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When it comes to fat loss, studies show that whether you eat before a morning workout or not is irrelevant — what matters is staying in a calorie deficit overall.
Having some food before exercise might give you more energy to work harder and thus expend more energy.
Ultimately it’s personal preference — there’s no one best routine for everyone, and training “fasted” doesn’t speed up fat loss.
If you decide to eat before working out, registered dietitian Shana Spence recommends you aim to eat some protein and carbs, and give yourself time to digest.
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I’m trying to lose fat and like working out in the morning, but am confused about whether I should eat breakfast before or not. I’ve heard people say training “fasted” can have weight loss benefits, but is this true? I feel like when I eat something before training I have a better workout, which is surely a good thing. If I do eat before, what type of food should I be eating, and how long should I wait for it to digest? Please help!
— Fasted and flummoxed
Training in a fasted state sounds complicated, but really all it means is working out in the morning before you’ve eaten anything.
Proponents claim that by doing so, your body uses its fat stores for energy and thus you burn more fat.
However, much in the same way that the “no carbs after 6 p.m.” philosophy is a myth, what really matters for fat loss is your overall energy intake and expenditure over the course of the day, not the timing.
Yes, it’s all about that calorie deficit.
It doesn’t matter when you eat, just how much overall
It’s a common misconception that working out fasted, particularly if you do cardio, somehow magically speeds up weight loss.
But studies suggest that this isn’t true.
Although there has been some research to support the fasted training theory, the results have been too small to be significant, and there have been very few large-scale long-term studies that back up the idea.
Slightly longer studies, such as this (albeit small-scale) four-week experiment, found no difference in fat loss between those who exercised fasted or after eating, and the same result was concluded from this six-week study.
“There are zero weight loss benefits of training fasted if you are not in a calorie deficit at the end of the day,” Jordan Syatt, personal trainer and online fat loss coach, told Insider.
“You could train fasted, but if you eat too much the rest of the day, you’re still going to be gaining fat. From a weight loss perspective, whether you eat breakfast or not doesn’t matter as long as your total calories are in check.”
Syatt compared this to the debate around meal frequency.
“Whether you eat two big meals or four moderate meals or six mini meals a day, it doesn’t matter as long as total calories are in check.”
Eating breakfast provides energy and can lead to a better workout
If you decide to eat something before working out in the morning, you might consume more calories over the course of the day than you would have done otherwise.
However, that extra fuel in your body provides energy, which could mean you work harder and burn more calories as a result.
This depends on many factors, such as how much you consume and what type of workout you do, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
Jono Castano, personal trainer and body transformation specialist, told Insider that there’s no one single formula you have to follow to lose fat: “Both approaches are going to contribute to weight loss.
“For all my transformations I recommend to not skip meals and eat regularly so we ensure we train at 100% intensity. Life is all about balance and enjoying our food without any time restrictions.”
Ultimately, it’s down to personal preference
There’s no “best” solution, it’s ultimately up to you — do what makes you feel your best.
For my part, I’m not much of a morning exerciser and prefer to work out when I’ve had some time to wake up, enjoy a cup of tea, and eat some food, so on weekdays, I tend to get my sessions in after work.
But on the rare occasions I do decide to train early on in the day, I’ll simply see how I feel when I wake up — no one ever had a great workout with a rumbling stomach.
“If eating breakfast helps you feel better and helps you have a better workout, then absolutely eat breakfast,” Syatt said.
“If eating breakfast makes you feel like s— and makes your workout more sluggish and lethargic, then don’t eat breakfast. It’s 100% up to personal preference.”
If you want to eat before training, have some carbs
Despite this, registered dietitian Shana Spence recommends eating something before intense exercise, and making sure to pick the right foods.
“Food gives us energy which of course is important for a workout,” Spence told Insider.
“I’m a fan of carbohydrates pre-exercise, so something like one slice of toast, preferably whole grain but any of your choosing, spread with some nut butter for protein.
“It gives a nice balance and will also be light. Another option would be a granola bar with fiber in it which will also provide some staying power.”
Syatt also recommends combining protein and carbs both before and after your workout, such as eggs on toast or a protein shake with banana.
Castano is a fan of oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, and rice cakes before training “to ensure optimal performance.”
Syatt added: “I’m not a big fan of having a lot of fat or a very high-fat meal before you work out, just because a higher fat meal tends to sit in your stomach relatively heavy, and it doesn’t make you feel your best.”
But ultimately, it comes down to the person.
“You want to find the foods that are going to help you feel your best during the workout so you can give it your best effort,” Syatt said.
Give your body time to digest your food before training
How long before training you should eat also varies from person to person.
After a meal, I generally like to wait 90 minutes before exercising, but if I’ve just had a snack I’ll shorten that window.
Spence said that a snack like a granola bar or slice of toast with nut butter “can be eaten 30 minutes to an hour before your workout and shouldn’t cause an upset stomach.”
Ultimately though, for weight loss, the timing isn’t worth stressing over — it comes down to personal preference, and, most importantly, making sure your calories are in check.
“It really doesn’t matter as long as you just get your total protein and calories in throughout the entire day,” Syatt said.
Wishing you well,
As a senior lifestyle reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you’re struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world’s most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she’s always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.
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