Photo: Getty

Before a work-out, it can be difficult to know what to eat, or if you should eat anything at all. Now scientists have said that exercising on an empty stomach may “promote more favourable” changes in body fat.

A team from the University of Bath studied 10 overweight male volunteers. The participants were asked to walk for 60 minutes at 60 per cent oxygen consumption, first on an empty stomach and, secondly, two hours after consuming a high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich breakfast.

The researchers took blood samples after the fasting or high-carb breakfast, and then again after exercise. They also took adipose (fat) tissue samples immediately before and one hour after the walking exercise.

They discovered that the expression of two genes (PDK4 and HSL) significantly increased when the men fasted – but decreased when they ate a high-calorie breakfast before exercising. The rise in these genes suggested that fat was used to fuel the physical activity, instead of the food consumed at breakfast.

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Dylan Thompson, the corresponding author of the study, explained that this fat tissue often faces competing challenges. After we eat, it is busy responding to the meal and “a bout of exercise at this time will not stimulate the same [beneficial] changes in adipose tissue. This means that exercise in a fasted state might provoke more favourable changes in adipose tissue, and this could be beneficial for health in the long term”.

Although the study supports previous research, it is worth noting that its sample was small and only looked at overweight men.

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Liv Jaeger
Photo: Getty


We asked NetDoctor’s go-to fitness experts, Laura Williams and James Farmer, for their opinions on whether you should eat before exercise:

Laura explains that it depends on your activity. If you’re opting for more intense work-outs – or those longer in duration – then eating can fuel your body and stop you getting light-headed. She says:

“Exercising on an empty stomach has been shown to enhance or increase fat burning, but there’s a case for and against. Largely it depends on the type of work-out you’re doing. If you’re participating in a higher intensity session, you’ll need your fuel stores for your work-out – fat isn’t the body’s favourite type of fuel – and the chances are you’ll burn more calories than when you’re running on empty because you’ll be able to maintain intensity. But if you’re plumping for a low-intensity work-out, that might even be a brisk walk, then you can try it on empty. Just ensure you stop if you feel light-headed or weak.”

Farmer adds that it is important to keep it simple and to pay attention to your own needs. “Training fasted or fed is a much-talked-about subject,” he says. “Research has shown that training in a fasted state burns more fat during the work-out, but training in a fed state leads to higher fat oxidation over a 24-hour period when compared to a fasted state.

“I think the best ‘state’ is the one that fits with your lifestyle and the one you can train at your best. If you’re training super early before work, eating and letting that meal digest before is going to be difficult. Chances are, you’ll be better training in a fasted state. Later in the day? You’ll probably train better having fully digested a meal beforehand.

“The simple answer is, for the majority of us, it will make little difference when looking at fat loss over a significant period of time. Just pick the state that suits your training time, and the one that makes you feel the best. Don’t overcomplicate it.”

The study was published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK