Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue
Health & Wellness

Pre-Workout Nutrition

Eating before a workout can be challenging as a firefighter, especially on duty. You can have the best intentions, until the tones drop during your first set. Having a snack before your workout can boost the intensity and duration of the workout. This article will break down quick ideas for eating before morning and evening workouts.

Early Morning Workouts

Eating before a 6am or earlier-than-usual workout can be a challenge. Many firefighters do not feel like eating within an hour of waking. Contrary to popular belief, exercising fasted or skipping a snack pre-workout does not increase fat burn. However, skipping out on food can impact the intensity of your workout. Eating before may help you push harder and longer, improving your results.

If you’re exercising within an hour of waking up, aim for 300-400 calories with an emphasis on carbohydrates. These also work during lineup if your shift tends to workout after engine check outs. This can include:

  • Dry cereal (ex. Mini-wheats)
  • A smoothie
  • Yogurt
  • Fruit
  • Applesauce pouches
  • Oatmeal
  • Bagel or toast

If you cannot stomach solid food first thing in the morning, consider 6-8 ounces of orange juice or sports drink. Avoid too much fat, fiber, or protein pre-workout. This can cause stomach discomfort.

As for hydration, don’t forget to drink at least 8-16 oz of water prior to your workout. Sports drink or juice count towards this fluid goal.

Note that pre-workout energy supplements are not recommended due to the high level of caffeine and potential side effects. Coffee or tea is the preferred caffeine source. If you must do a pre-workout drink, try to keep the caffeine under 200 mg in a sitting. If your energy levels are still low, consider eating before or working on your sleep habits.

How to Know if Your Breakfast is Not Working for You

  • Low energy during workout or overall day
    • Eat more or change the quality of your breakfast (add fruit, veggies, whole grains)
  • Binging on food/sweets at night 
    • Eat more for breakfast and make sure you’re eating enough protein and fiber during the day
  • Nausea or muscle cramping during workout
    • Add electrolytes (fruit, vegetables, Gatorade) or cut back on quantity at breakfast.
    • This typically applies to endurance or cardio training for more than one hour at a moderate to high intensity.

If you feel hungry or have low energy during your workout, consider working with a sports dietitian to schedule out your meals to optimize your energy levels during your workout.

Evening Workouts

The pre-workout nutrition composition for evening workouts doesn’t change much. The focus is still on carbohydrates. If you had a meal within 2-3 hours of your workout, you may not need to eat before. If it has been over 3 hours, consider adding a carbohydrate based snack within 30 minutes. This can include:

  • Natures Bakery Fig Bar
  • Cliff Bar
  • Fruit
  • Rice cakes or toast with almond or peanut butter
  • Greek yogurt and fruit

Any of the breakfast options mentioned above work as well. Stay tuned next month for ideas on what to eat post-workout!


Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F 

Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.

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