Do you need food to fuel your workouts or should you train on an empty stomach?
Researchers have been trying to find the answer to that for decades, while the fitness industry stands divided over this issue.
However, a March study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism reveals not eating has greater benefits, at least for healthy, overweight men, which was the sample studied.
This verdict concurs with another 2013 research from United Kingdom’s Northumbria University published in the British Journal Of Nutrition, which proves that people can burn up to 20% more body fat by exercising in the morning before consuming breakfast.
Do bear in mind that in the latest study, the men were only walking and not doing any form of high intensity or gruelling exercises.
It’s important to note that if you’re going to do a particularly strenuous workout, then you should eat some carbohydrates at least 45 minutes prior to the session.
That way, you’ll prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping too low, which can cause dizziness and nausea.
Really, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and everything depends on your fitness goals – are you targeting to lose weight or get fitter?
According to Max Lower, a personal trainer and author of Two-Meal Day, consuming carbohydrates before exercise can increase performance in certain fields like sprinting and sports that use power movements, but it also stops the body from using stored body fat for energy, which means you are less likely to reap the reported fat-burning benefits.
“Glucagon is released to keep your blood sugar at normal levels. Your body starts to break down adipose (fat) tissue into free fatty acids, which can then be converted into a form of energy known as ketone bodies. In layman’s terms, you’re burning fat for energy.
“As soon as you start eating, the process is halted. Insulin now inhibits the breakdown of fatty acids, leading your body to burn the sugars you’ve just ingested. The fat-burning stage is over.
“If you think about it, this all makes perfect evolutionary sense.
“When food wasn’t as readily available as it is today, holding on to stored body fat was crucial for our survival. We evolved to last a long time between meals,” he writes in an article in The Telegraph last month.
I’m an advocate of eating something light at least 60 minutes before a workout to maximise my performance.
An empty stomach depletes my energy stores and I find I just cannot push myself hard enough to the point of discomfort.
Any shorter duration than that and you may suffer cramps. Your body needs enough time to digest the food.
But, that doesn’t mean you can put in an oily curry puff or doughnut before heading out to the gym.
A lot of people tend to do that as they think the upcoming workout will justify the extra non-healthy calories consumed.
Stay off foods high in fat and sugar just before a workout. High-acid foods, fatty food, and even dairy products before exercising can upset people’s stomachs and cause digestive woes.
A pre-workout meal should consist of mainly easy to digest, carbohydrate type foods in order to supply the energy requirements for the up-coming workout.
Fruit and yoghurt smoothies, or nuts, are a great way to get a fast, convenient and healthy meal in before an exercise session.
For post-workout meals, it should contain some protein in order to provide the body with the building blocks used to rebuild muscle tissue and help the body recover from the exercises performed.
There is a one-hour window, right after the workout, which is important from a replenishing standpoint.
You want to consume your post workout protein meal within that one-hour timeframe.
But, despite what you’ve heard about the wonders of protein, it’s not necessary (or healthy) to pound a massive protein shake the second you stop pumping iron (for bodybuilders), as your kidneys can only synthesise so much protein.
Roughly one gram of protein per kilogramme of body weight is plenty to maximise muscle growth.
Apart from the risk of kidney damage, there’s evidence that overloading your body with protein can contribute to an imbalance in the acidity of your blood, which in the long run could lead to bone weakening.
So, as long as your workout is low to medium intensity and your goal is fat loss or maintenance, go ahead and exercise on an empty stomach.
We all know of people who can jump out of bed and log in long distance running without a bite of food. My “batteries” would be dead by the second kilometre.
Another important pointer: remember to hydrate with water before, during and after a workout.
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul.