To eat or not to eat before training?
One of the most heated discussions in amateur athletes' communities is related to whether it is right to go to training before or after breakfast. Whether you have been wrestling with this question for a long time or are jealous of those who have too few problems in life and can only worry about that.
The seemingly simple decision to exercise in the morning without eating before can have significant effects, good and bad, from stress levels to digestive problems, from loss of muscle mass to fat burning.
How exercising on an empty stomach can benefit you:
Any aerobic activity leads to the burning of calories at one level or another - and these calories can come from proteins, carbohydrates or fats that are stored in different areas of our body. In general, it is easier for the body to burn carbohydrates (sugars) that simply come from the food we put into it. The sugar that is not used for the activity goes to reduced glycogen reserves that are stored mainly in the liver and skeletal muscles. Unlike carbohydrates, the body tends to store fat in a more thorough way, to warm itself and use it for emergencies of extreme hunger.
Studies show that aerobic activity on an empty stomach can lead to the burning of more fat - at a rate of about 20 per cent more on average, compared to exercising after a meal. However, this advantage also comes with an important asterisk that we will talk about later.
An interesting study conducted on the subject showed that people who fasted before exercising did not burn more calories during exercise (remember, in the previous section we talked about burning more fats and not more calories in general). However, the researchers found that running after fasting caused people to consume fewer calories overall during the day of exercise, in a way that is quite counterintuitive and logical. However, it is important to emphasize that in this field it is very difficult to reach an unequivocal conclusion - and it is possible to find studies that tend in both directions.
3. Blood sugar may be more balanced
Admittedly, this section is also a bit counterintuitive. In general, it is likely that if you exercise without eating first, it may lead to a sudden drop in blood sugar. Here too, there is no single truth that is true for everyone, but there are studies that show that for most people - exercising after fasting can actually improve blood sugar balance - even in people with diabetes. This study even suggests that exercising on an empty stomach can produce long-term effects on this index - among other things by increasing insulin sensitivity, a condition that greatly affects the chance of developing diabetes.
4. The stomach may relax a little
Many athletes who suffer from digestive system problems, such as cramps, gas, diarrhea or bloating - testify that running on an empty stomach at the beginning of the day helps them reduce the unpleasant symptoms and improve the general feeling during the day. For this assumption, we emphasize, we did not find a sufficient research basis, but if you feel that it works for you - you are definitely not alone. And if you are dealing with digestive problems that don't go away - maybe this is something worth trying - at least for a start.
And this habit may harm you:
Yes, we know that we presented a study here that shows that aerobic activity on an empty stomach burns more fat, but this is the place to present other work that indicates that in the long run, it probably won't produce a significant change in body fat percentage.
In this study, they do not state that exercising on an empty stomach is ineffective for reducing fat percentages - but clarify that according to their data, when you look at a long-term effect (as opposed to the immediate effect we presented earlier) - there is really no significant difference between running on an empty stomach and between running after a good meal. Confused? In the next section, we will present a possible reason for this strange effect.
2. It might intensify the anxiety
Cortisol is the "stress hormone" that is secreted by the body in emergencies and different situations and causes, well, stress. A study conducted on the subject presented data according to which strenuous physical activity in the morning may significantly increase the rate of this hormone in the body of those who skip breakfast. Experts emphasize that cortisol, in addition to the unpleasant sensations it produces, may also cause the body to store more fat from food, in preparation for an "emergency situation". This may explain why the body does burn more fat in such training but does not necessarily enjoy the beneficial effect in the long run.
Another study found that ignoring an empty stomach can also throw hormonal activity out of balance in general - because, as our mothers always said, breakfast is an important component in maintaining health in general - and hormonal balance in particular.
3. It may not be wise if you want to develop muscles
When the body needs to burn calories, remember, it chooses whether to use carbohydrates, proteins from muscle tissue or fat. It's important to understand that it's easier for the body to use muscle tissue for this task - so when it works hard and doesn't get enough sugar from food - it can cause it to burn more of the muscle tissue you work so hard to develop. Therefore, running on an empty stomach can (maybe) be more beneficial for those who want to lose weight, but it may be better to eat something before if you want to develop and shape the body.
4. Your performance can suffer
If it's important to you to break your own record in training, prove yourself in an intense game with friends or show everyone around you how good you are at what you do - maybe you should consider eating a little before you train. A comprehensive review conducted on exercise after fasting showed that in most cases, it impairs performance during the exercise itself. And these conclusions can certainly be understood when you consider how hunger affects other aspects of our lives - such as performance at work, mental balance or even the way we communicate with others around us.
Bottom line, when talking about such an individual subject as exercise, the answers are not black or white. The phenomena we have detailed here may or may not appear for you - so above all, it is important that you develop an awareness of how each decision specifically affects you. And yet we will end with advice for everyone - whether before or after training - to eat a healthy and nutritious meal that will provide your body with everything it needs and prevent you from suffering from hunger pangs and making less healthy decisions later in the day.