Before I start this post I would like to say that there is absolutely no other reason why I workout before breakfast other than the fact that I don’t want to eat at 6am. That’s it.
If you follow me on Instagram then you’re probably already aware of the fact that I workout first thing in the morning. 6am – bam, lets go! Because of this I’m always asked a ton of questions regarding the subject.
So to save my repetitive fingers and thumbs tapping away I thought I would put it all into one blog post for you all. But first, let’s begin with my most asked question:
Should I workout on an empty stomach?
This is a question with many varied answers and the truth is, so many people have different opinions on the matter. Personally, my honest answer would be to trial and error it and see what works for your body.
Many people find interest in the topic because they want to know what’s best for their body and how they can improve their fitness results – especially in terms of fat loss. Like any form of training, there are both positive and negatives about working out on an empty stomach but really the burning question is, does it burn more fat?
Not many people like the idea of jumping out of bed first thing in the morning and completing a gruelling workout session but some people do it based on the idea that it can burn more fat. The idea comes from the the fact that glycogen (a stored carbohydrate) is often depleted in the morning. So after a night without eating, your body is in greater position for it to potentially burn a lot more fat as your store of carbohydrates is not easily accessible. Reduced glycogen levels can potentially help your body to increase fat burn. However, if glycogen stores are completely used up, then this can be bad for your body and may even end up using your muscle for energy – which you do not want! Why? Because when you burn up your muscle, you’re basically welcoming your body to hold more fat. Na uh, no thank you!
To save yourself from exhausting your glycogen levels then you need to ensure yourself a good, nourishing meal/big snack before you go to bed. This means that when you wake up in the morning to complete your workout that your glycogen levels are low (but not too low) enough for you to burn fat safely without completely exhausting your glycogen levels. Now this is where my secret comes in…
Throughout the day I like to split my meals out into 6 small(ish) meals. This means I will always have a snack after my dinner. Which in turn leaves me eating an hour or two before my bedtime – 10pm. Most people however, who eat their dinner at the usual time of 6pm and consume nothing after, will be fasting for at least 12 hours before they get up at – let’s say 6am. I on the other hand have, have only fasted for 9 hours and by the time I wake up in the morning my glycogen levels are at a safe level to allow me to workout without needing food beforehand.
So the secret? Eat just before you go to bed! Now, I don’t mean a handful of nuts. Oh no. Get some carbs in ya! My typical evening snack will be 2 slices of rye bread, topped with some avocado and a small apple. This allows me plenty of carbs (and healthy fats) before bed which sends me off to sleep like a baby and BAM – I’m ready for my 6am workout. And don’t get me started on the ‘no carbs after dark’ myth.
If you’re now thinking that my snack is rather a realtively big snack then that’s because my body needs the fuel! Remember, in order to grow muscles you need to fuel them correctly! If however, I was to eat only a handful of nuts the night before my workout then my body wouldn’t be fuelled enough for my morning workout. Especially as my meals throughout the day are balanced through portion sizes so everything works out correctly – for me and my body.
Obviously, just because this works for me it doesn’t mean it will work for you. You could, for example, try the 12 hour window of fasting before your workout and see if it works for you. Just because it didn’t for me – doesn’t mean it won’t for you! Like I said earlier, it’s all about trial and error.
Now that the secrets out, let’s get back to business…
Your other burning question: “Should I eat before or after a workout?”
I think honestly, the question comes down to what kind of workout activity you’re going to be doing and what your body can personally handle. If it’s liss/cardio then I would say that you’re pretty safe to do it fasted. This is because when your body exercises at a low intensity, it burns more fats than carbs and doesn’t burn as many calories than it would during a more high intense workout.
However, if you’re going to be engaging in a heavy lifting session than I’d say you either need to eat right before bed (the secret) and test how your body handles that method or simply eat before the workout and fuel your body well. I really do believe its all about how your body works.
Now, if you’re shaking your head at me right now and saying “Hannah no, you definitely should eat before a workout!” then I’d like to point out that Science and research shows that ultimately there is no huge difference between eating before or after a workout.
I would also like to state that I have tested my strength during my workouts both when I have worked out on an empty stomach and after I have just eaten a decent meal. During both trials I was able to lift the exact same weight and my PB’s remained the same. In fact, I have even hit PB’s many a times whilst working out on an empty stomach.
Also, in the Chicago Tribune article ‘To eat or not to eat: The science behind running on empty’ the writer states how a study in the Journal of the international Society of Sports Nutrition compared a group of people who did aerobic workouts after a meal with another group who didn’t eat before exercising in the morning. After a month, researchers found no significant difference in body weight, body-fat percentage, waist size, etc… between the two groups.
My argument isn’t for you to stop what you’re doing and start training on an empty stomach. Oh no. I’m simply sharing a method that works for me and my mornings. If I was however, to train in the afternoons then I will certainly make sure I have food beforehand to fuel my body properly. In fact, there are also many benefits of eating before a workout. Bodybuilding.com states how the thermogenic effect from eating before a workout is effected from the digestion of the food, which multiple studies have shown actually improves fat oxidation which leads to greater use of nutrients during your workout.
Either way, going into a workout hungry isn’t a good idea. It puts you at risk of protein loss and will certainly affect your workout. You’ll feel tired, less-motivated and sometimes nauseous. I never go into a workout hungry. Ever. However, if one morning I do wake up hungry i’ll grab something before my workout or simply delay it until the evening – after work.
Overall, there are so many different sides to the subject but I honestly believe that you should do what works for your body. If you like working out on an empty stomach (in safe levels) and your body agrees with you – i.e, you don’t wake up starving then I say go for it. If however, you’ve found out it doesn’t work for you, then grab some munch, fuel your body and get to it!