This is a common question and the answer is different for everyone.
Here are some universal truths: Protein and Fat digest slower so those foods will make you feel slower and heavier when you’re out of breath. Peanut butter or a dairy-heavy meal 30minutes before a workout is canceled!
Simple carbs like fruit will digest quickly. An apple or a banana could be eaten 30minutes before a workout and will be digested and bioavailable for maximum effort!
I think most people when they ask this question are asking a slightly different question, which is: “How do I combine a regular meal schedule and a regular workout time in order to get my exercise in and de-stress without trading a comforting eating routine?” You’re right, that is tough. It can’t be one or the other. You need BOTH. A regular eating schedule and a regular workout schedule to feel successful. If you always workout at 9:30am, then you should be regularly counting on eating breakfast at 7:30am at the latest. A balanced breakfast with two hours to digest will feel good in your stomach and provide energy for a workout at 9:30am.
Problems arise when you get off schedule and miss a meal, or you have a surprise meeting and need to change your workout time*. Your body appreciates consistency and routine. It appreciates going to bed at the same time each night, eating meals at the same time throughout the day, and doing regular intentional exercise at around the same time each day. If possible, try not to disrupt your routine. You may have to eat when you’re not starving, or when you don’t feel like it, or also eat something that’s not particularly appealing. It’s better to maintain the routine than to go rogue. Trust me.
What does a “Balanced” meal even mean? Every food wrapper on the face of the planet claims to be “Balanced” and yet very few actually are. Roughly speaking it means that the ratio of macronutrients is in the ballpark of 30% calories from Protein, 40% calories from Carbohydrates, and 30% calories from Fat. A balanced ratio of calories from those three macronutrients results in smoother digestion, more regular hormone release in response to the digestion, and more efficient processing of that energy post-digestion. All of those factors equate to feeling good during a workout and having a better time doing burpees. The way you know what the macronutrient ratios are is you look at the label on the packaging. Look for a multiple that preserves this ratio: 4grams Protein: 7grams Carbohydrate: 1.5 grams Fat. The reason why there’s so much less Fat than Protein or Carbohydrate is there are more calories per gram in Fat than Protein or Carbs.
1gram of Protein or Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
1gram Fat = 9 Calories
In conclusion: The real question is how to maintain a regular eating schedule AND a regular workout schedule together. How to structure that schedule so you eat a balanced meal two hours before your workout (see above for what “Balanced” means and why you shouldn’t trust the marketing claims on the wrapper). And how to maintain that day after day even with a crazy work and/or school schedule.
*Sometimes the best answer is: just do it. Don’t stress about it, nothing can be ideal all the time. Accepting less than ideal circumstances and deciding to go through with your workout anyway can lead to great personal knowledge! I’m also not against snapping up a quick power bar or piece of fruit for some quick fuel if I feel that I need it!