“Fat people who want to reduce should take their exercise on an empty stomach and sit down to their food out of breath.... Thin people who want to get fat should do exactly the opposite and never take exercise on an empty stomach.”
It’s incredible that the quote above is over 2000 years old and yet this question is still being asked today. Even Hippocrates knew that your goal determines the right practice. If you want to gain weight then you need to eat before your workouts and if you are trying to lose weight then don’t eat prior to exercise. Seems logical, but is it too simplistic? Well, yes because you need to take some important factors into consideration.
One thing to consider is the reason(s) behind your goal. For instance, why do you want to gain weight? And, what type of weight do you want to gain? Gaining muscle is healthier than fat when there is no threat of famine. In circumstances of food scarcity, where you are often in a state of survival, eating to gain some extra fat is a smart and healthy thing to do. In contrast, when food is available in abundance all year round, you should aim to gain muscle instead.
You also need to consider blood sugar. Eating too little or too many carbohydrates before a workout, can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. When blood sugar is too low, too high or has drastic swings back and forth, you will not feel well and this will negatively impact your workouts. Not to mention, it is very dangerous and can eventually lead to severe issues such as type 2 diabetes. If you have blood sugar issues then your priority should be blood sugar stabilization which may mean you need to eat prior to your workouts.
If you want to burn fat and you feel fine (you have no blood sugar issues) working out on an empty stomach then this is a great option. It will definitely help you with your fat loss initiative. This also works well with people who are used to intermittent fasting and/or are on a low carb or ketogenic diet. When you are fat adapted, you will burn ketones for fuel. As a result, you will have an abundance of energy to draw from (your fat reserve stores). Of course, drawing energy from your fat stores is exactly how you will burn fat during your workouts so it makes perfect sense.
If you do eat prior to workouts, the amount of food and the foods you choose can have an impact on your energy and performance. For example, if you eat too much food in general and foods that leave you feeling heavy and lethargic, your workouts will be awful and unenjoyable. How much food and which foods are best prior to workouts is something unique to everyone. There are no one-sized fits all pre-workout meal plans that work for everyone. You need to discover what works best for you through trial and error and food awareness. A good starting point would be:
- to eat an hour prior to exercise to allow for good digestion
- to eat something light (such as a fruit and peanut butter) and doesn’t leave you feeling heavy (especially in your gut)
- experiment with various combinations of carbs, proteins and fats (proper food combining can have a positive effect on energy)
Sometimes, quotes like the one above, are great to read, but you have to take them with a grain of salt. Yes, for the most part, the concept is correct, but there is always more than meets the eye. Again, you (and your goals) are unique so what works for some may not work for you. If you need any help figuring out what is best for you, feel free to reach out. Creating individualized programs is my specialty.
Your V10 Health Coach,
P.S. If you are interested, I also make a coaching video for each of these posts on YouTube. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel so you do not miss out on any of the valuable content I share. Here is the link for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dCKYXifHiQ