Which is Better: Exercising Before or After Breakfast?
Last week we learned eating a less than ideal breakfast is better than skipping breakfast all together. Planning ahead helps make breakfast selections healthful and limits the need to face that choice. Working out first thing in the morning can make breakfast schedules difficult and planning that much more important. One member shared her morning routine includes getting up at 3:30 AM to be at the gym by 4:00 AM for a workout. I myself head out for my workouts at 5:30 AM most mornings. Although everyone is different, some people like me have no problem exercising on an empty stomach while other people experience negative effects. Professionals and experts alike do not recommend exercising on an empty stomach. Other points of view suggest not eating breakfast especially before a work out is more beneficial. This caused me to ask the question, "which is better, exercising before or after breakfast?"
There are several things to consider when looking at this question and more than likely, the answer will be different for each person. Food consumed can only provide fuel for exercise if it has been digested and absorbed by the body. The rate of digestion is dependent on both the composition as well as the amount of food consumed. Foods higher in fat, protein, and fiber take longer to digest than foods high in carbohydrates. A mixed meal takes about 3-4 hours to be ready for use as fuel while a lighter snack might take only 1-2 hours. Since most of us exercising early in the morning are not interested in getting up an hour or two earlier just to eat before we exercise, we exercise in a fasted state. Normally the body uses free sugars from cells and circulating blood sugars first. Exercising in a fasted state causes the free sugars to be depleted very quickly. In the absence of free sugars, the hormone glucagon is released which initiates the release of free fatty acids from fat stores. This process is known as lipolysis. Because of this normal metabolic process, more fat is used as exercise fuel after hours of fasting compared to workouts at the same intensity and duration level following a meal or snack. However, following this practice makes it difficult for many people to exercise as long or hard as they do when they have eaten recently. This may mean you don't burn any more total calories which may negate the fat burning benefit.
The bottom line
Proper fuel is necessary for the body to perform at its best. This is especially important when you are working out to burn calories to promote weight loss. People lose fat when they burn more calories than they consume. Eating a healthy diet, observing good portion control, and exercising regularly can help that happen. Eating before exercise, even in the morning helps ensure you will have the fuel necessary for a longer and more intense workout, which will maximize your calorie burn. Sometimes we don't want to shift our schedules to eat before working out, especially if we are working out early in the morning. This may result in limited fuel availability and a shorter, less intense cardio session and fewer total calories burned.
If exercising before breakfast is the only way to fit a workout in during a busy day, it is better than no exercise at all. Some people feel fine while working out in a fasting state but it is also possible to experience periods of dizziness due to low blood sugar especially if there are other medical conditions that could limit the lipolysis process. This can be dangerous for a variety of reasons with the biggest being the risk of fainting on longer, more intense workouts. Keep a carbohydrate gel or sports drink handy in case you begin to feel lightheaded during your pre-breakfast workout. It is also advisable to work out with another person, carry a cell phone, and have emergency information on you in case something should happen. Be sure to include a nutrient rich and well-balanced breakfast once your workout is complete.
Do you pay much attention to your eating schedule related to your workouts? Do you notice a difference in your workout intensity or duration related to your eating schedule? Do you think it could make a difference related to your weight goals?