Should You Eat Before Exercising?

Find the pros and cons of eating vs. not eating before a workout

Some people choose to do their workout first thing in the morning. There are a variety of advantages to exercising early in the day rather than waiting until later. When you exercise early, there’s less of a chance of circumstances later in the day keeping you from completing your workout. Plus, early workouts give a sense of accomplishment and help to increase energy levels so you can better tackle the upcoming challenges of the day. One question that often arises regarding morning workouts is whether you should eat before exercising. After all, you may have limited time to complete a fitness routine before heading off to the office and you need to get the job done fast. Is healthy to exercise without eating?

Some fitness experts believe it’s actually more beneficial to exercise without eating. They argue that because the body’s glycogen stores are depleted overnight, you’ll burn more fat if you exercise on an empty stomach. While it’s true that your body is glycogen depleted when you wake up in the morning, it may not react to this low fuel state by burning more fat, but by slowing down to conserve the resources that are left. Your body can sense fuel depletion and may react by trying to hold on to what little fuel is available. Depending on workout time and intensity, it may also breakdown protein or muscle tissue to get the fuel needed to power the workout. Breakdown of lean body mass is not the effect most people want from their exercise efforts.

You may also encounter another problem if you exercise without eating. Without proper fuel, you may not have the stamina and energy to maximize the intensity of your exercise routine. This could lead to less fat and calories being burned overall. You may also end up cutting your workout short if your energy reserves run too low. You may be able to get through a cardio workout without eating, but weight training could be more of a challenge. If you’re trying to maximize strength and develop lean body mass, it’s not wise to exercise without eating.

Some people avoid exercising before eating for fear of developing nausea. This is a legitimate concern, but you don’t have to eat a meal to refuel. A two-hundred calorie snack that has both protein and carbohydrates is sufficient for most people. Some good choices would be egg whites on a piece of whole grain toast, a bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with nuts, or cottage cheese with sunflower seeds sprinkled on top. A fruit smoothie with a scoop of protein or a protein bar is also a good option if you have limited time. This should be enough to keep your body out of starvation mode. Try to wait thirty minutes after eating or drinking before exercising.

Always drink fluids before exercising in the morning, particularly if you’ll be exercising in a warm environment. Keep in mind that your body is dehydrated from not drinking fluids during the night. Dehydration can cause fatigue and dizziness to occur during an exercise routine. If you’ll be doing a long workout, consider sipping a sports drink at the beginning and periodically throughout your exercise session.

The bottom line?
Don’t exercise without eating. Chances are, you’ll get less benefit as your body tries to hold on to fuel stores and you’ll become more easily fatigued. Eat a two hundred calorie snack to replenish your body’s energy stores and then get moving!

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