Monday, March 7, 2011

Eating before early morning hard classes

I teach twice a week at 6 am, and it's a 30+ minute drive to get there, so I get up at 4:50 am on those mornings. I don't do well on early breakfasts - it's just not comfortable putting food in my system that early. I would rather not eat (and sometimes I still don't) but I do understand the importance of eating something before exercising after a long fast, so I usually nibble on a piece of toast or bread, and maybe a banana or a little yogurt. In a rush I'll eat half an energy bar, but most have too much sugar for me (even the low sugar ones).

I've often stressed to my class the importance of eating something beforehand, but I know some of them live very close to the club (it's a neighborhood community club) and they were probably in bed only 15 minutes before!

If I am planning a hard class, at threshold or above, I think it's even more important to eat something. Last week I did a threshold field test, with a 20-minute hard sustained effort (plus an initial 5-min hard effort in the warm-up). In their preparation materials prior to the field test was the suggestion that they should be well hydrated and fueled prior to class, even if they had to set an alarm to get up earlier just to nibble on an energy bar. (Note: this is a 12-week periodized cycling clinic, so I have the same students every class and I send them a coaching email weekly with training tips and that week's goals).

One of my students emailed me afterward that she felt nauseous and light-headed after the field test. There could be several reasons for this, including factors such as illness or fatigue. It could also be because we've only done minimal higher intensity work, and certainly it was the first time we spent that much time at that intensity since the first field test 7 weeks ago. I don't believe in throwing a threshold field test at them after 6 weeks of base building in zones 2 and 3, so last week we did some sub threshold intervals, up to about 2-3 beats below LT.

She is a fit woman who does a lot of skiing and snowshoeing (which are higher intensity sports here in the mountains), so more likely it was either not eating, or what she ate. She said she ate toast with peanut butter about a half an hour before the class. Peanut butter has protein, which is a good thing, but for me, anytime I've tried it that early in the morning, I didn't feel well during my ride either. She said she would try something else for our next field test.

I'm curious. For those of you who teach or train early in the morning, what do you eat, and how early before your workout do you have to eat? Have there been things you've tried that have proven not to work for you? Does anyone have a problem with peanut butter early morning, but not at other times? I'm sure there are those of you who do not eat that early before class. It's probably OK for a more aerobic-intensity ride (as long as you eat soon afterward), but do you feel a difference during higher intensity rides if you've not eaten anything prior?

Thanks for your comments. I might try to get an exercise nutritionist to look at these questions and give some advice that we can all benefit from!


chrispins said...

Hi Jennifer, First let me say how happy I am that you are once again posting on this blog. You always have such great information to share! I normally teach in the evenings, but I had the breakfast dilemma this summer, when I was teaching a 7:00 a.m. class. (I'm a teacher, so I was able to fit in a morning class in my time off.) Anyway, it took me a while to realize that I really needed something to sustain me through the class, even if I didn't feel 'hungry'. I opted for some type of power/energy bar, which did the trick. I'm not one to ever skip breakfast, so I always had another breakfast after class!

kerri said...

Hey Jennifer!! I second Chris on how happy I am that you have your own blog going again!!! I went to that "other ICI" blog today, and the post was "whether or not to wear lipstick to class". Seriously?!!!! Anyway, I digress... Breakfast, very important!! Having said that, I was rushing to the club to sub an 8:30 Sunday class yesterday, having been up since 7, had coffee, prepared my playlist, dressed....etc. and realized in the car I forgot to eat AND bring water!! (I'm an evening instructor too)! Aauuggh!! Grabbed a powerbar and water from the club and ate half of it while getting the room prepared. Probably not the best plan, but it worked....

kerri said...

Hey Jennifer!!! I'm with Chris.... sooo happy you are back!! I went to that "Other ICI blog" today, and today's post was "Whether or not to wear Lipstick to class" Seriously?!!!! I digress.... Breakfast. Yes, very important! Having said that, yesterday when I went to sub an early (well, early for me) 8:30 class, I realized on the way that I forgot to eat, AND I forgot my water! I had been up since 7, had my coffee, checked my playlist and notes, dressed, etc.. but it didn't occur to me to eat because I wasn't hungry. I grabbed a powerbar and water from the club and ate half of it while getting the room ready. Not great, but I made it trough. It's funny because I'm always fueling up before my night classes....

Sandy said...

I'm glad Kerri brought that up about the new post on ICI today. I was going to leave a comment there but decided to not write one because it would not have been positive feedback, so in the light of, "if you don't have anything nice to say..... "I didn't.
Anyway,as far as the breakfast post, I always try to eat before my 6 am'er. I do find that the best choice for me is oatmeal because it seems to go down gently and is easy on the stomach so early in the morning. Sometimes I'm really not hungary but know I have to fuel my body for before class.

