Eat before Exercise? A Different Take…

Breakfast cereal companies may have to rethink their marketing angles – athletes should kickstart their day with exercise, not food.

Training on an empty stomach could be better for your muscles, Massey University research has revealed.

Associate Professor Steve Stannard said although the findings go against the conventional advice – to eat before exercise – they also make sense.

“Training is all about putting the body under stress, not going faster,” he said. “So by starting out with less fuel, you will reach the point where you really begin to stress the body quicker.

This means you will spend longer under stress and ultimately the training will be more beneficial.”

While muscles of males burnt more fat without food, females improved muscle fat-burning capacity when they trained after breakfast.

Researchers are unsure why training on an empty stomach was less effective for females. Dr Stannard said it could be caused by sex hormones creating subtle differences in muscles’ behaviour.

“But what the research does show is that by including at least some training before breakfast, athletes – especially male – can improve their fitness faster,” he said.

However, it’s still crucial to eat before a race as evidence shows carbohydrates before and during exercise increases endurance.

“This means eating some carbohydrate before competing will help you go faster for longer during a race.”

The researchers followed two groups of novice cyclists training over four weeks. One group ate a high-carbohydrate breakfast before training, while the other group went without food.

Dr Stannard recommended athletes of any level to complete some training sessions without food to gain the benefits, whether it be walking, cycling or running.

The research was co-authored by Alex Buckley, Johann Edge and Martin Thompson. The paper was dedicated to Dr Edge, who was killed in a cycling accident in Auckland in March.

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