“The Surprising Truth About Fasted Cardio: Is it beneficial to fast before working out?” by Kristina LaRue RD, CSSD, LDN for Under Armor’s MyFitnessPal blog.
According to the article, if you’re a performance-minded athlete who wishes to “improve metabolic efficiency, or a greater utilization of fat for fuel” by ‘training low’ with reduced glycogen stores, it may be a worthwhile strategy. These training adaptations occur slowly and, at the time of competition when glycogen stores are replenished and high, have been show to be of benefit to athletes.
The author references several nutrition experts, who provide very useful information. It’s a good read.
Some runners, like me, might frame this question differently, wanting to know if it’s cricual to eat breakfast or at least a snack before running or working out. If discofort results from exercising too soon after eating, such a step can add about 30 minutes to a pre-activity ritual. That extra time can be the difference between a completed and a skipped workout, especially when time is short.
So the RD’s (Registered Dietitian) answer is perfect: “it depends” says LaRue. There are several situations in which, she writes, eating a carb+protein mix meal prior to workout is recommended:
“ Keep in mind these fueling recommendations are geared toward serious athletes with intense training regimens and performance goals. When exercising moderately for fitness benefits, it may not be necessary to follow the same guidelines”
As I interpret these guidelines for my own purposes, based on personal experience, an early morning run or strength workout of less than an hour duration doesn’t need a pre-snack. If I plan an intense strength session with weights, a strenuous endurance activity of more than an hour, or a combination of both, a pre-fuel is a good idea for me.
Part of the decision depends on whether I’ll have immediate access to a quality meal/snack after the session. If not, better to eat beforehand. Also I’ve noticed that taking a high protein snack (spike) at bedtime leaves me less hungry upon waking.
Each person will need to test these strategies for her/himself in a safe way.
The article goes on to discuss “fasted cardio” for the purpose of weight loss. Again, LaRue says the usefulness “depends” on several factors, that boil down to the issue of overeating in response to skipped meals. Any practice that leads to eating more food later in the day is not going help with losing weight.
If performance is not the main goal, consider delaying a quality breakfast until just after your workout. Have it all ready/prepared to eat before you set out. If this practice safely prevents you from bailing-out on your exercise plans, it’s a smart one.
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Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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