Le said...

Food that work for me 45 min before class:
- a class of orange juice w/pulp & one boiled egg (cooked the night before.) I last for 3 hrs without feeling hungry after teaching a cycling class, my own weight training, and teach a yoga class!
- in a rush: orange juice, and a banana in the car. Gotta eat a half energy bar after a cycling class.
- almond butter is better
- no milk for me before class, but chocolat milk when I get home is a treat!

spencer said...

I teach at 5am M, 5:30am T and TH. I never eat before class and it hasn't bothered me in the 10+ years teaching at those times. If I sub after 7am but before 9, I'll have coffee and fill my water bottle with Xood. If I sub at 9 or later I'll have eggs, toast and coffee at 6am.

Seems to work for both me and my wife who takes my classes. We always eat breakfast right after class.

Jennifer Sage said...

You ladies are funny! Maybe a comment should be made over there, Sandy. The idea with comments is to have an open discussion. IMO, seems to me a woman with self-confidence can do just fine without the makeup....

Le, I've just started using almond butter in my oatmeal (but not before class - no time to make it). I might try it on toast early morning to see if it's easier on my stomach.

Jennifer Sage said...

ten years, so you certainly know what works for you. Have you ever had a student have a problem with being lightheaded or nauseous after a HIT class that early? (it could be we don't always hear about it if they do). On those days that I do not eat, I personally haven't had any adverse effects either - except maybe just plain being hungry - as long as I eat pretty quickly afterward.

A 1-hour or less class is not too much to drain you or wreak havoc on the system, it's only when the intensity is higher than normal, that I am wondering if it's better to try to eat something before. I know that is the case when the duration starts exceeding 60 minutes - then the body starts looking to the liver for fuel.

There are some schools of thought that suggest NOT to eat before a 60-minute workout, which supposedly encourages more fat burning that way. Even if this is the case, I can see some students misusing this concept, to their detriment.

Great comments. It shows that we all are different, and our systems respond differently to food and the timing of it. There is no one set way - we just have to find what works best for ourselves.

zkriszti said...

I have an early morning class starting at 7 a.m. I have to get up at 5 a.m to manage this, and the last thing I think about (or feel like doing) at that time is eating. So I eat very little before class, like one apple or 1-2 pieces of biscuits or maybe a fruit juice, maybe a small cereal bar...

I was surprised that this is enough, but it seems so. I think it also depends on the person, we are all different - in this aspect, too, I suppose. ;)

Kerri said...

oops! accidentally posted twice.... Maybe it was because I was really bothered with the "Lipstick" blog and wanted to make sure everyone knew it. Like Sandy, I said nothing.... Probably would have said something if I read it while drinking my "evening glass of wine" instead of my "morning cup of coffee"!

Bill said...

I never eat before my morning workouts, including my 20 mile runs. I know that is not advisable, but I also know what works for me. If you think riding with food in your stomach is hard, try running with it.

In a recent sports nutrition seminar I took, the nutrionist suggested eating apple sauce before a workout. That sounds easier to digest than almost anything that has been suggested, so I may try it. Getting though an early Indoor Cycling class without eating has never been a problem for me, although I do suggest eating before hand to my riders (and my runners if they can handle it). Now, I'm suggesting oatmeal or apple sauce.

Although I don't eat before my workouts, I do put on lipstick.

Jennifer Sage said...

Wow, a 20-mile run with no food? Not even gels or blocks during the run? I can certainly see not running with a lot in the stomach.

I used to run a lot of 10Ks years ago but knee & back issues have kept me from running since 1992 so I've kind of forgotten what it's like! ;-)

If I do eat energy bars, it takes me a long time, since I nibble at it slowly. Maybe a good idea for a run?

Applesauce sounds like a lot of simple sugars passing quickly into the blood stream. Anyone tried it?

Bill, well at least I hope your lipstick matches your jersey....

Tim said...

I teach regularly at 6AM, and I find if I eat anythign, I feel sick and it repeats on me, especially in high intensity efforts. I prefer to eat just after, usually something carb and protein like eggs on toast.

Regarding posting comments at ICIPRO, well you actually can't anymore, unless you are paid member! Now I feel second class. Maybe some lipstick will help lift my spirits.

Shirin said...

