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Six Breakfasts to Refuel After High Intensity Exercise

Kate Freeman

You’re an energiser bunny.

The alarm sounds at 5.30am and you wake with a start! You jump out of bed and whack on your runners and some Lorna Jane. It’s not matching but you don’t care. You know that awesomeness comes from the heart, not from your #activewear. You’re just oozing energy and motivation. It’s just ridiculous how awesome you’re feeling.

You’re off to the gym. It’s the HIIT training session of the century and you’re smashed. The sweat is glistening on your brow (and in your butt crack) as you jump in your car and head back home for a well-earned shower. You feel great. Those endorphins. So much happiness. Shower. Stockings. Skirt. Blouse. Lip gloss. Handbag. Work. Let’s do this!

Wait… Did you forget something? Breakfast perhaps?

It’s a very common scenario to not eat properly when undertaking regular, high-intensity exercise. It’s very important that along with any goals you have for getting fit and active, that you also make some room for setting some dietary goals as well. One of those is ensuring that you make the time to refuel properly after you train.

Now you might be thinking of those epic gym junkies, shaking their protein drinks as they’re exiting the gym, making sure they get the protein in quick enough to maximise their gains. You don’t want to be that keen. And that’s fine. You don’t have to be. But they’re not all that crazy, they could just relax on their timeframe a little. Let’s break it down.

When you engage in high-intensity exercise that runs for 60 minutes or more, you become glycogen depleted.

Glycogen is long chains of glucose (sugar) that your body stores in your muscles and liver for specifically this purpose: So your muscles have a quick, effective fuel to work hard and fast!

Depending on the intensity of your exercise, glycogen has usually run out by the 90-minute mark and your muscles will be doing their best to maintain the level of intensity while now getting most of their energy from your blood sugar and from fat. This feeling is often described by endurance athletes as ‘hitting a wall’.

Once you’ve become glycogen depleted your body will want to, reasonably desperately, refill those stores again. That way, it’s ready to ‘go again’ if it needs to. It’s really a survival mechanism for the fight or flight reflex. If you’ve got to lift a car off your trapped baby or sprint away from a bad guy, then you’ve got quick fuel to do it. Glycogen is much easier for your muscles to use than fat is. It’s complex biochemistry, which I’m not going into within the breadth of this article.

The best time for you to refuel your glycogen stores in within the first 1-2 hours after exercise. That’s when the process is the most efficient. So if you’ve hit a gym session early in the morning, heading home for a nourishing breakfast is a vital part of the whole training and recovery process.

The best types of foods to help your body refuel it’s glycogen stores are foods rich in carbohydrate. We also know that if you eat your carbohydrates with protein that the whole recovery process after exercise is even better.

If you don’t refuel quickly enough or with the right types of foods, you’ll likely run into problems.

You won’t notice them at first. You’ll probably feel fine. You may feel slightly hungry, but it’s ignorable or you’ll forget about it if you become distracted at work. But as the day progresses, if you continue to fail to consume enough carbohydrate, you’ll become hungrier and hungrier.

You’ll reach a point, usually about 4pm in the afternoon, where your body is like: “GIVE ME FRIGGIN’ CARBOHYDRATE TO REFILL MY GLYCOGEN STORES!”

Actually, it won’t say it like that. It’ll say it like this: “GIVE ME FRIGGIN’ SUGAR!” It knows that when you eat something sweet, you’ll consume a lot of quick, easily absorbable type carbohydrate that will give it what it wants: Full glycogen stores. Healthy eating is sometimes learning to say ‘no’ to foods, but it’s also learning to say ‘yes’. If you have a filling, nourishing, carbohydrate and protein rich breakfast, straight after your exercise session, then you’ll be much more in control of your appetite throughout the day.

So, now that you know the WHY, here is the WHAT. Here are five breakfast options to refuel after high-intensity exercise:

Ps: If you need specific carbohydrate and protein intake recommendations in terms of grams and exact portion sizes, then you need an appointment for individualised advice at The Healthy Eating Hub.

Mango Breakfast Smoothie


Absolutely delish and offers a great combination of carb and protein that you can consume on-the-go! You can swap the mango for any fruit you like!

Recipe HERE.

Smoked Salmon Wrap


This is absolutely yum and very easy to make, I promise. It’s also a great option for lunch and I enjoy it for a Saturday brunch option as well!

Recipe HERE.

Spinach & Tomato Frittata + Rye toast


This recipe needs to be served with 1-2 slices of grainy or rye toast to ensure you’ve got sufficient carbohydrate. You can also make this recipe in advance and heat yourself up a quick piece of fritter while your toast cooks. It’s also vegetables for breakfast! High five!

Recipe HERE.

Natural Muesli, Yoghurt + Berries


I love making my own muesli. There are also awesome places in Canberra that do it for you like The Muesli Bar in Fyshwick. If you’re keen to give it a crack, this is a great easy breakfast, that you can make in bulk and whip up in 5-10 minutes after a gym sesh!

Recipe HERE.

Honey Ricotta Muffins


This breakfast is so delicious, it feels like a treat! Banana can be swapped with berries or pear. Ricotta can be swapped for cottage cheese if you prefer that. You can also swap the muffins for wholemeal crumpets or rye sourdough toast! Yum!

Recipe HERE.

Eggs on Toast with a twist


I’ve packed this recipe with healthy fats as well as the carbs and protein – plus it’s an awesome hit of vegetables! You need a little bit more time to prepare it but it’ll keep you refuel and satisfied long into the morning!

Recipe HERE.


Kate Freeman

Kate Freeman is a Registered Nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate’s healthy eating philosophy is all about whole, fresh foods, being realistic about life and creating long term healthy eating habits. She doesn’t believe in detoxes, fad diets or quick fixes. Once you’ve finished working with Kate, you’ll be empowered to feed yourself well for the rest of you life! More about the Author