Exercising on an Empty Stomach

Pain Management
Mental Wellbeing
Weight Management
Hormonal Imbalance
Digestive Health

This is an approach to exercise that really makes sense.  For some of you it may be completely contradictory to what you believe. A quick snack before exercise will give you an energy boost, right?  Wrong, whatever we eat will be packed away in a cell as glucose or fat but only if we can digest it. Eating before exercise may not be the best time to eat as your body will be preparing you for fight-or-flight. This means that all energy will be directed towards your muscles and away from your digestive system and you won’t be able to digest a thing!  Your pre-exercise banana will be sitting there in your stomach like a lead weight, causing additional problems.

The Facts

The problem is that every meal we eat creates an unwanted inflammatory reaction. It does not make a difference whether it is a quick snack or a sit down dinner. Don’t get me wrong, inflammation is sometimes necessary when we cut or injure ourselves or have surgery. It is the normal response to wound healing. But when it affects the whole body it can cause damage. What is puzzling is that genetically we are identical to our Stone Age ancestors. They did not have fridges and food packaging that kept their food fresh and clean. Yet we know they did not have this negative whole body reaction every time they ate.  What we do know is that they would have had to move around and forage to find food. It is this movement that can produce an anti-inflammatory substance capable of killing bugs (2).

Eating before exercise can affect our performance. According to the Swedish School of Sport and Healthy Sciences, laying off the energy snacks can help us use calories in a more efficient way even in highly trained athletes (3). Carbohydrates can cause a drop in blood sugar levels and reliance on them may affect our ability to burn fat efficiently. This is what can happen during an endurance event when we ‘hit the wall’ after stores of glucose, or stored carbohydrate, have run out. We cannot make the switch from glucose burning to fat burning (4). By training on empty stomach we are giving our muscle cells no other option but to burn fat.

The Practical Implementation

  • If you are sensitive to blood sugar dips listen to your body. If you feel weak or nauseous during exercise you should call it a day and try again another time. Please note that if you are diabetic, pregnant or breastfeeding it is probably unwise to try this.
  • It is easier to implement if you exercise in the morning. You should have your last meal early evening the day before. When you get up in the morning do your normal exercise routine and then eat a healthy brunch afterwards.
  • If you can only exercise in the evening, you can have a healthy breakfast in the morning and then eat again once you have completed your workout. You might find you need to move around in the day as much as possible to curb any hunger cravings. If your job involves sitting at a desk, get up every forty-five minutes and move around.
  • Do the above twice per week. On the other days when you exercise make sure you have not eaten for at least three to five hours before.
  • Doing this twice per week will bring you tremendous benefits. You may find on these days that you are eating twice per day only. Make sure that these meals are healthy and nutritious. Have plenty of good quality protein such as eggs, fish or chicken and loads of vegetables. Include some healthy fats from coconut oil, eggs, avocado and butter.

Fleur Borelli

Research references

  1. diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/56/7/1761.full.pdf
  2. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijpep/2013/390230/
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23053125?dopt=Abstract
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22136984

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