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Before or After Breakfast: Which Is Right For Morning Exercise?

This question has been boggling many minds of fitness enthusiasts and those who want to begin their fitness journey. However, even with the vast resources we have in hand, this debate seems to be unending. It is frequently advised that you work out first thing in the morning before eating breakfast, in what is known as a fasted state. This is believed to aid you with your weight loss program. However, working out after eating may give you more energy and improve your performance. With that, it makes many people get confused on what to follow. So most, if not all, still do not know whether to eat or not eat before starting their morning exercise.

Just like the old adage, the best workout is the one you are going to stick to. Hence, the answer to whether or not you should trade your best meal of the day which is breakfast for a run in the park or intensive lifting in your gym greatly depends on your goals and your personal preference. So if you ask us if you should work out on an empty stomach? That really depends on you. However, if you are interested in learning the advantages and disadvantages working out on an empty stomach, plus suggestions for what to eat before and after exercise, you should really continue reading this article.

Exercise before breakfast

Exercising before breakfast may be the most healthful choice. Recent studies have shown that there is a positive relationship between meal times and workouts, with that figuring out when to exercise could be just as important as the exercise itself. Science really proves that exercising before breakfast is most effective in most people. So if your half-asleep self has no difficulties in hitting the gym first thing in the morning, then it is usually a better way in order to burn more calories before your day becomes busy. Studies have shown that exercising before breakfast in the morning, complemented with a proper and healthy diet for weight loss, is significantly effective compared to exercising after breakfast. Studies have proven that doing your exercise programs before breakfast significantly produce more fat loss.

Advantages of Fasted Exercise

As most people know, glycogen or the stored sugar in the muscles of the body are usually utilized first as fuel or energy when you exercise. When the body senses that glycogen has been fully used up, it increases your appetite in order to make up for the lost glycogen of the body. However, when you perform exercises in a fasted state, which means you have an empty stomach, the body burns fatty acids. This means that after your workout the increased appetite may not be as significant. Studies have shown that fasted exercise significantly burns fat for fuel. Moreover, this is associated with consuming less calories at later meals, which is a huge perk when you are following a weight loss program.

In addition to that, early morning exercises before eating breakfast also has another advantage. According to studies, doing cardio exercises while in a fasted state may relatively enhance insulin sensitivity, which improves blood sugar levels to the healthy range. This is especially beneficial to those who are dealing with prediabetes, diabetes, and insulin insensitivity. Working out before breakfast could aid these people in clearing sugar from their blood faster. However, it must be noted that this study is still under debate because there are also contradicting studies noted. Hence, with that, in general, science has not given the final verdict that fasting benefits exercise, as some research shows no difference in either method.

Disadvantages of Fasted Exercise

There are definitely people who are able to do vigorous exercise programs even if they have not eaten anything yet in the morning. However, if you are one of those who cannot go on their day without eating their breakfast first, then doing a fasted exercise is definitely not for you. With that, it must be noted that working out on an empty stomach is only helpful if you can still perform during your workout. Because at the end of the day consistency is the real key in achieving your fitness goals, phoning it in or tapping out halfway because you feel like you might faint generally will not help you achieve your goals.

The length and intensity that you are able to go in doing a fasted exercise greatly depends on what and when you last ate the day before. With that, a meal heavy with carbs the night before could leave you with enough glycogen reserves to make it through your morning run. Moreover, it is important to note that most people will wake up slightly dehydrated from an overnight fast. At the very least, drinking a glass of water is a good idea for every morning exercise.

Foods to Eat Before and After Workouts

Other than the specific time on whether you should eat before or after a workout, the type of food you eat is just as important. People who are under a weight loss program should have a minor daily calorie deficit and emphasize protein in their diet from foods like eggs, chicken, and fish in order to preserve muscle while burning body fat.

For those people who prefer to eat before a workout, it must be noted that a fatty meal of steak and eggs with hash browns makes for an uncomfortable exercise session. With that, it is usually recommended to choose a lighter, easier to digest food that is still able to give you enough energy to push harder and faster without feeling so tired. In order to make sure that the meals you take are comfortable in your stomach during exercise, it is usually recommended to eat a meal or snack one to two hours before your workout and avoid high-fiber and high-fat foods such as beans, cruciferous vegetables or fried foods. With that, you should highly prioritize eating carbs that are easily digested and pair it with a small amount of protein in order to help accelerate recovery. The usual recommended pre-workout snacks or meals include, whole wheat toast with peanut butter, a large banana and a hard-boiled egg, oatmeal with berries and nut butter, pretzels with hummus, dried edamame and dried fruit, and sweet potato toast topped with nutritional yeast.

