Written by R. S Jacobs
I receive a lot of questions around exercise, and some of the most common ones are – should I eat anything before I workout? Is it better to workout on an empty stomach? What is the best time of the day to exercise? I’m afraid to tell you that the answers are not the same from one person to the next, you just have to experiment to determine what works best for you. Some people are adamant that working out in a fasted state is the best thing since sliced bread, while others suggest it can be really bad and harmful. Diet and exercise plans need to be specific to the individual, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
In my case, fasted exercise combined with a nutritional plan scheduled according to my physical needs has resulted in great improvements in my fitness journey. Since I have adopted this route, I have truly reaped the fruits of my workouts, and when you can see how effective your hard work is, it can only encourage you to keep it up. I am a firm believer in working out in a fasted state, and I prefer to do it in the morning for a few key reasons. Overnight, the body’s insulin triggers the cells, muscles and body tissue to absorb nutrients and molecules, and any unused energy is stored as fat for later use. Based on that logic, I feel that exercising in a fasted state is better as it will burn off any unused or excess energy stored in the fat bank.
To maintain a healthy body fat percentage, I exercise when my insulin levels are low and my body is no longer processing food. The only time I am 100% sure my body has halted digestion is early in the morning, so I seize this opportunity to use up any excess energy. In previous years, I always work out in a “fed” state but I ended up feeling very heavy and my performance suffered as a result. Of course, it also depends on the type of activity, there is a big difference between a low impact activity (walking) compared to something as fierce as HIIT. Most powerlifting or strength training enthusiasts prefer the “fed” state because they need the extra energy in order to lift heavy weights and also to feed their muscles as they bulk up. I always try to combine strength training and cardio in my workouts to achieve a lean, toned body.
Exercising in a fasted state offers many fat loss benefits but it is highly dependant on how you do it and what good techniques you embrace. You still need to eat good healthy food that can be digested effectively and if you eat more than your body requires, you can’t assume your body will automatically burn off the extra calories during fasted workouts. One thing I have learnt the hard way over the years is that you can’t trick your body’s energy mechanism. Another thing I find important to be aware of is that when you have a meal before your workout, your body will break down considerably less fat because it shifts the resources solely to break down food in your stomach and generate energy to fuel your physical activity.
Please note for those that have limited fat stored, your body will revert to breaking down proteins within the muscles to be used for energy which can cause significant muscle loss. In this case, it is strongly advised that you eat to fuel your workout, especially if your body fat percentage is on the low side i.e runner (long or marathon), cyclist or people who are naturally quite lean. This is to avoid your glycogen or sugar levels dropping so low to the point where you feel weak or faint.
Added benefits of working out in a fasted state.
* Nutrition Routine. When you exercise in a fasted state, your body develops an enhanced adaptation method to use food effectively for fuel at different time of the day. It constantly works towards an equilibrium of energy input and output over a 24-hour period. This balances out in the bid to ensure that nutrients are distributed efficiently and minimize the accumulation of body fat.
* Fat Oxidation. Fat oxidation is when the cells burn fat to create energy resources for the body. Sport scientific studies have shown that when you exercise, your body mobilises and burns more fat when your insulin is at a baseline level (normally when the digestive process is complete). This study was carried out in comparison to when insulin levels are elevated, which usually occurs when we eat and even up to 3 or 4 hrs after eating.
* Lean Abs. Stomach fat is one of the most stubborn areas when it comes to losing fat. This is due to the fact that this area is the first port of storage particularly for sugar and is embedded into the organs around the stomach region. When you exercise in a fasted state, your blood flow into the abdominal area is increased and your body slowly converts these fats into glucose which is used up as fuel.
* Increased Energy. A lot of my clients complain about feeling sluggish and heavy when they exercise after eating. A full stomach can be off-putting and is even known to trigger your gag reflex especially when you feel the food bouncing around in your tummy. I always advise that if you have to eat before working out, have a banana or an apple for a quick energy boost.
* Body Detox. When you work out in a fasted state, particularly in the morning, your body gets a cue to flush out any lingering toxins through sweat and urine. Even general body maintenance functions are elevated for detoxification due to the blood pumping around the body, cleansing foreign substances along the way. This is why our urine is usually a darker colour first thing in the morning.
* Boost HGH. Working on an empty stomach surprisingly increases the production of human growth hormone, which is necessary for building muscles. Some powerlifters and bodybuilders are known to train in a fasted state to reap the benefits of natural HGH.
* Increased Endurance. Running on empty can make your body perform better when it comes to conserving energy. So, when your body trains itself to optimise performance without food, it would get better at performing when you do eat. Many athletes adopt this technique to increase all-round fitness and specifically when preparing for competitions.
In conclusion, there really is no right or wrong when it comes to exercise or whether it’s better to exercise fasted or not. The bottom line is, you will reap the benefits either way and everyone’s body is uniquely different which is why it is so important for you to experiment and see what fits in with your routine and lifestyle – As long as you always endeavour to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. One final note, if you do choose to try fasted exercise, make sure you don’t burn out with long sessions, a 30 min HIIT workout is perfectly effective.
Stay strong, warriors.
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