The Daily Beet

10 Jan Guest post by Lani Muelrath – What should you eat before an early morning workout?

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This year we are going to be featuring different experts in plant-strong nutrition and fitness.

Today, Lani Muelrath, is dropping by to answer one of your questions! If you want to learn a little bit more about Lani check out this introduction post. If you have a question for Lani, just leave it in the comments.

Monique asks: I work out early in the morning, starting with Pilates (all core work). Do you have any suggestions for something that will sit well in the stomach for that activity (so I can ditch the protein shakes).

Lani: Monique, it sounds like you are talking about what to eat before your workout.  In that case, remember that something like a protein shake is not optimal right before your workout because of the digestion time involved – as evidenced by the ‘sit in the stomach’ comment that you made.

In other words, the calories from a heavy protein shake would not be available to your body to utilize until hours later anyway.

On top of that, protein is not a good source of ‘energy’.  We get energy from carbohydrates primarily.

Some say that since glycogen – stored energy for activity – is stored in our muscles and liver that we don’t need to eat anything in the morning before exercise because there is plenty in storage.

However, Len Kravitz PhD, from UNM, has this to say:

The substrate that most effectively powers your workout is carbohydrate. Fat definitely contributes, but carbohydrates in the form of glucose are the body’s favorite exercise fuel. After a night’s sleep, the muscles are very depleted of glycogen, the stored form of glucose. Therefore, the muscles will be lacking in the energy substrate they needs to work hard and long. In addition, the brain utilizes glucose for all of its fuel needs. Therefore, the muscles of the body and some brain functions may be impaired due to exercising in this fasted situation. Encourage your clients to have a light carbohydrate snack…before the morning workout to properly fuel the workout and safeguard themselves from bodily harm.

Remember I said the protein takes a longer time to digest?  In contrast, carbohydrate such as fruit digests easily and comparatively quite quickly, which makes it the perfect pre-workout snack.  You can then do your Pilates workout and save a heavier meal for post workout.

And I can’t let the opportunity to address ‘protein shakes’ slip by.  It is quite easy to surpass our protein requirements when we turn to concentrated sources such as protein shakes.  Most of us get sufficient protein in our daily whole foods, plant-strong diet.  It’s not going to give you more energy or build muscle of its own accord.

For more on protein, see:

Today, Lani tackles the protein question

Protein madness and special interests, aka the #1 thing I learned in plant-based nutrition school

Thank you once again Lani! Do you have questions for Lani? Please leave a comment and questions below!

Look for more guests posts by some of our favorite experts!

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Engine 2 Team
Engine 2 Team

The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!

  • Kat
    Posted at 13:02h, 11 January

    My fav snack before my morning run is either a banana with pb or a piece of whole grain toast with pb and glass of water. It keeps me fuled and I’m not starving afterwards either. I follow work out with steel cut oats or nature’s path optimum slim cereal

  • Melanie
    Posted at 13:25h, 11 January

    Thank you so much for this! I am doing an early morning workout of a very intense workout (P90X) and I’m crashing because I am not eating beforehand. I wasn’t sure what I should eat 🙁 I’m also struggling because I don’t think I am eating enough during the day (how crazy does that sound?) The workout is very intense and I’m eating all plant-based foods, and a wide variety of them. Can you give some suggestions of foods that will pack a punch when I need a quick pick me up? Thanks!

    • Lani Muelrath
      Posted at 16:26h, 11 January

      Hey Melanie,

      From your message – you suspect that you are ‘not eating enough’ – then that is where you first can look. Be sure you are well fed from early in the day. It is THE best way to be sure you have enough gas in the tank later because when the glycogen is already stored and ready for the ‘go’ button in your muscle tissue and liver, it’s a much easier delivery for your needs. Trying to play catch-up later is less optimal, and only something we should have to default to if we are endurance athletes.

      Here is an article that may help:

      This is called “2 huge mistakes women make when trying to lose weight and what to do about it” and even though it refers to weight loss, it’s about fueling up well which not only gets in the way of energy but of weight loss


      Are you lean and losing weight?

