I work as a programmer. Recently I've been going to the gym downstairs and doing half an hour of pretty intensive rowing before work every day. The problem is that I feel completely wiped out afterwards. I usually have a big bowl of healthy cereal afterwards - but I don't feel like it's giving me what I need to regain my concentration back and feel unable to concentrate properly until I eat lunch.

I drink lots of water too - what am I missing? salt? What's the right thing to eat in the morning for this? Or do I need a supplement?

  • 1
    You're missing protein. Jun 12 '12 at 9:52
  • 1
    Also, if you're feeling completely wiped out... don't row so hard. Jun 12 '12 at 10:46

Honestly, unless my breakfast has some form of protein in ample supply, the breakfast is useless to me. You will do better with a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin than a bowl of cereal. The cereal is quick energy, and is easily burned up. Protein just sticks with you, and takes longer to process.

Another important point, is that you probably just don't have enough food at breakfast. A "healthy bowl of cereal" will likely try to keep the Calories low--even with milk. If you are a guy, and you just exercised, anything less than a 500 Calorie breakfast is probably not enough.

  • Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather have eggs and bacon, but I'm trying to slim down. I'm not big, about 16%-ish body fat I'd say - but I'm trying to get to the point where I'm quite defined and then I can just build from there. Jun 13 '12 at 14:00
  • Bottom line: protein will do you better for your stated goals. The concept is to have a Calorie deficit throughout the week (which means you can have some days at maintenance or slightly above, and the rest of the days below maintenance). Too many people try to cut far more Calories than is reasonable. Jun 13 '12 at 14:23
  • Newer/more recent research is showing that starches and carbs may cause your body to store more fat and lower your bodies ability to convert fat to fuel. So when the glucose spike from your cereal goes away, your body wants more sugar for fuel, but there's nothing there. Fat and protein included in your post-workout meal have been shown to prevent this.
    – alesplin
    Jun 13 '12 at 21:26

I am a programmer too, and since your more into cereal than meat in the morning, what worked for me is one of these two meals:

  • 250 g of cottage cheese + 1cup blue berries + 1 banana + 1 tbsp organic honey
  • 1 cup of oats + 5-6 egg whites + bluebrries + honey+cinamon ( you have to bake the mixture for like 20 minutes)

concerning the first one , the good thing about it is that :

  • cottage cheese has 15 g of protein in 175g of cheese , ie in 250 its 30 g, and u need protein to recover muscles and to fill u up for a longer time.
  • Berries are very energetic fruits (their sugar and fiber)
  • banana has a lot of potassium which u need after workout
  • honey is a simple carb (fast absorption) which spikes your insulin and energy fast.
  • The most important also is that cottage cheese has a good amount of salt (around 500mg in 175g of cheese) thus after you have sweat a lot in the gym and lost a lot of sodium (makes u feel light headed and less concentrated) this will recover ur sodium level

concerning the second:

  • it has a lot protein too
  • Oats are the best kind of complex carbs, they get stored as energy in the liver , fill you up for hours, regulate your blood sugar thus make u focus better
  • blueberries as mentioned above
  • honey is for a fast energy spike (and of course good taste)

i go for the first option most of the time coz its faster and that the high sodium amount really helps. But its good to try both on seperate days.

PS: I also recommend that like 30 minutes before you go to the gym, have a small cube of dark chocolate. It is a good mind and energy stimulant in the morning and will help you workout better and be sharper for a while.

UPDATE(answering your questions)

Probably won't go for the second one as 6 egg-whites seems expensive and I hate waste (the yolks). 

I don't know about where u live, but in Canada eggs are kind of cheap. You Can still use the yolk, a cooking technique is to put the yolk in a tupperware and freeze it. You can still use the yolk if your doing cakes or sweets or wtv.. all you have to do is to take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge the night before use. Also, i don't know if you have this option where you live, but here we have egg whites bottles, so u can buy one of these.

One question though - doesn't this stuff contain a lot of calories and fat? 

Here is the nutrition facts:

                             Calories         Fat      Protein
250 g of cottage cheese        200             2g        30g
1cup blue berries               80             0g         1g
1 banana (small)                90             0g         1g
1 tbsp organic honey            60             0g         0g
  TOTAL:                        430            2g         32g

Which means it is a very good calorie level (specially in the morning and post workout) , very low in fat and very high in protein

                             Calories         Fat      Protein
1 cup of oats                 360             6g        12g
5 egg whites                   80             0g        20g
1 cup blueberries              80             0g         1g
1 tbsp organic honey           60             0g         0g
  TOTAL:                      580             6g         32g  

Which also means it is a very good calorie level (specially in the morning and post workout) , very low in fat and very high in protein.


  • you need calories in the morning and specially post workout to recover and regain concentration. In case these amounts of calories above are way to much for you age/height/weight then just remove the banana or the honey from it and it'll be fine.
  • Fat, contrary to the common myth, does NOT make you fat. You have to understand that if your body requires X calories per day, and you eat more than X, one of two things might happen:
    a) if you have crazy awesome genetics, the excess calories will be thrown out of the body
    b) if you are like me and the majority, the excess will turn to sugar inside the body and be stored as fat.

