Does Working Out Before Breakfast Burn More Fat?
by: Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
Personally, I love working out first thing in the morning. It just so happens that I'm also never really that hungry when I awake. By getting in a good workout, I rev up my metabolism so that I actually feel like eating. I don't believe that you should force yourself to eat when first wake up. Our body is actually in detoxification and elimination mode until about noon so, by forcing food down your throat, you actually impair your body's normal daily rhythms.
But that begs the question, "Will I burn more fat if I workout before breakfast?"
Well, to be quite honest, I'm not quite sure. And I haven't found any significant research that suggests it. However, there is large body of research that shows fasting (usually more than 12 hours) suppresses the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This is interesting since epinephrine (or adrenaline), a potent fat burning hormone, is controlled to a large extent by the SNS. Thus, if SNS activity is lessened, this may affect the subsequent action of epinephrine and fat breakdown.
Something to consider.
From my own experience, what I can tell you is that working out on an empty stomach (after an overnight fast) is a little tougher because your blood sugar levels are lower. This obviously compromises the intensity and duration of your workouts, which, in turn, may hinder your long term fat burning results. After all, intensity is the secret to burning fat.
Understanding Energy Metabolism
Remember that your body's first choice for energy is always blood sugar. There is a small quantity of sugar circulating in the blood which means that this first-line energy source can be quickly depleted if working out at a vigorous intensity. When this occurs, the body moves on to carbohydrates stored in muscle and liver cells, called glycogen.
Even after a full night's sleep, your glycogen stores won't be depleted. But the amount of free sugar in your bloodstream will be significantly reduced. Thus, technically, you easily have enough energy reserves to complete several hours of exercise on an empty stomach.
When blood sugar drops, a hormone called glucagon is released. Glucagon starts the process of liberating fatty acids from fat, which is stored around the body in a chemical called triclyceride (also triacylglyceride), in a process called lipolysis. The freed fatty acids are transported around the body by the bloodstream and taken up by other tissues. Most tissues (like muscle) can use the fatty acids for energy directly. During fatty acid metabolism, the liver also releases glucose and chemicals called "ketone bodies", which are needed to feed the brain, because brain tissue can't use fatty acids for energy.
So, because of the fact that your body turns to breakdown fats during a fasted state, many people believe that you will burn more fat if you exercise before breakfast.
I'm not sure I agree. I'm on the fence on this one.
Here's My Best Advice
Choose a time of day to workout where you can maximize your effort. For instance, if you want to workout before breakfast because you think it will burn more fat, but then you barely have enough energy to workout at a proper intensity, then you're just wasting your time.
You would probably be better off waiting until you have some energy in your body and hit the gym a little later in the day. That way, you can be sure to have enough energy to work your butt off!
The other option is to have a liquid simple sugar first thing in the morning. For instance, just having a glass of fruit juice will do enough to raise your blood sugar to an adequate level for your morning workout.
The choice is yours but just remember that intensity is king when it comes to burning fat!
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