      You may not be eating enough calories to support your activities and perhaps you are already lean. How are the starchy veggie and whole grains going? Quickest in-out fuel is fruit, in a pinch.

      Looking forward to your thoughts,


  • Janis Gebhart
    Posted at 16:14h, 11 January

    Thanks for the great information about what to eat before a morning workout! What do you recommend for electrolyte replacement? My 16 year old son is a serious tennis player, and they practice from 10 – 4 in the Houston heat during the summer. I send fruit and plenty of water with him, but I worry about his electrolyte balance. Do you have any thoughts?

    • Lani Muelrath
      Posted at 16:47h, 11 January

      Hey Janis, thanks for stopping in to comment, I appreciate and glad you like the article.

      Is your son experiencing symptoms that lead you to believe he needs a supplement?

      My nutrition consultant Jeff Novick used to be a marathoner and used foods, fruits, nuts, and juices for fuel without special electrolyte replacers.

      At the same time, Brendan Brazier talked about his opinion of specific electrolyte replacement products in some of the course materials for the Plant-Based Nutrition Certification Course through Cornell that I completed. He thinks that they are important and promotes their use.

      He also has one for sale in his vega store called Electrolyte Hydrator,
      “A natural, alkaline-forming drink mix, free from sugar and artificial sweeteners, Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator is formulated with all the essential electrolytes your body needs to stay hydrated during workouts.”

      Sounds like your son is really going for the gusto with tennis!


  • Justin Rutherford
    Posted at 17:21h, 11 January

    This is a great website / blog / forum to come ask questions. I have a question about starchy carbs. I’m having a hard time with some possible conflicting information about starchy carbs. I’m trying to slim down for an upcoming beach trip and wondered what would be the limit for starchy carbs? I am running and doing some resistance training 4-5x’s a week and I am worried that I might be taking in too many starchy carbs. On some of the sites that I visit, they say to cut them right out in order to have good results for fat loss. I thought most of your energy came from starchy carbs? I eat 6-7 small meals a day and wondered how many of those meals should be starchy?

    Also, how many times can I repeat “starchy carbs”?? Long day!

    Any help would be greatly appreciated;



    • Lani Muelrath
      Posted at 17:37h, 11 January


      I am glad to see you are keeping your sense of humor. My number one rule of fitness!

      Before you worry about starchies, make sure that fats aren’t somehow creepy into your diet. That and processed foods. Keep a food diary for 2 – 3 days if you need to.

      With oils, dairy, meats and high fat foods gone, and processed then next place to tweak would be cut down or out the flours – even whole grain flours, as the fiber is disrupted and calorie density impacted.

      This means starchies are now starchy veggies and cooked, intact wholegrains.

      This may be all you need to do. If you’ve already been doing this for a couple of weeks, let me know and we’ll take it to the next step.


  • Lani Muelrath
    Posted at 17:46h, 11 January

    For anyone interested, I’m currently coaching at the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart with PCRM and we are doing a free Teleclass on January 17. Of course everyone is invited and if you’d like to find out more and sign up here’s the skinny:


    FYI, Lani

  • Justin Rutherford
    Posted at 18:21h, 11 January

    Thank you for replying so quickly;

    My wife and I have cut out anything that comes from animals. It has been since the beginning of November 2011 after watching FOK, FOOD INC. and Fat Sick And Nearly Dead. We do have Brown rice, Spelt and Kamut pastas in the house. Possibly only one meal a week will include one or the other. Other Starches include sweet potatoes, beans,wild rice, brown rice, quinoa, kasha, etc…. We’ve been following the E2 book, FOK book, Thrive Fitness and we just started reading Eat To Live. By “we” I mean my wife has been reading them. I’ve been more concerned with my fitness and proper fuel! I have Brazier’s Whole Food Meal Replacement, Recovery and Sports Protein powder aswell. My issue is how much starch and when to use any of Brendan’s products. I’m eating 6-7 small meals a day. Usually leftovers from the night before broken down into 4 small meals. So if I had a Spelt pasta dish the night before I have it through the next day aswell. I just started adding 3-4 salads to my meals aswell. Typically 1 cup of food and 1.5cups of salad (spinach, romaine, etc). I still have my 1 coffee a day, it’s not an energy thing but more of a habit. I got rid of the agave nectar and replaced it with teaspoon of Cdn Maple Syrup. The only thing that I eat processed would be soy yogurt. Only 6g of sugar and the only oil that is listed is flax oil. Made by Soygo. We sometimes treat ourselves to homemade popcorn on SVU or movie nights but we are unsure as to what to use for oil?
    WOW, it looks like the only thing I left out were our cats names. Anyways, thanks again for the quick reply and we really do like checking up on your website when we can.