Hi Jennifer,
I teach some early (5:30 and 6:30 am) classes. I try to eat a small cup of Activa yogurt. It gives me a good balance of carbs and protein.Sometimes a small banana will do. However, I only teach Strength rides in the early classes(up to LT). I keep my LT segments during those rides around 5 or 6 minutes each. So, we can sustain.
Here is what I do before my HIIT rides on Monday afternoons (5:30 pm). I learned early on that some of my riders skip lunch, or by the time they come to class, they could stand to eat something. The intensity and the drive for 60 minutes burns through all their glycogen storage, and then some. So I buy and bring a package of tangerines with me and I pass them on right before class! This gives them those extra healthy carbs to get them going and it really prevents them from getting lightheaded ;)

Jennifer Sage said...

I knew it! I knew I saw a halo over your head!

Stephen said...

For me, eating before a workout is extremely important. I always have something before I teach my evening classes, typically about 150-200 kcal (25 years ago I would eat 12-13 donuts then walk in and teach a high impact aerobics class).

I don't do morning classes. I avoid mornings as much as possible. However, the group I ride with on weekends are early morning people. During the summer, they like to start at 7:00 AM! On a weekend!? Both days!?

And the races I do all have 7:00 AM starts.

I always eat before a workout. I have learned over the years what I can tolerate and how close to exercise I can tolerate it. Regardless how ridiculous I think a 7:00 am ride start is, I always get up early enough to get something to eat and let it process.

If something happens and I am not able to eat before a workout (or I am racing), then it is gels and powerbar energy bites - the same items I train and race on. I know I can tolerate those at high energy expenditures.

spencer said...


I recommend students use liquid calories if they feel they need something more than water or coffee before a workout. Some students bring sports drinks to classes to avoid becoming light headed. I think nausea is more of a problem with too much in the gut.
Increase in core temp supresses the appetite response.

Kala said...

I'm not an early exerciser (at least not regularly) but as far as my pre/post workout food goes, I just found 15g protein Muscle Milk shakes (in cardboard containers, like juice boxes!) at the local Sam's and they are PERFECT for me! I eat lunch at noon and won't be home for real dinner until 7, so before my workout at 4:30, I drink one of these and by the time I'm at my 6pm spin class I am still feeling good! They've been great and super easy to carry because they are small!

Bill Roach said...

Hi Jennifer.

As others have said, it is nice to still be connected to you and your great work.

I also teach a couple of early morning Spinning classes, and also have some 5:30am personal training clients. If we are doing power work in either I can from time to time have someone complain of being "woozy". Usually they have skipped breakfast.

My advice is to eat something that agrees with you and that you like. For me, that is oatmeal with non-fat yogurt dumped on top. It's the right mix for me and tastes good to me. I used to not eat breakfast but now I am cranky if I don't have it.

Bill Roach
Star 3 Spinning
Des Moines, Iowa

Shari said...

Have you tried Larabars? The earliest I teach is 9 am, and I'm able to eat breakfast before that. Just thought you might like a different choice of "bar." :)

Jennifer Sage said...

Yes I have Shari,
I can't eat a whole Larabar. But I do like to nibble on them.

Charles said...

I've taught early mornings (5:15 or 5:45) for 6 years now and would rather not eat anything before class. I've tried almost everything and because I don't like solid food that early, I've found that a glass of orange juice works really well. Peanut Butter is ok when I have more time to allow it to settle but only if I have about an hour or more. Otherwise it's just juice. Obviously, I eat or have a protien shake within 30 mins.

You bring up a good question regarding members though. I have had a few complain and even present with signs of dizziness and nausea after a HIT class :) These were regulars that were in good shape as well so my guess is that it is either nutrition or they had something else going on that morning like illness, fatigue, stress or whatever. I have to confess though, since you posted this, I realize that I do a POOR job of asking. So, THANKS for bringing up this point. I'll make sure to pay closer attention starting now! That's why I missed FunhogSpins!

renee said...

Prior to my 5:30 class i would eat one of those gogurts that i keep a supply of in the freezer. lite, simple, just enough to see me through and an extra one for after class that's nicely thawed. i do a lot of nutrition sharing with my riders either through articles or treats. i brought the frozen gogurts and passed them out after class so they could try something new. they were so appreciative. a small portion of almond butter on toast. no time for oatmeal. kashi has some great cereal bars to nibble on 1/2 before and after. i love all the other suggestions. applesauce, tangerines. nice to bring that to class to share. has anyone tried the funky monkey banana chips? recently read about those in Tennis Magazine's Victory Snack article.
I too need to be better about checking in with the 6 p.m. class to make sure they've had a little snack. my car is a small healthy snack shop so that i always have something in there to never get to that "hungry" feeling. some nice changes to vanilla yogurt is to add some cinnamon applesauce which gives you an apple pie kind of thing or pumpkin pie filling gives you that experience.
On the lipstick topic.. same thoughts. burts bees has a new tinted chapstick that isn't too overpowering.
this is so great to see people back sharing once again.