Diet and exercise are two of the most important factors for our overall health. Moreover, these two elements are linked and influence each other. For example, good nutrition can fuel your workouts and help your body recover. However, a common question is whether to eat before or after sports to optimize performance. This may be especially relevant if you exercise early in the morning or are a fan of intermittent fasting. That’s all you need to know about it, according to scientific research.
Exercising fed or fasted affects the body differently
Studies have shown that your body’s responses to exercise may differ depending on whether or not you eat beforehand. As you know, your body’s main sources of fuel are body fat and carbohydrates. Fat is stored as triglycerides in fatty tissue, while carbohydrates are stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. Carbohydrates are also available as blood sugar. Studies show that blood sugar levels are higher before and during exercise when you eat before working out.
Eating before or after sport according to science?
These results only make sense, as most of the pre-exercise meals in these studies provided carbohydrates, which the body used for energy during training. When you train on an empty stomach, most of your body’s energy needs are met by the breakdown of body fat. A study in 273 participants found that the body burns more fat when exercising on an empty stomach, while glucose and insulin levels were higher if one had eaten before.
It is therefore tempting to think that this will lead to greater weight loss over time and that the question of whether to eat before or after sport is finally resolved… However, despite scientific trials highlighting the potential benefits of exercise on an empty stomach, there is no strong evidence that it results in greater long-term weight or fat loss.
Fasting before a short workout does not affect performance
Many people who want to optimize their sports performance wonder if eating before or after sports can influence their results. An in-depth review attempted to answer that question by evaluating the results of 23 studies looking at whether eating before exercise improves performance. The majority of research has shown no difference in the effectiveness of those who ate before aerobic exercise lasting less than an hour and those who did not. The same goes for studies on high-intensity interval training called HIIT.
The lack of obvious benefits of eating before short-duration exercise can be explained with the body’s energy stores. It stores around 2,000 calories as glycogen and much more as body fat. All that stored energy allows you to exercise even if you haven’t eaten in hours. That said, some studies have shown improved productivity when carbohydrate-containing meals or supplements were consumed before exercise. So, this approach can be beneficial, but only for some people. It therefore seems that eating before or after sport is a very subjective question.
If you train on an empty stomach, you must eat afterwards.
Although the importance of eating before a workout may vary depending on the individual and the situation, most scientists agree that eating after exercise is definitely beneficial. Research shows that the intake of certain micro- and macronutrients, especially protein and carbohydrates, can help your body recover post-exercise strength faster. If you eat for a few hours before your workout, the nutrients you ingest may still be present in high concentrations in your blood during and after exercise. In this case, they can help muscle recovery.
However, if you choose to exercise on an empty stomach, your body has fueled your workout using its own energy stores. Additionally, limited nutrients are available for recovery. In this case, it is especially important that you eat something relatively soon after exercise. A study has established that consuming a meal containing protein and carbohydrates after exercise on an empty stomach reduces the rate of protein breakdown.
Eat how long after exercise?
Although it is important to eat after exercise, research has shown that it is not mandatory to do so immediately. In one trial, one group of participants started eating immediately after exercising, while the other waited two hours. There was no difference in the recovery of carbohydrate stores over the following 8 to 24 hours.
In conclusion, eating before or after sport is a complex question whose answer depends essentially on individual preferences. Either way, if you choose to exercise on an empty stomach, please eat a meal containing protein and carbohydrates following the session as soon as you feel hungry. Continue to follow our publications closely and you will also know what to eat after sport and what foods to prefer if you decide to eat before physical exertion!
Sources used: www.healthline.com