Working Out Before Breakfast: Yes or No?

If you’re trying to get fit, lose weight, or just live a healthier lifestyle, you might have heard the advice that you should work out first thing in the morning, before you’ve even eaten breakfast. But should you? 

The answer is… maybe. Read on to learn the pros and cons of exercising before breakfast to help you make an informed decision. 

The Pros of Working Out Before Breakfast

Some studies have shown that exercising on an empty stomach (sometimes called fasted cardio) can have greater weight loss benefits. A small 2016 study indicated that participants who didn’t eat breakfast before exercising burned more fat and ate fewer total calories over a 24 hour period. 

If blood sugar control is a concern for you, working out on empty might have benefits. One 2019 study from the Universities of Bath and Birmingham indicated that fasting overnight before a workout led to better bodily responses to insulin, keeping sugar levels under control (which can reduce the risk of conditions such as diabetes.) 

Some people also simply enjoy exercising first thing. If you’re a morning person and have the most energy as soon as you wake up, then you might find morning workouts optimize your performance and help you get motivated. Proponents of early morning exercise often say it sets them up with energy and a sense of wellbeing that lasts all day. 

The Cons of Working Out Before Breakfast

The research on fasted cardio is far from conclusive. A different study of 20 women showed little difference in the performance of those who ate before working out versus those who didn’t.

Exercise uses energy, and that energy has to come from somewhere. Exercising in a fasted state may result in your body using other valuable energy sources, such as protein, to fuel you. This can reduce your performance, meaning you burn fewer calories overall or “hit the wall” earlier. It can also hinder your recovery if you’re exercising hard. 

Finally, some people find that exercising on empty leaves them feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous. Not ideal! 

The Bottom Line

The best exercise routine will always be the one you can stick to. And realistically, this means the one that you enjoy. Everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

If you enjoy springing out of bed first thing and going for a run before sunrise, then go for it! If you prefer a more sedate start to the day and the idea of exercising before you’ve had your coffee horrifies you, then work out later in the day. Whether or not you’re working out frequently will always make more of a difference than the time of day at which you do it. 

Whatever you decide, stay hydrated when you work out and speak to your doctor if you have any specific concerns.

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