Food is fuel, and fuel powers our workouts. For this reason, is it OK to work out on an empty stomach?
According to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Americans are eating less vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, dairy products and oils than recommended to maintain a healthy diet. When it comes to performance and overall health, the foods that make up our diet play a major role.
In addition to being conscious of what you eat, you also need to focus on when you eat. You may not be hungry, but fueling your body before a workout often impacts performance and results.
Dangers of Working Out On An Empty Stomach
"There are many studies that claim exercising on an empty stomach increases the rate at which you burn fat," says Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, ACSM HFS. "The benefits of the consumption of carbohydrates and proteins outweigh the benefits of fat burning by fasting by a landslide."
Scritchfield says there are three main reasons to eat before a workout.
- Eating a small meal before a workout reduces the amount of protein broken down. "This 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."
How Much and When to Eat
There's no standard for how much you should eat before a workout, but you should consider the intensity, duration and activity. Scritchfield recommends using a general rule of thumb.
"If you're eating an hour or less before you work out, it's best to eat one gram of carbohydrates for every kilogram in your body, or your bodyweight in pounds divided by 2.2," she says.
Some fuel is better than no fuel, so don't stress too much about the numbers and listen to your body. For a quick and easy pre-workout meal, Scritchfield recommends fruit, hot or cold cereal, and toast with some nut butter.