  • Lani Muelrath
    Posted at 19:37h, 11 January

    Thanks Justin,

    Let’s back up and see if you aren’t getting the results that you are looking for. Are you experiencing slow but sure fat loss? Do you have a lot to lose, or are you close? Things always slow down when we get closer to our ideal.

    Protein powders and meal replacements are highly processed foods. I don’t recommend the use of them for most of us as they are unnecessary, you can can what you need from the real deal.

    Soy yogurt too is a non-fibrous, highly processed food. I’d consider it a condiment on occasion and not a daily fare if you are trying to lose weight. You have to keep your goals in mind.

    Shifting out to all whole foods may be all you need to boost things along, but then again you haven’t noted whether you are really stalled in your progress.

    If you are all whole foods, low fat then usually this is all you need. If you want to speed things up, thin 50/50 with starchy veggies/ whole grains and water-content veggies. Going 2/3 – 1/3 can speed it up a little bit more.

    That’s about as complex as it needs to get. Ain’t it beautiful?


  • Justin Rutherford
    Posted at 22:02h, 11 January

    Sorry to keep bothering you like this….
    Thanks for the feedback. I would say that I am losing fat at a good rate. I think? I started running at the end of November, I’m 5’7″ and weighed approx 235, Barney Rubble body type.LOL… I weighed myself last week and weighed about 215. I’m sure some of that weight loss was water. I also started a Metabolic Resistance program (Interval Training) a week before xmas and it has been kicking my butt. Which is a good thing!
    I will quit the soy yogurt, this is usually my mid morning snack, what could I replace that with? Walnuts and some fruit maybe?

    Barney R.

  • Scott M
    Posted at 23:04h, 11 January

    Hi Lani,

    I am checking out your website. Am I correct in assuming that it is geared towards women? Does your advice differ if for men?

    I read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell last September. It changed my eating habits over night. I went from being an omnivore to an herbivore immediately.

    I am not overweight. I am 47 yrs old, 5′ 10,” and weigh 165 lbs. I am starting a workout program that you may or may not have heard about – called P90X2. I did P90X last year. It is a good all around workout program. It IS pretty intense though. You basically workout every day. The calorie drain is huge. My goal is to build muscle in addition to the other benefits of flexibility, core strength, etc.

    I have yet to dial in a complete menu plan up until now. I am kinda winging it.

    My question(s) to you:

    1. How do I design a specific meal plan? (I understand in general terms what to eat and what not to eat, but when it comes to the specifics of what to eat for lunch today, I kinda get stuck.

    2. According to the program’s recommendations, I should be eating about 2,800 calories per day for someone of my weight. Can you prescribe a menu that I can successfully consume on a daily basis – without my jaw muscles fatiguing from all the chewing. Ha.

    Thank you in advance.

    • Lani Muelrath
      Posted at 11:10h, 13 January

      Hi Scott!

      Thanks for the excellent questions. As a matter of fact they are so juicy, I may just create a response for an upcoming post here – how does that sound?

      Just wanted you to know I saw your note and am on it! And yes, everything on the plant-based fitness expert blog applies to men too – women can have special concerns when it comes to body shaping and image/eating behaviors so you’ll find that there, too!


      • Scott M
        Posted at 02:47h, 15 January

        Thanks Lani.

        I will stay tuned for your updates!


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