Putting an End to the Debate: Should You Eat Before a Workout?

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Don’t eat fats, do drink protein shakes, don’t run for more than 30 minutes, and always lift as heavy as you can – it’s safe to say that the world of fitness has become one confusing battlefield. There’s so much “evidence” and so many opinions to suggest that you should be training one way, and not the other, so who knows what to believe anymore? We feel your pain, so today Goodness is going to fill you in on two simple but very important facts when it comes to creating a toned and lean body, which is all about how to train and what to eat – or not to eat – when you do.

Cardio or Weights?

The simple answer? Both, especially if you want that ultimate fat-burning combination of “athletic slim”.

Why Cardio?

Let’s start with cardio and why you should be doing it two to three times per week. Cardio is your answer to both a healthy heart and lower body fat – provided it’s done correctly. Cardio workouts give us the chance to burn a lot of calories, especially through high-intensity exercise, after which the burn effect keeps ticking along. Long periods of exercise tap into the body’s fat stores to release energy, help get you through the workout, and allow you to recover. If you want to shed excess pounds, cardio is essential in your routine.

What to Eat Before Cardio

Zilch, nada, nothing! That is, if you’re on a real push to burn excess fat and you don’t have any medical issues like high/low blood pressure. The idea behind doing cardiovascular exercise fasted is that, on average, if you are eating a balanced diet, there are around 24 to 48 hours of carbohydrate stores in the body at any one time for you to utilize.

What you want from a cardio session is for the body to tap into fat stores, not use the additional carbohydrates “floating” around on the body. If it has the option, it will choose carbohydrate stores over fat because they’re easier to break down and get energy quicker. By training fasted, you purposely put the body in a state of being low on those readily available carbohydrates and therefore increase fat burning.

Why Weights?

Onto weights, which are just as important and will take your body shape to the next level. We’re not talking bodybuilder-like shoulders, but shapely bottoms and toned arms. Weights are not only good for building lean muscle, but also brilliant for burning fat. The more muscle the body has, the more calories it burns while resting, so without even getting up to do a morning run, your body is using more energy and more fat to get by each day.

Then there’s tone – that all-important other half to the ultimate gorgeous beach body. Muscle grows not by giving it food, but by “breaking” it down, tearing the muscle fibers and letting them build back up. That’s how you get stronger and create definition. Without body-weight or other weight-based exercises, muscles won’t be broken and they won’t go stronger, so the combination of both weight and cardio is crucial!

What to Eat Before a Weights Session

This is the opposite advice to cardio because the aim is different – we’re looking to increase muscle mass and tone, not necessarily lose fat (although this is an after-effect). If you do a weights session without giving the body energy, it’s very likely to underperform and – even worse – break down pre-existing muscle for an energy source.

Having fast-absorbing protein before a workout, like a whey protein shake, has been proven to blunt cortisol levels, which can actually break down muscle for energy – the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve from a weights session. Similarly, having carbohydrates before weights will mean that the body has readily available energy to maximize the workout, meaning you can lift for longer and lift heavier and, in turn, get better results!

So, clearly, the nutrition advice for cardio- versus weight-based workouts is very different, and it can really impact how effective your training is. There’s no point sweating it out in the gym and not end up one step closer to your goals. Always consult a professional or a doctor if you have any doubts.

Carly Neave is the blogger behind LeanLivingGirl, a health and fitness website based in Dubai.

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