As millions of people head to the gym to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions to exercise every day, they often neglect the one thing (other than persistence) that can make or break their workout: breakfast.

Breakfast is an important meal for many reasons, but it becomes crucial on the mornings you workout. In this edition of Eat This, Not That, we explore healthy alternatives to your standard breakfast fare.

Instead of: A protein bar

Protein bars have long been the go-to for people with early-morning workouts, and it’s understandable. They are highly portable, have a long shelf life, and usually have tons of protein to fuel your workout. But in addition to these positive characteristics, many protein bars have as much sugar as a can of soda, tons of preservatives (for that long shelf life), and often are high in sodium. In addition, many of these bars use soy as their protein. For women with hormone-triggered cancer, soy cannot be a part of their diet.

Try: DIY protein bars

Instead of reaching for a readymade bar, reach for one you’ve already made yourself. These protein bars are packed with protein and have tons of options to customize to your taste. If you have a peanut allergy, substitute other nut butters. The protein powder in the recipe can be an all-natural, no-sugar-added formula that uses rice, greens, or other types of protein.

Once you get the basic formula and consistency down, you can add fruit, more nuts, seeds, or other crunchy things to give your bar more texture and variety. Better still, these bars take about ten minutes to throw together and are ready in about an hour (after chilling in the ‘fridge). Slice and wrap in waxed paper, and they are ready to go.

Instead of: Yogurt or a smoothie

Turns out, some people do not wake up in the morning hungry. For many, this is where yogurt or a smoothie comes in. But fruit-flavored yogurt can have excess sugar, and in general there is not much nutritional bang for your buck beyond calcium and protein. Plus, after years of working out, yogurt and smoothies can get a little boring.

Try: Chia seed pudding

If you are planning on a workout, you’ll need some fuel to make it through, even if you are not starving in the morning. This is where chia seed pudding comes in handy. Chia seeds are bursting with nutrition.

Just one serving of chia seeds (one ounce) contains:

  • Fiber: 11 grams
  • Protein: Four grams
  • Fat: Nine grams (five of which are omega-3s)
  • Calcium: 18% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA)
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDA
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA

When soaked in liquid, chia seeds begin to swell and turn into a jelly-like substance. Depending on how long you soak them, the seed may lose its crunch altogether. A simple formula for chia seed pudding is 1/3 cup of seeds to two cups of liquid.

An easy way to start experimenting with chia seeds is to grab a large-mouthed Mason jar, a can of coconut milk, and 1/3 cup of chia seeds. Put the chia seeds in the bottom of the jar and add the coconut milk. Put the lid on and shake until the seeds are dispersed throughout the milk (you may need to give it a stir). Put the jar into the ‘fridge for at least two hours (preferably overnight).

While this easy recipe takes most of its sweetness from the coconut milk, you can always add a little agave syrup or cinnamon to bring it out. Instead of coconut milk you can use any other type of milk or juice. Feel free to flavor with any spice you like. Another great combination is apple juice, lemon juice, cayenne, and honey.

Just a few tablespoons can help get you started for your morning workout!

Instead of: Egg sandwich from the drive thru

We get it: mornings are hectic. You are doing a great thing for your body by squeezing in a workout, but sometimes you don’t have enough time to make breakfast at home. So you swing through the drive thru and pick up an egg sandwich. Maybe with some bacon. And some cheese. About 15 minutes into your workout, that sandwich hits your belly and everything starts to become much harder. Maybe it’s the excessive sodium, sugar, unhealthy fats, and preservatives, but even the protein of the egg is not enough to justify this as a workout breakfast.

Try: Tortilla scramble

Making a hot breakfast in the morning just isn’t always possible. But that doesn’t mean eating one is impossible. Make your scramble the night before, wrapping eggs in a flour or gluten-free tortilla and refrigerating it. Add a little cheese in the morning (or at night when you put it in the ‘fridge), then warm it in the microwave or in aluminum foil in the oven (you can let it warm while you get ready to leave). If you have an extra 30 seconds, throw some avocado in your wrap for healthy fats to keep you going.

This wrap has all of the positives of the drive thru sandwich (protein and calcium), plus whole grains in the tortilla and none of the negatives. On a cold morning, a hot breakfast can be just the thing to get you going.

Instead of: Prepackaged meals of any kind

You know what they are: instant oatmeal, frozen breakfast sandwiches, frozen waffles, and other prepackaged meals of any kind. Even if they are organic and made with good ingredients, they have still been dramatically processed and usually have more sugar, flavorings, fat, or salt than your body needs. Yes, of course they are convenient, but that convenience comes at a price. These foods are anywhere from three to four times more expensive than what you could make yourself.

Try: Cooking on Sunday for the week

Cooking for the week on Sunday is not just for dinners. If you like waffles for breakfast, make a double or triple batch and freeze for the week (then top with chia pudding or nut butter for a big punch of nutrition). Create several jars of overnight oatmeal in different flavors and you won’t miss that dusty instant oatmeal one bit.

Congratulations to you for making the commitment to your morning workout! What is your go-to pre-workout breakfast?


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