When it comes to working out, some people choose to fuel their body with food, or even a protein shake, before they start exercising, while others prefer to workout on an empty stomach.
So is fuelled or fasted training better for you and your results? Our resident accredited dietitian, Miranda, breaks it down so you don’t have to!
Table of Contents
What does it mean?
Fuelled training is when you eat before exercising, generally within 4 hours before a training session.
After a meal, your blood glucose rises. When blood glucose is high, your body will use glucose for fuel as it is the body’s preferred fuel source. Glucose can be obtained from all macronutrients but mostly from carbohydrates. When your blood sugar levels start to drop (time depending on the composition of the meal you ate) the body will resort to using fat for fuel to preserve the glucose left in your muscle and liver tissues.
Fasted training refers to working out in a depleted state or before eating. This typically occurs when you haven’t eaten anything 4-6 hours before training. This kind of training aims to optimise the amount of fat burned during exercise by depriving the body of glucose beforehand.
When your body is in a fasted state, your liver and muscle tissues are glycogen-depleted. Your body stores carbohydrates as glycogen and carbohydrates are essential for maintaining bodily functions like fuelling the brain and fuelling high-intensity exercise.
The Pros and Cons
For fuelled training:
Pro: Adequate nutrition gives you enough energy for high-intensity exercise and makes your training session more effective.
Some people may feel nauseous, sluggish or too ‘full’ exercising following a meal – no one size fits all!
For fasted training:
Some studies suggest that the low-glycogen availability during fasted training sessions may potentially increase the body’s ability to oxidate fat to fuel the exercise.
However, due to limited research, it is unclear if this has any benefits for weight loss or improved overall performance. Studies have shown that although the body burns more fat during exercise in a fasted state, it will then compensate for that by burning less fat during recovery and relying more on carbohydrates *NOTE: fasted training is generally only recommended for low-intensity exercise below the aerobic threshold.
A lot more evidence that suggests fuelling with carbohydrates and protein before a workout can improve overall performance and minimise muscle damage.
Fasted training can make your workouts feel harder, leading to reduced performance and less calories burned overall.
Multiple studies have shown that even a moderate depletion may lead to reduced performance in training sessions
Some research indicates that during fasted states, females may be more sensitive to changes in hormones, in particular, an increase in the concentration of cortisol (the stress hormone). Long-term, high cortisol levels can have some damaging effects such as fatigue, bone stress injuries, impaired reproductive health and increased abdominal fat storage.
How to choose
At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference.
However, there are some important things to note.
Anyone who wants to trial fasted training should ensure they’re consuming the right amount of macros and calories daily, especially if you’re going to do frequent and consecutive days of exercise.
Of course, it’s important that you also eat a macro-rich meal following your training. Think plenty of good proteins and carbs!
Your Equalution coach can ensure you’ve got these types of meal on your plan to suit the time of day you typically train. Just reach out in your chat.
Some of our meal suggestions for post-training:
- Smoked salmon & feta omelette on toast,
- Peanut butter protein smoothie
- Milo protein oats
- Honey soy chicken stir fry
- Mexican chicken wrap
As for when to eat? As soon as possible is recommended.
The reason? Well, as your body is running on its own energy stores, post-workout you’re left with limited nutrients in the body to assist recovery.
Also important to keep in mind is if you’re working out later in the day and want to fast, it means you won’t be eating for quite a long time during the day which can have an impact on meeting your daily nutrient and calorie requirements. If this is the case, ensure you’ve at least eaten something substantial in the 3-4 hours before working out.
If you decide you prefer to fuel your body before a workout, then what you choose to eat needs to support your energy exertion and recovery. Just make sure you’ve eaten at least 30 minutes before a workout – you can also opt for snacks over meals pre-workout if you don’t want anything too heavy.
Some of our meal suggestions for pre-training:
- Banana & coconut overnight oats
- Fruit smoothie
- Nutella & ricotta on crumpets
- Choc banana yoghurt bowl
Type of exercise
You may be wondering if the type of exercise plays much of a role in choosing whether you fuel or fast?
Well, the intensity of exercise you intend to do affects whether your body uses fat or glucose as energy. Higher intensity exercises like heavy weights, HIIT or sprinting will still rely more on stored muscle glycogen compared to fat – so therefore fuelling pre-workout is necessary.
Lower impact workouts like walking, swimming and Yoga are the better workout style if you prefer to fast before training.
So there you have it! We hope this has helped better your understanding of fuelled versus fasted training.