But if you are in the good range of calories, Fat does not make you fat at all. It gives you a lot of energy (1g of fat yield 9kcal) and help regulate your hormones for growth and recovery. However, 99% of the fat you eat should be the good fat, ie the mono/poly unsaturated fat. while Saturated fat, you do need a bit , but if you eat too much your arteries get clogged with time.

 I'm not definitely more into cereal in the morning. in fact I'd prefer 
 something more savoury. Do you have any tips for some meals like that 
 (that aren't too fat and cal heavy)? 

As shown above, they are not calorie heavy and fat is not bad for you.Also these mentioned recipes are savory (try it)
I do have tips for other meals, i have one on my mind right now:

  • 2eggs + 1 cup cottage cheese + green onions + spicy herbs + a bit of baby spinach

                              Calories            Fat      Protein
    2 eggs (large)               140               5g        12g
    1 cup cottage cheese(125g)   100               1g        15g
    green onions (28g)             7               0g         1g
    1 cup of spinach               7               0g         1g
      TOTAL:                      254              6g         29g  

(you can add bacon/turkey bacon to it if you want more taste). Chop the onions and mix the ingredients (do Not chop the spinach else the juice of the leaf will evaporate and ruin the taste).
Now this has a good amount of protein and low calories and taste good. But, also notice the spinach, which in fact is the best food on earth probably, because it has a lot of uric acid which gets transformed into amino acids (protein) in the body, thus in fact you'll be having more protein than 29g. This is an energetic meal.

  • Nice, really liked these tips. Probably won't go for the second one as 6 egg-whites seems expensive and I hate waste (the yolks). One question though - doesn't this stuff contain a lot of calories and fat? Jun 13 '12 at 13:54
  • Also - I'm not definitely more into cereal in the morning. in fact I'd prefer something more savoury. Do you have any tips for some meals like that (that aren't too fat and cal heavy)? It sounds like you might have a few up your sleeve! Jun 13 '12 at 14:02
  • @SirYakalot i updated my answer, to answer your question. check the "UPDATE" section
    – ccot
    Jun 13 '12 at 17:17
  • awesome, thank you! I'll start a bounty for this when I can. Last question - doesn't the banana and honey have a lot of sugar in which turns into fat? Jun 13 '12 at 17:28
  • @SirYakalot banana contains sugar and carbs, BUT has a looot of fiber which makes the absorption very slow and your chance of storing fat very little. Honey has a lot of sugar and has a fast absorption, it could get stored as fat BUT its all a question of balance during the day. You do need a bit of sugar during the day, so if you have 1tbsp honey in the morning, and then do not eat refined sugars during the day but only get sugar from fruits/veggies and do not pass the max limit of required sugar/carbs, then you won't store fat.
    – ccot
    Jun 13 '12 at 17:32

I am not a nutritionist but I have read lots about breakfast being a very important part of the diet, as it's supposed to be the refueling of your body after sleep, which is when your body goes into a self-maintenance phase.

The reason that you feel completely beat after the rowing is probably that you're pushing yourself to a hard exercise when your body is low on fuel. Try moving the exercise routine to lunch time, half an hour of rowing and maybe a quick lunch with a sandwich. I have been doing lunch workouts for about two years now, and am very happy with it. If nothing it's a good way to break the routine of sitting in front of the PC, and the shower afterwards is a great way to wake up midday. :)

PS: I also work as a programmer/data analyst.

  • I don't get a lunchbreak at work - would drinking a protein shake before I work out help at all? Jun 12 '12 at 12:50
  • @SirYakalot When you wake up, your body is starving, and has begun eating itself: you should eat in the morning. How much and timing depends--some people don't tolerate vigorous exercise after eating food, you need to gauge that for yourself. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with exercising in the morning, but you need to work within what your body can tolerate. Jun 12 '12 at 13:36

I workout in the morning as well and what I've found best for myself is to eat 2 times. About 30 minutes before my workout I eat about 1 serving on yogurt. This helps me get through my workout and keeps my stomach from going crazy. Then, after I shower, I have 2 pieces of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana. I feel that the carbs from the toast help get me through the day and the peanut butter and banana are just extra fillers until I get a chance to eat again.

Hope this helps.

  • It depends on the toast, but the carbs from the toast aren't going to "get you through the day"; it's a short-lived energy source. Might get you through that 9am meeting, though ;) Jun 12 '12 at 14:44

I have a fairly intense, aerobically-challenging, functional workout most mornings.

What ended up working best for me was waking up about 90 minutes beforehand, having a protein shake with a portion of pre-workout powder, and going back to sleep as best I could.

Without the calories, the workout was simply too much to deal with. If I had it, say, 30 minutes before the workout, it made me a little upset to my stomach and caused digestive issues.

After the workout I'd either have a more-substantial protein/fruit/etc. smoothie, or actual food. Either should contain a mix of fast-acting protein and carbs, and depending on your eating schedule, slower-digesting protein and carbs. I tend to eat fairly often, so the exact ratios of fast/slow aren't super-critical, but after intense workouts, the fast protein/carb ratio should be somewhere around 1/2-1/4, depending on who you ask.

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