Find out What whether you want to lose weight or maximize performance is only part of the equation. You also need to deal with the question when Eat.
When you incorporate the exercise into the mix, the puzzle of when to eat becomes even more difficult. Let’s sum it up.
There are two camps where you can “eat or not eat” before the exercise debate.
One side avoids eating before morning workout (except for a cup of coffee because, hello, caffeine). The other will get dizzy just thinking about it without having a solid breakfast. Both have legitimate points.
Exercising on an empty stomach may make you feel lighter on your toes and avoid running the bathroom at the gym. But eating ensures you have enough fuel in the tank to get through your workout.
But there is more to it than personal preference. Research suggests the breakfast skippers might be into something, although the science of it is mixed.
A study of 273 participants concluded that fat burning during exercise was higher during fasting, while insulin and glucose levels were higher when not fasting.
In general, however, science has not given the definitive stamp that fasting promotes exercise, as some research shows no difference between the two methods.
If you can handle it, this is. Exercising on an empty stomach is only helpful if you can still perform well while exercising. If you call or listen to it halfway because you feel like you are passing out, it won’t work.
How long and how heavy you can walk depends on what and when you last ate the day before. A high-carbohydrate meal the night before could leave you with enough reserve to get through your morning run.
It’s worth noting that most people wake up slightly dehydrated after an overnight fast. Drinking a glass of water (at least) is a good idea for any morning trainer.
When it comes to the eat / not eat debate, exercise type matters. You could do it through an hour of yoga without stomach growling interrupting your savasana. But you’re unlikely to get through a 10 mile run without some kind of nutritional boost.
Especially in endurance sports with a longer duration, improvements were found after a carbohydrate-rich meal 3 to 4 hours beforehand.
For workouts of shorter duration, the science is still mixed. Most of the research shows a small difference in performance between fasted and fed training for training sessions of less than an hour.
Your best bet? If you know you want to take the time to work out or really give it your all, make sure you have enough energy with a small meal a few hours beforehand.
For optimal performance, your body needs to stock up on protein and carbohydrates before exercising.
Carbohydrates build up your body’s glycogen stores, which your liver and muscles release when your energy levels run low. Protein prevents muscle damage and speeds up your recovery after a workout.
Complex (even slow-burning) carbohydrates like oatmeal, vegetables, brown rice, and beans are best. Protein doesn’t always have to come from a cow. These healthy sources are suitable for everyone from carnivores to vegans:
- Chicken breast
- Nut butter
- cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Andean millet
To streamline the process, build protein-carbohydrate combinations like Greek yogurt with fruit or eggs and steamed spinach on whole wheat toast. If you’re a roll-out-of-bed-and-go person without that time, try a make-ahead protein shake with half a banana.
Research shows that filling the tank 2 to 3 hours before your workout will give you maximum performance.
Give your body enough time to digest, especially for endurance activities like running. Undigested food in your stomach can lead to gastrointestinal problems (also known as a runner’s stomach or sprinting to the bathroom instead of your scheduled run).
Refueling and recovery are the two goals of post-workout eating. Carbohydrates replenish the glycogen you burn, while protein rebuilds your muscles. Aim for a 3: 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.
Take advantage of the recovery window that is within an hour of finishing your workout.
Don’t neglect the fluids you need to replace whatever you sweated in the gym. Water is always a good moisturizer, but a glass of milk will add protein and electrolytes to the mix that could help your research.
Remember, recovery continues for 24 to 48 hours after a hard workout. So don’t neglect the nutritional value of your meals throughout the day.
The research is still very mixed with some studies in favor of exercising on an empty stomach as long as your exercise is of low to moderate intensity and your goal is fat loss or maintenance.
Just look out for signs that your body won’t feel it:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Slowing down significantly in the middle of the workout
- lose your shape
- rapid breathing, even when the movements do not require it
When preparing for a more rigorous workout, eat some protein and carbohydrates beforehand. Feeling dizzy during a series of burpees isn’t a great way to start the day.
When it comes to fitness, everyone is different. It’s up to you to experiment with different foods before and after your workout to see what works best for you.