You will likely not have trouble finding all kinds of opinions regarding exercising on an empty stomach. While some fitness experts may swear that working out on an empty stomach helps to increase the rate of burning fat, others argue just the opposite. Let us take a closer look at this age-old debate over the supposed benefits of exercising before breakfast. What are the pros and cons of working out on an empty stomach?
Some folks believe that the best time to work out is early in the morning, before breakfast. You too may have read that doing your routine right after waking up is supposedly more beneficial. The reason for this belief is based on how the body stores carbohydrates.
Early in the morning, after a good night’s sleep without having eaten, the body’s carb stores can be depleted. Exercising right after sleeping, some say, will burn more fat when this source of energy isn't available any longer. However, this could also result in some unwanted effects. With these carbs (glycogen) as a source of energy gone over night, the body can start to burn muscle mass in the absence of fat. That sure isn't something you want, as it is our muscles that give the body tone! You want to build and shape them, not lose muscle mass from exercising.
Here is the good news: It is quite unlikely that you will wake up in the morning with your glycogen fat stores entirely depleted. First of all, many of us will eat a small snack before we go to sleep and secondly, we may not even sleep long enough for our stores to be fully depleted. Because of that, enough stored fat is likely to remain for you to effectively work out on an empty stomach and not burn muscle.
There are numerous locations in the body where fat is stored. The body makes use of what’s called adipose tissue for this purpose. Now, if you want to burn fat, the stored fat first needs to be freed from this tissue and then broken down. A process called lipolysis converts the fat into fatty acids and releases them into the bloodstream. This breaking down and releasing of the stored fat begins as soon as you start your workout.
What happens next is that the fatty acids (which are now in the bloodstream) reach the muscle tissues. The exercises then "burn” these fatty acids in the muscles.
Obviously, the exact process of how fat is burned is a bit more complex. But in this case, it can help to at least know that oxygen plays an important role.
This is where it gets interesting. When you have eaten before a workout, the body will be occupied with digesting, diverting more blood to the digestive system. However, blood circulation is the primary way of delivering oxygen throughout the body. With a greater portion of blood now occupied with digestion, this can mean that there is less oxygen available to the muscles. This could link to reduced fat burning potential when exercising after eating a substantial meal.
But take all of this with a grain of salt. As if things weren’t already confusing, some health experts say that none of this really matters. These individuals argue that eating before exercising doesn’t affect our ability to burn fat at all.
Here is what is really important when it comes to working out and eating. Do what works for you. Of course, eating a huge meal before a workout, or going many hours without food before exercising are both less-than-ideal options. Instead, experiment with different regimens until you discover the one that maximises fat burning potential, without making you feel drained. Everyone is different and working out is largely dependent on your unique physiology and habits. This is why people will argue that one method is better than the other, because it may indeed work for their body!
Before your next workout, maybe grab a piece of fruit and some nuts. Or, make yourself a healthy juice before exercising. Give yourself some time to digest and then go along with your routine. Bottom line: Do your workouts in a way that makes you feel most comfortable and capable!