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Is Working Out On an Empty Stomach Good for You?

Lifestyle & Wellness

If you ask any medical professional about the importance of exercise, the universal answer is that more people should be doing it on a regular basis.

That’s sound advice. When paired with a balanced diet, exercise is a powerful way to achieve your best physical and mental health. It can also help prevent chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. There are even studies that show regular exercise can significantly extend your life. So, it’s not a question of whether or not you should be exercising, but rather how you should start.

One of the first questions we get about exercise is whether or not you can work out on an empty stomach. Sometimes people assume that working out in a fasting state will jumpstart their metabolism and speed up their weight loss. But is that true? The answer may surprise you.

The Truth About Fasting Exercise

The truth is that exercising in a fasted state will indeed help you burn fat calories faster. You may see the number on the scale decrease. However, exercising on an empty stomach will also cause you to lose lean muscle mass at the same time, which can hinder long-term weight loss.

Exercising without eating first can cause dramatic shifts in your blood sugar, and when it drops quickly you can feel nauseous, light-headed or dizzy. You might even faint, which is especially dangerous if you’re in the middle of exercising.

Balancing Intake With Exercise

Does that mean you should feast before you work out? Definitely not. First, we all know what it feels like to be active right after consuming a full meal. It’s unpleasant, and it can even cause an upset stomach. Second, you want your body to be able to divert all of its attention to building and using muscle, not digesting food.

The best middle ground is to eat a small snack or a light meal with carbohydrates and protein about 30 minutes to an hour before you plan to exercise. Foods that work well in this scenario are items like a banana, protein shake or small turkey sandwich. It’s also a good idea to consume another light snack within 30 minutes after exercising. To get the most out of your workout, make an effort to avoid foods high in fat and fiber, which take longer for your body to digest. 

The food you eat doesn’t have to change depending on the type of exercise you do, but it should change depending on the intensity of your work out. Think of it as fueling your body according to the intensity of your workout routine. For example, a 12-mile run will require more carbohydrates to keep you energized than a light 30-minute workout or weightlifting session.

The final verdict? Exercising in a fasted state may burn some quick body fat, but it’s not the best option for your body in the long-run. Eat a small snack or meal before and after your workout to ensure that you’re properly fueled to perform your best in the gym and recover quickly when you get home.

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