Sleepy Beagle tells me that when it comes to sports nutrition, there is never a shortage of opinions and ideas… Some are based in research and biology, and some are plausible-sounding theories, with no basis in fact. In this article I’m going to tackle the top three common sports nutrition myths that I hear repeated by my clients.
1. You need to eat, if you exercise first thing in the morning
The answer is— it depends. During the overnight fast that occurs after sleeping, the liver’s glycogen stores are somewhat depleted, and therefore a quick boost of carbohydrates is recommended before longer exercise. For those early birds who like to hit the gym first thing in the morning, it isn’t always practical to eat a meal 3-4 hours before. If this includes you, opt for a light snack such a piece of fruit and some fluids, and ensure you eat something after your session to help you refuel your muscles. Always consider the type of exercise too— going for a light early morning jog on an empty stomach is fine, but for more intense exercise grabbing a piece of fruit on the way out the door will do you a world of good.
2. Eating before exercise will hinder your weight loss
Weight loss is about balancing your calorie and macronutrient intake, sleep, recovery, hormone levels and stress levels, and not just what you decide to eat at one particular meal. Exercising on an empty stomach may burn a greater proportion of fat, however, eating an appropriate sized snack or meal before you exercise will help your body to exercise at a higher intensity for a greater period of time and prevent hunger, poor performance and overeating later on in the day. This will contribute to a healthier body composition and ideal lean mass over time.
It’s important to look at the broader picture as well in terms of your nutrition goals. Consuming a healthy breakfast will not only provide you with nutrients needed to fuel exercise, but also assist with satiety, appetite control, muscle repair and development.
3. Fasted cardio burns more fat
Fasted cardio at first is an idea that seems to make sense. If you exercise first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, then your body should burn more fat. After all, you’ve just gone without food for the past 8 to 12 hours, so you’re in a fasted state. Your body’s glycogen (sugar) stores are depleted so your body has to turn to other energy sources to power through your workout, therefore making it more likely to turn to fat for fuel.
Whilst studies have shown that exercising in the fasted state may lead to our bodies burning a higher percentage of fat, our liver glycogen (sugar) stores become somewhat depleted over night while we are asleep. Glycogen is our main muscle fuel during exercise, and therefore not eating in the morning can impair weight loss due to lowered training intensity.
It’s pretty simple, really— if you don’t eat, you’re not going to have the energy to train at full capacity, and are going to jeopardise your recovery. The return on investment (for proper fuelling) is evident in how you feel and perform during your workout, how well you recover after, and how your training and body composition improve over the long-term. It is for this reason that fasted cardio has not been shown to translate into body fat changes and performance benefits over the long-term, and a quick boost of carbohydrates is usually recommended before longer exercise.