It is a common question, what should I eat before training? Or should I have anything at all? Am I better starting training fasted or fuelled? While some people swear by early morning fasted workouts for their fat burning benefits, others will perform better in intense or longer training sessions after fuelling up first. So, what really are the benefits of each approach? And, if you are going to eat, what will give you the most energy to power through your session? We’ll give you four fail-safe breakfast ideas…
FAsted cardIO – TRAINING WITHOUT EATING
When you wake up in the morning after at least eight hours of fasting, your body’s glycogen stores are depleted. Exercising on an empty stomach allows means you are likely to burn up to 20% more fat. When your body is in a fasted state, it releases the hormone insulin less regularly which can result in an improvement in insulin sensitivity. This increases the opportunity to burn fat stores.
Training in a fasted state can also increase Human Growth Hormone levels (HGH) which is in part responsible for building muscle tissue, improving bone quality and burning fat. Testosterone levels also increase during a workout, which also helps build muscle tissue and increase energy levels.
Therefore, the combined hormonal benefits of a fasted workout can result in more energy and increased burning of fat stores. If you are looking for these benefits, or just feel more comfortable exercising on an empty stomach, then this is a great option. The drawback is that you can’t expect to perform well in an extended duration or high intensity session as you won’t have the glycogen stores to sustain you.
EATING BEFORE TRAINING – what are the benefits
Working out or training in a ‘fed’ state means you consume fuel such as carbohydrates, protein, fat or a combination of these prior to beginning. The benefit of this is being able to train harder and longer, with more available energy to burn calories for an extended period.
Studies have also shown that athletes who eat prior to training will consume fewer calories later in the day, which can be important in overall body composition goals.
For endurance sports, training sessions can extend over several hours. Starting these sessions in the fasted state can be a real recipe for disaster, and athletes can fairly spectacularly ‘hit the wall’ or ‘bonk’ as they run out of available energy.
This is an awful feeling, and at some point in training every athlete will go through it. Remember that the higher intensity, the higher the carbohydrate demand; so if you are doing an intense or long training session it is better to eat carbohydrate rich foods before training.
WHAT SHOULD I EAT BEFORE TRAINING?
Now you have a good idea of the benefit of starting training with or without eating before hand. For a shorter training session that’s no so intense, you may choose to simply have a coffee and head out the door, with the caffeine an added performance boost. You can burn more fat and and improve your insulin sensitivity.
On the other hand, if you have a longer or harder session ahead, and you want to make the most of the session as well as preserving more muscle throughout, you can choose a carbohydrate rich meal prior to training. Here are our best pre-training ideas:
- Banana – This is a quick and easy option. A banana will provide around 25g carbohydrates and shouldn’t make you feel sluggish as you work out.
- Porridge – Oats are such a great slow burning fuel, especially before a long ride. Top with sliced banana and honey to really amp up the carbs.
- Toast with peanut butter – Sourdough toast with a generous spread of peanut butter will give a nice combination of protein, carbs and fat and will keep you feeling satisfied.
- Smoothie – A small smoothie with banana, strawberries, vanilla protein and milk will give plenty of energy an be easy to digest.
And the bottom line? Overall, studies show no difference in fat loss simply based on whether you eat before exercise or not. But, knowing how to utilise each approach to your advantage is key. It’s probably not worth attempting longer or intense training sessions without some fuel on board.
But for shorter sessions, trying them in a fasted state may work well for you. Just be sure to not to overcompensate later in the day by eating more calories than you really need!