Wednesday, April 9, 2014

To Eat or to Not Eat Before a Workout?

One of the greatest arguments in fitness and nutrition that may never get settled is whether or not to do cardio on an empty stomach. "Fasted cardio" will allow you to burn more fat than if you eat beforehand, some folks believe. They say that fasted cardio is more effective at burning fat while others believe it can decrease performance and limit fat loss. 

So why skip breakfast before a workout?

It is a common practice for athletes to immediately wake up, skip breakfast, and to jump to the gym thinking that this will, in turn, burn more stored fat. Why is this such a common thought? Probably due to the thought that low glycogen levels cause the body to use fat instead of carbs for fuel to burn.

Some studies suggest that working out on an empty stomach means fat is burned to provide energy. But it may reduce workout time and intensity, causing muscle loss, lowering metabolism and hindering fitness. Keep in mind that the majority of the "fuel" used during most exercise is not actually coming from the food you have just eaten. If you're working out at a moderate to high intensity you're using glycogen and fat that is stored in your muscles, liver, and fat cells. Typically, your body has enough of that stored fuel to last for one to two hours of intense work, or three to four hours at moderate intensity.

On the flip side, It is important to listen to your body. I know some people who feel great exercising on an empty stomach, and others who need to eat breakfast or a decent meal before their workout. It honestly depends on YOU and YOUR body alone. There is truly no "right" or "wrong" answer here, but everyone will have their own opinions on the matter.

A report published this year concluded that your body burns roughly the same amount of fat regardless of whether you eat before a workout, but you’re likely to lose strength-building muscles by exercising on an empty stomach. Not only that, without food to fuel your workout, exercise intensity and overall calorie burn are reduced.

Some pros of working out on an empty stomach are:
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Fasting increases the body's growth hormones (according to some researchers)
And the cons to working out on an empty stomach:
  • Less energy: we need energy to workout and we get that energy from eating-you guessed it-FOOD!
  • Increased likelihood of injury due to clumsiness, falls, or fainting 
  • Increased risk of losing muscle mass 
  • Increased risk of slowing your metabolism
As you can see above, the cons of working out on an empty stomach  definitely outweigh the pros!

While it does seem that doing low to medium intensity exercise on an empty stomach will increase fat oxidation, it will not increase the number of calories you are burning anymore than if you had just eaten a stack of pancakes.

Just bear in mind, when it comes to losing body fat, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is if you burned more than you took in.
What's your best bet? 

Eat a carbohydrate-dense meal about an hour before every workout, such as oatmeal, and have a protein and carb meal soon afterward, such as chicken and rice.

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