I typically train in the mornings and at this time of year am stepping up to moderate intensity (i.e. Threshold) workouts starting around 5:30am. I usually get up at 5 and have a pre-workout snack but obviously this is not going to be anywhere near a pre-ride breakfast sized meal. I’ve experimented a bit and found that the workouts typically go better if I consume a high carb dinner (think sweet potatoes, white rice, lean protein) the night before instead of something more balanced like a salad. That said everything I’ve read has told me this is bad (“dinner should be the smallest meal of the day”, “excessive carbs before bed are bad”, “don’t go to bed feeling full”, etc).
Is there a different set of guidelines for those who do moderate to high intensity training before breakfast? Is hitting macro targets the important thing or should nutrient timing be adjusted to fit a morning workout schedule? Looking for suggestions.
As long as you aren’t eating to excess, I haven’t seen a lot of evidence to support that eating carbs before bed is detrimental.
In fact, a small amount of high quality carb is supposed to help with gherlin levels in the morning. One of my favorite evening snacks is to have some fibrous fruit (apples, watermelon, etc) and it hasn’t impacted my ability to drop weight so far.
Depending on your goals, I think a more productive morning session is the best thing to focus on.
Personally I feel much better if I eat big low long carbs before morning workout like rice, some meat)
Today tried Carpathian Peak +2 (under over 1.30h) without great carb supper and in the end of workout I had to finish coz I could’n go further.
slowly absorbable carbohydrates are great option for the last meal if you have workout in the morning - its my opinion
A lot of this depends on what your goals are and how your past performance has been. If you’re trying to get through tough workouts, that’s one thing. If you’re trying to lose fat, that’s another. If you’re trying to do both at the same time, which many on this forum are, is when things get tricky.
Are you getting through your tough workouts now? You said you have a high carb dinner and a small snack early in the morning. Is it working for you now? If you find that you’re fueled enough with that, you could experiment with scaling back a little and see what impact it has. Maybe skip the early morning snack and see what the effect is. Or have a smaller portion of the high carb dinner, or move the macro towards more protein and see the impact. You get the idea. The question here is do you need your current nutrition routine to perform well in your workouts, or have they just become a comforting routine? The potential performance gain from moving towards more fasted workouts in the morning is to become a more fat-adapted athlete.
If you’re trying to lose fat, I tend to think of it like as a pyramid of hierarchy.
On the bottom, the most important element is just straight out calories. If you are in a deficit, you will lose weight and if you’re in a surplus you’ll gain weight. Simple. Therefore, before you worry about anything else, make sure you’re in a deficit of around 300-500 calories per day.
Next level is considering the quality of the food you’re eating. A 2,000 calorie per day diet of burgers is going to yield different performance capabilities than whole foods rich in nutrients.
Then consider your macro proportions. If you listen to the Kona podcasts specials what becomes clear is that you can become a high performance athlete on very different nutrition strategies. A popular one within TR users is a high carb, low fat diet as described in The Endurance Diet. I typically run a 50% Carb, 30% Protein, 20% Fat macro split and that seems to work well for me.
Lastly, you can make marginal gains when looking at nutrient timing. Pre-workout fueling, post-workout fueling, going to bed hungry, etc all fall into this category. The point is, it doesn’t matter when you eat your sprouted organic tofu if you’re habitually 1,000 calories over your daily needs if you’re trying to lose fat.
For more in depth views, this is a great thread:
Perform and be Lean
This is where things are tricky. If you’re in a calorie deficit, the risk is that you’re potentially not optimally fueled for your key workouts. If you have the building blocks of nutrition in place to get to your target weight, then this is where nutrient timing can make the difference. To directly address your question, that your evening meal should be the smallest of the day I think applies to the general population, but probably not someone looking to do hard efforts at 5 in the morning. Dinner for you will be a key fueling point for your next workout. Then breakfast will be your post-workout/recovery point. So, likely lunch might be the meal that should be smallest for you. This is all going to be individual to you, your goals, how your body responds to nutrition and training. I would say to think about what is important to you, come up with a plan for a week of how your nutrition will support your goals and then see how it goes. Then make small changes if things aren’t working for you. If you’re not losing the weight you want to, where can you cut back? If you’re feeling flat in key workouts, maybe you do need that small meal before you get on the bike?