Consider your workout type

As stated above, the workout type that you are consistent in doing is more important than the idea of whether you should eat or not before doing a morning exercise. With that, you might notice that you might make it through an hour of yoga without being interrupted with your hunger. But you are unlikely to make it through a 10-mile run without some kind of nutritional boost. Most studies have shown that people who had a high carb meal 3 to 4 hours before doing an extensive duration workout session have more evidence of endurance. For doing workout sessions that have shorter duration, science evidence is still mixed up. It must be noted that the majority of research shows little difference in performance between fasted and fed exercise in workouts lasting less than an hour.

So your best bet is to make sure you have enough energy with a small meal a few hours before if you know you will be putting in the time for a longer workout or really want to go all out. This is because your body requires you to fuel up with protein and carbs before a workout for optimal performance. This is vital because carbs increase your body’s glycogen stores, which your liver and muscles release when your energy runs low. Protein aids in preventing muscle damage and speed your recovery after a workout session. Complex, also known as slow-burning, carbs such as oatmeal, vegetables, brown rice, and beans are best. Protein does not always have to come from a cow. These healthy sources can suit everyone from carnivores to vegans such as eggs, almonds, chicken breast, nut butters, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, lentils, and quinoa. You can build protein-carb combinations like Greek yogurt with fruit, or eggs and steamed spinach on whole-grain toast in order to streamline the process. If you are somewhat a lazy and chillback person without that kind of time, you can opt for a protein shake with half of a banana.

According to studies, filling your tank 2 to 3 hours before you exercise yields maximum performance. This gives your body enough time to digest, especially for endurance activities like running and cycling. This is vital especially that undigested food in your stomach can lead to gastrointestinal issues.

Post-workout recovery

It must be remembered that the post-workout meal is non-negotiable whether you are exercising with or without breakfast. There are two goals in post-workout eating. These are refueling and recovery. It is vital because Choosing the right foods optimizes recovery and improves muscle mass creation. As stated above, carbs are able to replenish the glycogen you have burned off, while protein rebuilds your muscles. Science usually recommends aiming for a ratio of 3:1 carbs to protein or for 15 to 25 grams of protein after exercise. Remember that while your body is readily able to burn carbs post-workout, choosing a carb source that is high in fiber keeps you fuller longer while feeding hungry muscles.

In addition to that, you must take advantage of the window of recovery, which is within an hour after you finish your workout. However, you must also remember that recovery continues 24 to 48 hours after an intensive workout. So it is important to never neglect the nutritional value of your meals throughout the day. After a workout, you can recharge with a smoothie, turkey and veggies on a whole-grain wrap, or yogurt with berries. You must also remember not to neglect fluid, which your body requires in order to replace everything you sweated out at the gym. Water is always a good hydrator, but according to studies, a glass of milk adds protein and electrolytes into the mix could significantly help your recovery. Furthermore, here are some healthy post-workout options that you can take which include a protein shake blended with a large banana, rice and beans topped with nutritional yeast for some extra protein, an omelette with a sweet potato, and sandwich made with high-fiber bread and turkey or mashed chickpeas with sliced avocado.

Difference Between Fed and Fasted Workouts

When figuring out when and how to work out, your top priority should be creating an exercise regimen that is comfortable and realistic for you. Here are some of the things you should put in your mind:

  • When you are looking to build muscle and improve your athletic performance, you should eat a breakfast rich in complex carbohydrates prior to training.
  • When you want to lose some weight, you should choose an eating and exercise routine that is easy for you to religiously perform, whether it is training before or after eating.
  • When you have chronic disease such as diabetes and you are aiming to manage it, research indicates that exercising fasted may aid in reducing the risk of diabetes and improve health by reducing blood sugar levels.

Bottom line

There is still ongoing research regarding this topic. However, evidence on hand indicates in favor of exercising on an empty stomach, so long as your workout is low to medium intensity and your goal is fat loss or maintenance. But, you must remember there are a few signs that you should watch out for because they indicate that your body is not doing well with that type of exercise routine and need more energy. These signs include feeling dizzy or lightheaded, slowing down significantly in the middle of the workout, losing your form, and rapid breathing. It must be noted that if you are going to perform for an intensive workout, eat some protein and carbs beforehand. In the end of the day, when it comes to fitness, everyone is different. So it is fully up to you to find what works best for you through experimenting with different pre- and post-workout foods.

References:
1. Cronkleton, E. Healthline. 2018. Is It Safe to Work Out on an Empty Stomach?. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/working-out-on-an-empty-stomach. Retrieved on 6 October 2020.
2. Greatist. 2019. Is It Better to Eat Before or After a Workout?. Retrieved from: https://greatist.com/fitness/is-it-better-to-eat-before-or-after-a-workout. Retrieved on 6 october 2020.
3. Marie, S. Live Strong. 2019. Is It Better to Work Out Before or After Breakfast?. Retrieved from: https://www.livestrong.com/article/454009-should-i-go-to-the-gym-before-breakfast-or-after/. Retrieved on 6 October 2020.
4. Sharkey, L. Medical News Today. 2018. Exercising before breakfast may be most healthful choice. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326811. Retrieved on 6 October 2020.

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