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Eating for early activity

Early morning: what to do?

On weekends it is not uncommon to have a training session at 9 or 10 o'clock or a match at 11 or 12. Many teams may train during the week at 6/7 am before work popularized by the Dublin football team a couple of years ago. Eating around this schedule can be a little more challenging than usual. The type of session can also dictate the fuel needs. Is the activity a match where the primary aim will be performance or is the activity a gym or field session where the goal will be adaptation or fitness improvement?


When exercising early in the morning, it can be challenging to get up early enough to eat a decent pre-meal. Generally it is recommended to eat 3/4 hours prior a match or training session to enable the fuels to be digested and absorbed into the body. If the training session is at 9, waking at 5.45 to prepare and eat breakfast is maybe a step beyond most people. In this case, eating a small snack 30-60 minutes before hand would be sufficient to stock up glycogen stores from overnight and relieve any hunger sensation. Something like a banana or an egg on toast may provide a small amount of carbohydrate.

Previous day is important

A good idea also would be to have fuel stocks adequately from the day before by consuming carbohydrates such as potatoes, oats, rice, pasta or breads in each meal. The previous day's food is extremely important and should always be practised. Larger portions would be recommended on the day before matches to really optimize performance in a match situation. This is known as carb-loading and is not really recommended before training sessions where training adaptations is usually the goal rather than performance.

Some people do not seem to be able to stomach a meal 1/2 hours before any activity and in this case, their previous day becomes even more important.

What I do?

I personally eat a small bowl of porridge 1 hour and a half before training on a Sunday morning. If we trained at 10, I would usually be awake at 8 and eat the porridge by 8.30.

The pre match meal should generally be high in carbohydrate, low in fat and medium protein. I would always add in some berries to add some vitamins and minerals which help with recovery post exercise. If I had a match at 12, I would have my main meal of porridge and some eggs for protein at 8.30 and I would also eat a snack of a banana and some cashews an hour before the match just for an extra top up.

Getting up early to eat can be difficult!

Getting up early to eat can be difficult!

Is it ok to train on an empty stomach for a morning session? It is not a terrible thing to train every so often under this situation. Training with low glycogen levels can actually simulate situations at the end of a match when the body is tired. This can be a good thing and can enable the body to adapt more rapidly and get fitter more quickly. This would not be recommended for all training sessions and can actually contribute to over-training and under-performance if practiced regularly. Gaelic games are high intensity sports where the main fuel is carbohydrates. To play at our best, carbohydrates are the main fuel and consumption of carbohydrates is a must before matches, the day before and in the pre match meal. I would definitely not recommend playing matches on an empty stomach. Regardless of what time a match is, I would strongly recommend eating a meal with mostly carbohydrates and some protein 2-4 hours beforehand .

Do I need to eat protein before a morning session? It is a good idea to consume protein at regular intervals throughout the day as it helps stimulate protein synthesis (or build muscle). In the morning before a session, the main focus of the meal is carbohydrate to provide some fuel. If the meal is 1 hour before the session, the snack should be primarily composed of carbohydrate. If the meal is 3/4 hours beforehand, then adding some protein would be good idea. Eggs, yogurt, milk or whey can all be suitable to eat in an early morning meal.

It is very important that protein be consumed in post exercise meal. Protein will help regenerate muscle fibres that were damaged during the session and prepare the muscle for regrowth.

Do I need to eat the same before a gym session as a pitch session? Each session must be taken on it's own merits and this may vary depending on the intensity, reps/sets and the duration of the sessions. If the gym session is going to be very high intensity, carbohydrates will be needed similar to a pitch session. If the session is more strength based, with lower reps and longer rest, then the need for carbs prior to the session will be less.

As with all exercise, it is a good idea to eat protein around the session. This is especially important if there was none consumed beforehand. 20-30 g of protein should be consumed post gym to rebuild and replenish damaged muscle fibres.

Why do I not need to eat fat before a training session? Foods containing fat is not recommended before an exercise session as it slows digestion in the stomach and can inhibit the release of fuel. This why we should not eat greasy foods such as a fry as they will make the stomach feel full and stodgy.

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