Morning exercisers are often told to eat before hitting the gym, with quick-acting carbs thought to be the best form of fuel. The thought is that eating jumpstarts your morning metabolism and gives you the energy you need to workout well. Once your metabolism is revved, you’ll burn more calories throughout the day, the thinking goes.
But as intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet have become more popular, the concept of “fasted” exercise, or workouts on an empty stomach, have, too. The reported benefits are greater and faster fat loss and better blood sugar control (which can help stave off diabetes).
A 2010 study, as reported by The New York Times, showed exercising before eating can help prevent weight gain, even during the season of holiday excess. In this study, 28 active, healthy men were assigned to either skip exercising, exercise after a carb-rich breakfast and a workout that included drinking a sugary sports drinks, or exercise “fasted,” without breakfast first, but fueling up afterward with a comparable amount of food.
At the end, both nonexercisers and the carb-heavy breakfast group gained weight (with the exercisers gaining less than the sedentary participants). But the fasted group did not — gaining no weight and showing none of the signs of insulin resistance seen in the other groups.
This doesn’t mean you definitely shouldn’t eat before exercise, however. Athletes or even high-intensity weekend warriors might seem dips in performance without eating first. Some might even become light-headed or develop stomachaches without eating first.
If you don’t have enough energy to really go after it during workouts, your fat-burning and muscle-building results will suffer, Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia, told Daily Burn.
And researchers don’t know if the results would still apply to adults exercising for different times and at a lower-intensity than the adults in the study.
If you are going to go this route, start slow, and don’t try high-intensity fitness on your first morning breakfast-less. In the end, it really depends on personal preference and what works best for you.
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