Weekly Wellness: Should I eat before I exercise?

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COLUMBIA - Clients and strangers both ask me about eating before exercise (especially all the no-breakfast people). One of my go-to replies tends to be “if you got into your car and it was on empty, would you expect to go very far?” Now, this is a very generic response, true. I will generally spend a bit more time discussing lifestyle, schedule, potential medical issues, etc.

There have been a number of studies released lately that claim that exercising on an empty stomach can increase the rate at which the exerciser burns fat. While this could be true (depending upon the exerciser), the consumption of proper fuel is still proving to be more vital than the burning of fat.

In fact, researchers suggest these three reasons for eating before exercise far outweigh the argument against properly fueling before a workout:

  • Eating a small meal before a workout reduces the amount of protein broken down, which is great if you are looking to maintain or build muscle mass.
  • If you're working out in the morning, you may wake up with low blood sugar and need energy from food for the best performance.
  • Your metabolism can affect your workout. Your body needs fuel to keep your metabolism going. If you don't kick-start it before a workout, you're not going to reap the benefits of a high metabolism post workout.

(Source: http://www.active.com/fitness/articles/should-you-work-out-on-an-empty-stomach)

Now that you’ve decided to fuel before a workout, the question becomes “what?” and “how much?” I tell my clients to consider these factors:

  • How long will your workout be?
  • What will the intensity of your workout be?

If you’re doing a quick, light workout you can probably get away with a small piece of fruit. If you’re going to do a workout exceeding 30 minutes and involving strength training, you can probably have a half of a protein bar or a protein shake (150 – 250 kcal). Fuel your body for the work you’re expecting to do. Have a great workout!