Eat before a workout or after a workout? Which is better?
The scientists, who hail from several prestigious academic institutions in the United Kingdom — the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Newcastle, and Stirling — looked into how eating a morning meal before cycling for an hour would affect the body versus the effects of fasting before cycling.
The findings — reported in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism — indicate that eating first actually helps the body burn more carbohydrates during exercise.
Not just that, but having breakfast before a morning cycle can actually also help digestion after a workout, the study suggests.
“This is the first study to examine the ways in which breakfast before exercise influences our responses to meals after exercise,” says co-lead researcher Dr. Javier Gonzalez.
“We found that, compared to skipping breakfast, eating breakfast before exercise increases the speed at which we digest, absorb, and metabolize carbohydrate that we may eat after exercise.”
Dr. Javier Gonzalez
For this study, Dr. Gonzalez and colleagues recruited 12 healthy male participants. To obtain control measurements, the researchers asked the study participants to have breakfast and then rest for 3 hours.
For the experiment itself, participants had a breakfast of porridge with milk, and 2 hours after this, they joined a workout that consisted of cycling for an hour.
After both the resting and exercising period, the scientists assessed the participants’ blood glucose (blood sugar levels) and levels of muscle glycogen, a type of carbohydrate.
The researchers revealed that by having breakfast before their workout, the participants’ bodies burned carbs at a faster rate during exercise. In addition to this, eating prior to exercise seemed to also stimulate digestion post-exercise and boost food metabolism.
“We […] found that breakfast before exercise increases carbohydrate burning during exercise, and that this carbohydrate wasn’t just coming from the breakfast that was just eaten,” notes study co-author Rob Edinburgh, “but also from carbohydrate stored in our muscles as glycogen.”
“This increase in the use of muscle glycogen may explain why there was more rapid clearance of blood sugar after ‘lunch’ when breakfast had been consumed before exercise,” Edinburgh adds.
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