If you're trying to shed a few pounds before summer arrives, science has some helpful advice.
Exercising first thing in the morning is, objectively speaking, the most practical time to do so. This is true for so many reasons: You get it out of the way early; you probably need to shower anyway; an unexpected busy day at the office won't cause you to miss your workout altogether; and your evenings remain free to partake in rollicking happy hours with beautiful strangers and/or sit at home by yourself catching up on The Americans before blissfully falling asleep holding your iPad at 9:30. Hard to argue with that.
The age-old question for those who earnestly RISE AND GRIND their hashtags, though, is whether to eat before exercising, or to hold off on breakfast until afterwards. People who dive straight into it usually profess a healthy fear of cramps and/or seeing their ill-advised meal in reverse, while those who swear by eating first wonder how exercising is even possible with the tank already on E. As with many aspects of a fitness regimen, this is largely a matter of personal preference. But if you're working out in order to drop a few stray pounds, the good people of Science have some extremely helpful findings for you to consider.
A team of researchers at the University of Bath recruited moderately overweight men ages 18-35 for a study in which they compared the physiological responses to exercising on a full stomach against exercising on an empty one. The workout of choice was designed to allow participants to hit the 60 percent-ish intensity threshold often (dubiously) referred to as the "fat-burning zone." And the meal of choice? A hell of a breakfast, baby.
The composition of the meal was selected to reflect typical
breakfasts in the UK….The meal included white bread (Brace’s thick white), cornflakes (Kellogg’s cornflakes), semi-skimmed milk (Sainsbury;
British semi skimmed milk), orange juice (Sainsbury; 100% pure
squeezed smooth orange juice), spread (Unilever; I can’t believe its
not butter), jam (Sainsbury; strawberry jam) and sugar (Sainsbury;
British white granulated sugar).
Anyway, good news, scale-watchers: There were significant differences in how members of the two groups responded to the workout. The researchers found changes in the expression of key genes in adipose tissue—that's the fat you're trying to chisel off—that indicate that the no-breakfast cohort used their stored fat to fuel their exercise. The eaters, though, were not so lucky. As you might expect, the authors hypothesize that after eating, your body is still "busy responding to the meal," which means that "a bout of exercise at this time will not stimulate the same changes" in adipose tissue. They conclude that eating breakfast probably makes your exercise less effective than it would be if you waited until afterwards.
Of course, you, an extremely healthy and fit individual, might not see your hyper-nutritious breakfast of choice reflected in the menu here. (Unless you are British.) And the study makes no claims about the effects of eating on other types of exercise, such as lifting weights or playing sports, so if you're trying to get huge and/or dunk, their findings are perhaps of less immediate interest to you. However, if your goal right now is to make sure you're very ready to peel off your shirt this summer—when it's appropriate to do so, of course, considering skipping the granola bar and powering straight through tomorrow morning. Spread tastes so much better when it's earned.