Linda Melone
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Should you eat before your workout?

I was going to jump right into the meat of this post for a change, skip all the rigamarole.  

But then I worried you’d think my life had finally straightened itself out and all was hunky dorey in my world.

Such is not the case.

For example, the other night I couldn’t sleep, and not because my neighbors threw another Italian singalong party.

I couldn’t sleep because of my thumb. No, that’s not an autocorrect typo. I have arthritis in the base of my thumb on my left hand. It’s not a huge deal, aside from having to modify a few exercises such as push-ups.

But for some reason, I experienced intermittent shooting pains in it that night. The key word here is “intermittent.”

So, like the singalong situation, where I woke up every time the party sang the chorus, I sprang up clutching my hand each time a pain shot through it.

No rhyme or reason, just Mother Nature messing with me. She’s such a jokester.

At the same time, I’m breaking out on my face like I did back in high school.

Apparently, my body can’t decide if it wants to revert back to puberty or jump forward into old-and-decrepitism.

Believe it or not, this segues nicely into today’s post.

Because here’s the deal.

The question of should you eat before your workout if you’re trying to lose weight? Is as old as time itself… and nearly as mysterious as my hand pain situation.

I imagine Egyptians building the pyramids asked themselves the same question.

Maybe those bird hieroglyphics were about whether or not to eat chicken before or after stacking a bunch of 100-ton rocks on top of each other if they wanted to drop a few lbs.

Oh, mighty Pharaoh, should I abstain from breakfast before today’s rock-stacking exercise? I feel like I’ve been eating too many boiled meat dishes as of late. And by the way, when are we going to be finished with the project? It’s been like 80 years and I’m kinda tired.”

At least that’s how I picture the conversation around the oasis.

And, much like the ancient Egyptians, no easy answer exists up until modern day.

As a fitness writer I review a lot of studies. Many times studies contradict each other on this topic. Experts do, too. This makes coming to a conclusion oh so much fun.

Because the answer is a resounding: maybe. Or sometimes. Or possibly. Or “Why do you ask such question, busybody?”

Much like many fitness topics, different variables affects the results.

For example, all of the following may play a role in how you burn calories:

  • Gender
  • Fitness level
  • Intensity of the workout
  • The amount of whining you do 

Okay, maybe not the last one, but you get the idea.

So I decided to present the studies I found on this topic and then tell you what most experts have told me over the years…

Most recently, a study out of the United Kingdom looked at volunteers, a group of overweight men.They walked for 60 minutes at a light intensity on an empty stomach, and then, on a separate occasion, two hours after eating a high-calorie carbohydrate rich breakfast.

The results showed stored the men who walked on an empty stomach used more stored fat to fuel their workouts than carbs. In this case, scientists concluded it may be beneficial to exercise on an empty stomach.

  • Eat before exercise: 0 
  • Workout on an empty stomach: 1

Another study, also out of the UK, showed women and men experienced two different results from eating before a workout. The women burned more fat if they ate before exercise, but men burned more fat if they did not.  

The theory is women burn fat more easily than men and are better at conserving carbohydrates during exercise, researchers concluded.

  • Eat before exercise: 1
  • Workout on an empty stomach: 0

Last, but far from least, a University of Arkansas study showed women who ate a high-protein meal followed by 30 minutes of exercise burned calories more efficiently than when compard to exercising on an empty stomach.

  • Eat before exercise: 1
  • Workout on an empty stomach: 0

Total scores: Yes, you should eat before exercising —  2 vs. 1 point.

If you do your own research, which I always recommend, you’ll find more. Each includes different genders, ages, and fitness levels, all of which can impact outcomes.

So once again, the answer is: it depends. 

Plus, keep in mind these studies talked about burning FAT, not total calories, which is where you want to turn your attention. Overall, you want to burn a greater number of calories if you’re striving for weight loss. 

In general, if you’re exercising for less than 1-½ hours at a moderate pace (e.g. not doing a triathlon), you’re probably alright skipping eating if it’s super early in the morning or you’re afraid of barfing in the middle of yoga class, but be sure to eat something when you’re done.

If you have a couple hours before your workout and/or you’re headed for a strenuous bout, eat a combination protein and carb meal, such as a yogurt with fruit or half a protein or energy bar.

It’s also very individual. I’ve seen people faint from lack of food while exercising after eating can make others nauseous. See what works for you.

NOW YOU… What do you eat, if anything, before your workout? Let me know in the comments section below… and please SHARE it with your friends who may find this info helpful. 

Other posts you may enjoy:

How to burn more calories all day long

13 Best calorie burners for women over 50

5 Traits of an effective, safe, total body workout

Your Ageless Coach,

About the Author Linda Melone

Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.

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Leave a Comment:

Rhonda Dyer says

I’ve tried both ways and it’s still a mystery to me. I get neasous after working out now matter if I eat or not.

    Denise says

    You and me both. Although it does tend to be a bit worse if I don’t eat, and I end up really shaky as well. I just wait an hour or so after eating something small.

      Linda Melone says

      “A little something” is often the best compromise. 🙂

Patricia Scott says

For a morning workout I eat a very light breakfast.
I need to have a small meal 2 hours before my workout in the evening.
I eat again afterwards protein.

    Linda Melone says

    Sounds like a great plan, Pat!

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