Waking up to make that 7 AM gym class is enough of a challenge already. Getting out of bed with enough time to eat breakfast before running out the door? That might take a miracle.
Plenty of people work out on an empty stomach, but whether or not that’s beneficial has been debated for decades. According to Steve Ball, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, it is complicated. However, here’s all you should know:
Eating carbohydrates before a workout will give your body energy to power through.
Your body turns to carbohydrates when it needs energy. During prolonged exercise, your body dips into its stores of glycogen for fuel. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate in the body.
By topping off your carbohydrate stores with a snack, you help ensure your body has adequate energy for a tough workout. This is why experts recommend eating a meal high in carbohydrates, moderate protein, and low in fibre about two to three hours before working out.
Some people may not feel like they need food right before a workout, though, and that’s totally fine.
The type of workout you’re doing that day, your level of intensity, and your fitness goals can all change whether or not an empty stomach is sufficient. If you feel good throughout your workout and don’t have to sacrifice intensity, then you may be a person who runs well without a pre-workout snack. But mentally, some people just do better with a little food in their stomachs.
There has been some research showing the potential benefits of exercising, particularly doing cardio, in a fasted stated in relation to fat burn and endurance.
However, another research has shown that eating before training is more conducive to fat burn. And staying hydrated is essential for everyone. Working out when dehydrated may increase your risk for cramping and not getting enough H2O, in general, can make you feel sluggish and sleepy.
Potential benefits aside, there’s no danger in working out on an empty stomach as long as it doesn’t prevent you from working at your full capacity or alter your ability to be mentally and physically present during your training session. If you get a just-as-good or better workout on an empty stomach, keep doing your thing.