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We often hear that it is important to have a snack or to eat carbohydrates before a workout in order to have enough energy. But could it also be beneficial for sports performance to train on an empty stomach? Let’s shed some light on this question!
Scientific evidence clearly shows that carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body and muscles. However, this does not mean that it is absolutely necessary to always consume carbohydrates before and during exercise.
When exercising at a low intensity (e.g., walking or jogging slowly), the body mainly uses lipids (fat) for fuel. The more the intensity of the exercise increases, the more the body uses carbohydrates as a source of energy. This is because at high intensity, lipids are a less effective fuel than carbohydrates since they require more oxygen to perform the same effort. It is therefore important for optimal performance to consume carbohydrates before, during and after high-intensity workouts and events, for example interval training, marathons or a triathlons.
On the other hand, training with a low carbohydrate availability can help create adaptations such as allowing the body to become more efficient at using its fat stores for energy during exercise, which can in turn help improve athletic performance. However, it should be noted that training with low carbohydrate availability will affect the quality of the training and that a longer recovery time may be necessary. Thus, it is important to use this method for workouts of shorter duration (60 minutes or less) that do not require a high intensity. This is called carbohydrate periodization, i.e. determining when to consume carbohydrates and when not to consume them when planning an exercise schedule. Train Low refers to training with low carbohydrate availability. There are different ways to do this:
In short, to improve athletic performance, it can be beneficial to fast before a short and low-intensity workout in order to get the body used to using fat more effectively during exercise. On the other hand, before, during and after more intense or prolonged exercises, it is important to consume carbohydrates in order to optimize performance and recovery. It should be noted that a lack of carbohydrates during high-intensity exercises can also contribute to weaken the immune system and increase the risk of infections.
When it comes to weight loss, it doesn’t matter if you’re training on an empty stomach or not, it all depends on your total caloric intake. A meta-analysis showed that intermittent fasting was no more effective than a traditional caloric restriction for weight loss. In addition, consuming carbohydrates allows you to train at a higher intensity and thus burn more calories in total as compared to training on an empty stomach.
If you need help knowing what to eat before, during and after your workouts, don’t hesitate to consult with a dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition. SOSCuisine also offers a Sports meal plan specially balanced for athletes, active people and active families.