While many nutritionists and fitness experts suggest eating carbs before a workout for maximum energy, this isn’t the best option for people following a low-carb diet. With a limited allowance of carbohydrates per day, you’ll need to get your energy from another source prior to your morning exercise routine. Like carbs, protein and fat provide energy, albeit in slower forms, and they make up the foundation of a low-carb diet. There are lots of low-carb breakfast options that will fill you up and give you the fuel to get moving.
Relationship between Protein, Fat and Energy
Carbohydrates provide the quickest form of energy for the body, which is undeniably ideal before a workout, but protein and fats also work to supply energy. Protein is digested more slowly than carbs, so it provides a longer lasting source of energy. Fats are processed even slower, but they’re also very efficient in terms of energy. According to Merck, fat contains about 9 calories, or energy, per gram, while both carbs and protein have less than half that, with 4 calories. For low-carb dieters, the bottom line is yes, carbs may be the best choice for quick energy right before exercise, but protein and fats will also do the job. You may just want to wait a bit longer after eating a protein-rich breakfast before hitting the gym.
One of the staples on any low-carb diet is the classic egg omelet, but you can up the nutritional value even more by throwing in pieces of lean turkey or chicken and fresh vegetables. Just three eggs alone will provide over 19 grams of protein, which will help you power through your workout. Add in 2 ounces of deli style low-sodium turkey or chicken breast, and you’ll get about 10 more grams of protein. Cook the omelet with omega-3 rich olive oil for a dose of healthy fat, and add mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes and onions for added vitamins and minerals.
One 6 ounce portion of plain Greek yogurt packs 17 grams of protein, which is double what you find in regular yogurt. It also has just 7 grams of carbs – far less than what regular yogurt has. Greek yogurt has magnesium, potassium and calcium, too. The magnesium will help break down the carbs you are eating, and the potassium and calcium are good sources of energy. Top the yogurt with some fresh berries and walnuts for even more flavor and nutrients.
Quinoa may not be at the top of the list for low-carb dieters, but in comparison to other grains, it is low in carbohydrates. It also makes a surprisingly delicious breakfast when topped with blueberries, walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon. A half-cup of cooked quinoa has under 20 grams of carbs, in addition to 4 grams of protein. Because it does have a few more carbohydrates than the usual low-carb breakfast choices, you’ll also benefit from the energy boost you’ll get soon after eating it, so don’t wait too long to start your exercise routine.
- The Merck Manual: Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Eggs
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Turkey
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Greek Yogurt
- Shape: 9 Low-Carb Snacks to Eat on the Go: Greek Yogurt
- American Heart Association: 5 Simple Heart-Healthy Energy Boosters
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Quinoa
Perry Miller graduated from Missouri State University in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and nutrition sciences. She covers health, fitness and nutrition for various print and online publications.