Should I be eating before my morning workout or should I be training fasted? It depends.
There’s no magic answer, and a lot of it comes down to personal preference. One is not superior to the other. We will compare and contrast, and you can make your own choice!
Working prior to having breakfast is known as working out in the fasted state, which is why you hear the term ‘fasted cardio’ thrown around a lot these days.
In this state, your body is using stored fuel rather than fuel from the meal you just ate. Glycogen is stored glucose in muscle cells and liver. If you haven’t eaten a meal since the night before, your body will pull on stored glycogen rather than circulating glycogen, as well as stored fat.
There is conflicting research into whether this can help aid weight loss in the long term. Utilising your fat stores for fuel may be beneficial; however, your total daily caloric intake and energy expenditure will have a larger role to play in terms of reducing body fat percentage. Using fat stores for fuel doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to burn more calories than if you were using circulating glucose for fuel.
Whilst it is perfectly safe to train on an empty stomach and this works well for some individuals, this really might not be ideal. Training in a fasted state may lead you to dip into valuable energy stores and may prevent you from performing at your best. Training in a fuelled state may lead you to have more energy and thus a better workout, which in the long term may lead to greater results. Think about it, 5 really good workouts in the week where you have felt strong and energised are going to be a lot more effective than 5 workouts where you have felt lethargic and weak.
Another point here – if you ate your dinner at 6pm the night before and decided to workout at 9am in the fasted state, this is a 15 hour period of no food intake. Low blood sugar levels may lead you to feeling lightheaded and shaky when you begin to workout. This is why even just a small piece of fruit for example prior to beginning your workout can really help enhance your workout as you will have a little bit of circulating glucose in the blood, as opposed to a very low blood sugar level.
So if I do want to have something before my morning workout what should I be choosing?
Firstly, if you are doing light or low impact exercise, for example a yoga class or a light walk then you don’t necessarily need to be fuelling up as opposed to if you are doing a strength based workout or high intensity workout.
If you have 2-3 hours before your morning workout, then I encourage you to have a well balanced breakfast, including carbohydrates, protein and a little fat. For example having a bowl of porridge with some fresh fruits and nuts or eggs on toast with avocado.
However, who wants to be getting up at 4am to have breakfast in time for a 7am workout? So in this scenario I would suggest having a small snack 30-45 minutes beforehand, largely carbohydrate based and something that can be digested easily. This is where an energy bar, fresh fruit for example a banana or handful of grapes, a couple of dates/packet of raisins, or a piece of toast with honey are good choices. Soreen do mini loaves in various flavours which make a great pre workout snack (which are also great for the kids too!).
You also want to be making sure you are well hydrated before you begin your workout too.
Working out on an empty stomach is completely safe. However, it might not be ideal prior to strenuous exercise or an activity lasting a longer period of time. At the end of the day we are all very unique. This is an area I encourage you to experiment with. Try your morning workout in a fasted state but also try it having fuelled the tank! Listen to your body and do what feels right for you. Some individuals do just generally feel better exercising on an empty stomach but others feel so much more energised having a snack or meal beforehand. If you are choosing to exercise in a fasted state, this is where refuelling post exercise becomes even more important, as well as also looking at what you are eating the night before. Whichever option you choose, stay hydrated and maintain a well balanced diet across the rest of the day.