Should I Exercise Before or After Eating?
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December 10, 2012
By A. Lee, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Most of us who try to stay active have heard conflicting advice on
whether we should exercise before or after eating. Everybody has an
opinion. In fact, a whole industry has grown up to supply serious and
part-time athletes with energy bars and specialty supplements which
purportedly enhance performance or aid in weight loss. It’s nearly
impossible these days to go to a gym without stumbling over display
cases of these energy bars or drinks enticing you to “pre-load” before
you work out or to “restore your balance” after you exercise. But what
does the science say? When should you eat before exercising?  And
when is it better to wait until after exercise to eat?

If Your Goal Is to Lose Weight, Workout Before You Eat

If you’re trying to lose weight, should you exercise before or after you
eat?  Based on several important studies, the clear answer is that you
should always exercise before you eat. In fact, the most dramatic
weight loss was experienced by those who exercised before they even
ate breakfast.

Here’s the proof. In 2006, researchers from the University of Ottawa’ s
School of Kinetics put 8 healthy young men through an experiment.
The men were made to exercise on a treadmill fast enough to burn 400
calories an hour.   Then, they either were given a low-carb meal
designed not to raise your blood sugar (called a “low glycemic index
meal”) or a high-carb meal designed to raise blood sugar levels.   The
researchers then measured their fat levels.   In the next part of the
experiment, the same guys were allowed to eat first before they
exercised.  Their fat levels were again measured.  

What the researchers found was that the men who exercised first ---
before they ate --- burned more fat.  To use the technical term, more
fat was “oxidized” when the men exercised before they ate breakfast.  
On average, exercising before eating burned between 50% and 57%
more fat than the guys who ate first before they worked out.

And what’s more, it didn’t really matter whether they ate a low-sugar
meal or a high carbohydrate meal later. The guys who exercised first
then later ate the low carb meal burned 57% more fat than the guys
who ate first. And the guys who worked out and then later ate the high
carb meal burned 50% more than the guys who ate before they
worked out. The amount of fat burned was always more when they
exercised before eating.

A 2012 study from Glasgow reached the same results.  This study,
conducted by a team from two universities (BHF Glasgow
Cardiovascular Research Centre, Institute of Cardiovascular and
Medical Sciences, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences,
University of Glasgow) looked at 10 sedentary and overweight men
who were made to walk for 60 minutes at about 50% of their maximum
capacity before breakfast. They found that exercising before breakfast
caused “significantly” more fat loss. As the study concluded, “there
may be an advantage for body fat regulation and lipid metabolism in
exercising before compared with after breakfast.”

Bottom line from these studies—if you are exercising to lose weight,
you should exercise on an empty stomach.  Just drink fluids –preferably
water – before you work out.  After working out, you can then eat a
low-glycemic meal (low in refined carbs such as white bread or white
potatoes and higher in protein) to maximize weight loss. ( Read more
about an
ideal meal to make you leaner.)

But what if  your goal is not to lose weight?  If so, the
recommendations change.

To Maximize Performance In an Endurance Sport, Eat Before You

If you’re a long-distance runner, a cyclist or anyone who’s involved in
an endurance sport, and you want to maximize performance, you have
to eat before you exercise. This is such an established truth that
marathoners ritualistically gorge on high carb meals – spaghetti feasts
– before they run.

Eating carbs before an endurance sport cuts down on the amount of
fat that is oxidized during the sport.  The carbs add to the glycogen
stores in your muscles, keeping them handy as reservoirs of energy. To
increase the amount of glycogen in your muscles, you should increase
the amount of carbs you eat for several days leading up to any exercise
that lasts more than 90 minutes, according to a 2004 study from the
Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research of Deakin University
in Australia .

Most of the carbohydrates you eat in the two to three hour window
before you run (or cycle or row or engage in any endurance exercise)
are depleted within 6 hours.  That’s why you need to restore these
glucose supplies during your exercise to avoid hitting the infamous ”

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Eating before you exercise can make it
harder to lose weight
eating before you exercise makes it harder to lose weight