Happy Monday, All! Today is not just any Monday for me…it actually marks my last week of Bill Phillips’ Body For Life. It seems like I’ve been following the plan forever. As I had to take a couple of breaks during the 12 weeks because I was traveling, it’s taken a little longer than expected- better late than never or something like that ! I’m going to post properly about my take on the plan once I’m done but overall it has been a great experience. However there is one thing which Bill advocates which I’m not entirely on board with:
Aerobic exercise on an empty stomach speeds up fat loss
Speaking from experience as well as drawing from what I learned when I was studying to become a nutrition specialist, I couldn’t disagree more with Bill. In theory it makes sense. A prolonged absence of food will reduce circulating blood sugar and therefore cause glycogen (a.k.a stored carbs) levels to fall. As a result our bodies have no choice but to rely more on fat, rather than glucose, to fuel workouts. However this is too simplistic a view to consider how the body works.
Technically you do burn fat because there is fat stored in the muscles and you’ll use that fat to fuel the workout. However the fat that you probably want to get rid of, i.e. around your stomach/butt, is not really impacted in any significant way. More so, if you’re trying to lose fat, high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are shown to be more effective than steady-state cardio. Reason being is that HIIT sessions allow you to burn more calories during your session. Unlike steady-state cardio, you also continue to burn calories even after you’re done thanks to the workout’s intensity. Without a ready source of glycogen, you’re hindering your body’s ability to perform at its potential, and hence limiting overall fat loss.
Without enough energy to put forth an exceptional workout, chances are you won’t see the results you’re looking for both in terms of fitness and appearance. There’s no point slogging away in order to “get the workout in” just because you’re too hungry and tired to do it properly. If anything, exercise is meant to leave you energized as opposed to zapped of energy. Here are some other benefits of eating before a workout:
- Boost recovery after workout and overall progressive strength & cardio gains
- Sustain longer, more intense workouts
- Avoid low blood sugar which may cause you to feel dizzy and nauseous
- Workout enjoyment (as opposed to thinking about hungry you are)
What do I eat before a workout?
As a morning exerciser, I usually don’t have time to eat a substantial meal/snack before my workouts. As much as I love to eat, sleep just about trumps food for me at that hour. I do, however, grab a handful of almonds & raisins to eat on the way to the gym and that seems to do the trick. That being said I want to start doing my weight lifting sessions in the evenings after work. Towards the end of my morning weight training sessions, I always feel like my energy levels are flagging and breakfast is all my mind can concentrate on.
While each of our bodies process foods differently, pre-workout meals which I’ve had success with in the past include:
When eaten within 1 hour of exercising:
1) Fruit with yogurt & nuts
2) Snack bars
3) Peanut butter on rice cakes
I try to leave at least a 2-3 hour gap if I’m eating a ‘proper’ meal such as:
5) Teriyaki tofu, greens & roasted squash with almond butter
At the end of the day, it’s important to the listen to your body and learn with experience. If you had a huge dinner the night before, chances are there are enough calories still stored in your body to get you through your workout. If you find yourself half-assing your way through your workout because of low energy levels, it’s probably important to reassess what you eat beforehand. Find what works for you and stick to it! Perhaps Bill Phillips has found his cardio workouts to be at their optimum when he is on empty, and that’s great for him. However the way our bodies perform is way too individual to try and generalize.
Do you eat before working out? If so, what?