age-old question for people who hit the gym bright and early: Is it better to have a workout breakfast before hitting the gym, or after? Trick question—the answer is both, according to Corey Peacock, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sports nutrition at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and head performance coach of the Blackzilians, Boca Raton’s mixed martial arts team
Yup, you read that right: You officially have permission to eat second breakfast (provided you work out).
“When you wake up after a night of sleep, you’re in this ‘fasted state,’” Peacock says. “Your body is in a stressful situation where it’s very receptive to nutrients in your breakfast. So that’s the time when your body really needs fuel more than anything else.”
Eating a workout breakfast before you hit the gym will also ensure you have the energy your body needs to really give your workout 100 percent. It will prep your body so it’s ready to reap the full benefits of your lifting, cardio, or yoga session.
“If you were going to work out in the afternoon, you would eat to give yourself some energy to go,” says Peacock. “People think because it’s the morning, they’re going to go to the gym, get it done, and then they’re going to supply their bodies with the fuel.” Nope.
But while having a workout breakfast before you sweat is key, eating post-workout is just as important.
“Afterward, you need to focus on what you would call protein re-synthesis,” Peacock says. “Protein is going to take the most damage during a workout because that’s what your muscles are made out of. So the idea of refueling that should be the primary focus.”
Fun fact: Your body is actually most receptive to any protein you consume just before, during, and after you exercise—so it’s crucial to get plenty of protein in both of your breakfasts.
The two meals can be pretty similar: Besides containing plenty of protein, they should both have carbohydrates and some healthy fat. During your first breakfast, you can include some high-glycemic carbs (think: honey or sugar), which your body can use right away for a quick hit of energy. In your second breakfast, it’s best to focus on low-glycemic carbs like brown rice or sweet potatoes, which will give your body more sustained energy for the rest of your day.
Assuming you’re not a pro athlete, each workout breakfast should be around 230 calories.
Here are seven breakfasts Peacock recommends for pre- and post-workout. Feel free to mix and match them as you see fit.