It is a known fact that nutrition is 70% and working out is 30% responsible for a well-chiselled figure. In addition to carefully choosing what you eat, timing is also very important, as you need to time your meals just right to get the most out of your workout session. So, working out hungry or full, which is better?
Both working out hungry and working out full have their advantages and disadvantages; choosing one or the other is a very important decision. However, hungry and full aren’t the only two options, as there’s a third option – proper timing.
For a successful workout, neither of the two extremes is recommendable, as they both could have a negative impact on your training session as well as your long-term health.
The best timing for your pre-workout meal is between two hours and 40 minutes before you start your session.
Depending on what type of workout you are planning to do, you should accordingly adjust the time. If your workout is more intense and mainly cardio, your meal should be about an hour to an hour and a half before.
If your meal is heavier, you should leave it more time to digest and settle, and if you are having something lighter, you can eat closer to your workout.
Is It OK to Work Out Hungry?
To understand if it is OK to work out hungry, you need to understand how working out works. When you work out, your body spends the energy it has accumulated. That energy leaves the body in the form of sweat because the intense movement makes the body work faster and melt the excess fat.
This doesn’t mean that you need to have excess fat to sweat, as sweating is the body’s natural way of releasing toxins and is the expected result of increased movement.
If you work out hungry, and I mean really hungry, with your last meal being five or six hours before your workout, you may feel that you have a lot of energy and will be much more enthusiastic. However, you also risk sudden sugar drops, which will make you dizzy and nauseous.
After you have worked out hungry, you may feel an indescribable hunger accompanied by a sensation of urgency to eat due to the drop in glucose levels. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people who work out hungry to overeat, causing an insulin spike.
The insulin spike triggers a thing called an insulin cycle which is when you eat more and more.
On the plus side, working out hungry, you will feel light and energetic, and you will likely be able to push your limits a bit further.
However, if you have to choose between working out hungry and working out full, I’d choose working out hungry.
What Happens if You Work Out on an Empty Stomach?
If you work out on an empty stomach, for example, in the morning before eating breakfast, or seven or eight hours after your last meal, you will burn much-needed energy and will probably feel lightheaded or may even feel sick and get the urge to vomit.
Working out hungry will cause your body to dig into your energy reserves, draining you completely, so you won’t have enough stamina to finish your workout.
Also, since you haven’t consumed enough nutrients, you may even feel muscle pain during your workout. Soreness and burning are what all of us are after when we finish our workout, but pain while exercising is definitely a red flag.
However, one of the perks of working out on an empty stomach is burning more fat, so if the primary goal of your exercise is weight loss, working out on an empty stomach in the morning could be a good decision, as long as you replenish your body afterward with at least a protein shake.
Working out on an empty stomach in the evening is a very bad decision. You’ve been active all day, done a thousand things, and all the while, you haven’t eaten, and you round up the day working out on an empty stomach on top of that. Doing this often can damage your health, primarily the digestive health, but will also impact your muscle and bone health adversely.
Which Is Better: Working Out Hungry or Full?
Working out full has its downsides. Your food has just started digesting, so all your energy is directed at that process. In turn, you may feel a lack of energy and struggle through your workout session.
If your workout consists mainly of cardio exercises, prepare for lightheadedness and acid reflux. As you jump or go up and down in any way, you will feel as if you have a ball going up and down in your body. Along with that ball, you will feel a burning sensation because your stomach acids will move with it.
If your training is weightlifting, you may experience nausea and the urge to vomit because of the strain you’ll put on your muscles, lacking the energy you need to lift.
If you use equipment such as an exercise ball, climbing on it and exercising will press on your stomach, causing you pain and discomfort and, again, giving you the urge to vomit.
When it comes to choosing whether you should be working out hungry or on a full stomach, go for the former. Even though you may feel dizzy and nauseous while working out hungry, you will get a better workout.
Working out full will make you feel heavier than you actually are, and you will struggle more through your workout.
However, every organism is different, so you may be able to work out fine on both full and empty stomachs, but the general recommendation is to time your meals instead of choosing one or the other.
What Kind of Food to Eat Before Workout and What to Avoid?
The fuel for our bodies comes from macronutrients. And to know which macronutrients to intake, you need to know how they affect us. Carbs are here to give us an instant push and splash of energy. So, if you are about to work out in 40 to 60 minutes, carbs accompanied with protein are the best option. Fats decompose much slower, so when you consume a fatty meal, it will provide you with energy much longer than carbs.
Some of the ideas for your pre-workout meals are high-protein seafood such as tuna or octopus with boiled potatoes and carrots; chicken breasts on brown rice and steamed broccoli; or a vegetable omelette with toast.
Who is the author? Laura is a frequent traveller who enjoys kickbox and hiking. She is especially curious about nutrition and cooking, and that’s why she started the blog juliescafebakery.com