Thanks for the detailed response! I think this most closely represents where I’m at and what I’m looking for:
Perform and be Lean
This is where things are tricky. If you’re in a calorie deficit, the risk is that you’re potentially not optimally fueled for your key workouts. If you have the building blocks of nutrition in place to get to your target weight, then this is where nutrient timing can make the difference. To directly address your question, that your evening meal should be the smallest of the day I think applies to the general population, but probably not someone looking to do hard efforts at 5 in the morning. Dinner for you will be a key fueling point for your next workout. Then breakfast will be your post-workout/recovery point. So, likely lunch might be the meal that should be smallest for you.
I’ll give this a shot. Large, carb centric dinners to fuel early morning performance (up to 60min working time at threshold) has worked in the past but I since shifted over to more of a weight loss focus in the “base” period of my offseason. Right now I’m in the gym lifting twice a week in the afternoon and doing low intensity rides on the same days in the morning. At the same time I’ve been running a 500cal/day deficit (50% carb, 25% protein, 25% fat tracked via MFP). It seems unlikely that I’ll be able to complete the threshold workouts keeping everything the same so hopefully playing with nutrient timing will do the trick.
Just because it fits around our life best, I come home for around 6 most evenings. Eat dinner and then train about 8pm. So I am not hungry training but then don’t have much post workout. I don’t eat a lot then because I don’t actually need the overall calories in the day. But sometimes worry I’m not fully facilitating muscle growth recovery…
This is me too, making sure that I fuel workouts well but also always trying to lose the last 5 lbs (which I keep finding again ). I workout in the morning like you, usually around 7:30. With my meal plan (below) I can fuel any morning workout just fine without anything between dinner and the ride itself (Mid-Volume SSB, General Build and Rolling Road Race) which is great. I get off the bike I hit the shower and have breakfast.
Breakfast: overnight soaked oats (1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup eggwhites, 3 oz greek yogurt, 1/2 tbsp chia seeds, 1/2 tbsp flax seeds, 1 oz raisins, 1 grated banana, 1/3 cup frozen berries all mixed together and left in the fridge overnight), coffee
Lunch will be 2 slices Ezekiel bread with 1/2 avocado, handful or arugula, lemon juice and a slice of turkey, a piece of fruit, 1 oz of mixed raw nuts, 2 oz raw celery, 2 oz raw carrots, coffee.
For Dinner I try to keep it to just what I need (around 500 calories) with some protein (1/2 a chicken breast is common), some carbs (1/2 cup of brown rice) and a pile of vegetables.
I will sometimes get hungry in the afternoon and I’ll go for a banana and a protein shake made with water. This does a good job of keeping hunger at bay until the next meal.
Occasionally I’ll do a workout later in the morning, say 9am. If it’s a short workout, I’ll just still do it without any food. If it’s longer, I’ll have 2 slices of toast with a high sugar spread on it (honey or strawberry jam) and grab a cup of coffee. This just puts some sugar in me to get things going and seems to do the trick.
I try to do strength work 4 days per week on the same day as my hard workouts (Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun). I used to spread it out like you suggested and do gym work on my recovery days, but Chad on a few podcasts suggested that wasn’t the best idea. There’s a comprehensive thread on strength training that is worth checking out, in it Chad recommends:
I was hesitant to do this since I thought my body would be too fatigued to do a good gym workout on the same day and a tough TR workout. But I tried it, and it works out better. My strength work hasn’t seemed to suffer, but I get a lot more of a return on my recovery days (of course!). I’ve found that it’s more of a mental battle than anything else to double-up those days.
Thanks for those insights, what I find interesting here is that 500cal for dinner does not seem like a lot. What is the higher end of the energy demand for your AM workouts? When I’m doing threshold work, I usually torch close to 1500cal in 1.5hr.
ps to clarify I also do my strength training on the same days that I have on bike workouts. I’ve found this to work pretty well when spacing them out by about 8 hrs or going back to back when bike intensity is low.
As for an evening meal, a common thing that I meal prep is 6 oz chicken breast, 1/2 cup brown rice and 1 cup vegetables which I think is a decent volume of food is only 340 calories. A bit of greek yogurt and a piece of fruit after dinner for something sweet will get it up around the 500 calorie mark. That’s definitely enough for me to sustain a decent morning workout. I know the fuel is there from the day, my legs will be ready and I can do the work. I’m definitely not thinking “my morning ride is 1,500 calories, so I need 1,500 for dinner”.
In case the above post wasn’t clear, Chad is suggesting that for optimal results, do your strength work on the days when your bike intensity is high.