This Is How You Can Still Intermittent Fast If You Work Out In The Morning

mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor By Ray Bass, NASM-CPT
mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor

Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.

Expert review by Abby Cannon, J.D., R.D., CDN
Registered Dietitian
Abby K. Cannon, JD, RD is an attorney turned dietitian who lives a very low waste lifestyle. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in psychology and received her law degree from Brooklyn Law School cum laude. She graduated from Queens College and became a registered dietitian in 2016.

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This may be an unpopular opinion, but intermittent fasting is an enigma to me. I've tried it before, and then I tried it again. Every time I end up fasting longer and longer, and yet I never reap the life-changing benefits others claim to. It's never stuck, and I think I know why: I work out in the mornings and need my post-workout protein.

I'm a morning workout person through and through—like if it doesn't happen before 9 a.m., it's not happening—and that's always made intermittent fasting difficult for me. I don't like getting to a point where I'm insatiably hungry, which means that waiting until 1 p.m. to eat something after an intense workout isn't my jam.

Plus, post-workout protein has been life-changing for me. If I have protein within 30 minutes of finishing my workout, I'm less sore the next day and (knock on wood) I've been able to avoid injury because my body has what it needs to properly recover.

Most folks who intermittent fast prefer to skip breakfast and start eating around 12 or 1 p.m. and stop eating between 6 and 8 p.m. So what are you supposed to do if you want to intermittent fast, but you're a morning workout person? How can you adjust so your body doesn't have to go without food for hours after your workout? We asked Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D., what she recommends.

A quick refresher on intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting (IF), as you may know, is a way of eating that requires fasting for anywhere from 12 to 20 hours at any given time, which shrinks your eating window to anywhere from 4 to 12 hours a day. IF has caught on in the wellness world and has received praise for its health benefits, including weight loss, improved cognitive function, reduced inflammation, and better gut health.

Many people love IF because it allows more flexibility when it comes to what they eat because they're putting strict limits on when they eat. Plus, longtime fasters claim that the starving feeling they experience at first goes away over time, which allows one to take back control of their hunger as opposed to being dependent on it.

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Why you shouldn't skimp on your post-workout meal.

While difficult, it is not impossible to intermittent fast if you exercise in the morning—it just takes a bit of preparation and flexibility. First and foremost, it's recommended that you choose an eating window that lets you eat post-workout.

"I recommend that those who prefer to exercise in the morning and follow an intermittent fasting program adjust their fasting hours and eating window to allow for a post-workout meal," Schehr says.

As Schehr has told us before, not having enough protein after you work out can lead to inflammation and an increased risk for injury because your muscles are not able to fully repair and grow. So if your routine is too set in stone to move your workout to later in the day, your best option is to bump up your eating window.

For example: If you finish your workout at 8 a.m., your eating window should start at 8 a.m. with some post-workout protein. If you're adhering to an eight-hour eating window, that means you'd have your last meal before 4 p.m. If that works for your schedule, marvelous. If not, then you might need to revisit the drawing board. I would personally rather eat than be injured, but dinner at 4 p.m. doesn't sound ideal either.

To spell it out, the variables at play are the time of your workout, the length of your eating window, and the start time of your eating window. If you want an a.m. workout, then you have to move your eating window. If you can't imagine eating dinner so early, then maybe you need to widen your eating window to 10 or 12 hours. If neither of those options seems feasible, then it could be worth trying to move your workout. As they say, something's got to give.

The take-aways.

At the end of the day, yes, you can intermittent fast and still stick to your morning workout routine. You just have to plan accordingly to accommodate your workout and make sure you're giving your body what it needs afterward.

Obviously there are many factors at play here, but intermittent fasting is about finding a system that works for you, and part of that is realizing that adjusting the rules of IF can be easier (and more sustainable) than overhauling your life

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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