Eat before you exercise and burn more calories

Do yourself a favor and eat something before you work out in the morning. You’ll get a better workout and you’ll burn more calories.

For years experts have been preaching the merits of “fasted” cardio — workouts done first thing in the morning, before breakfast — for blasting fat. The basic theory behind the no-food-before-exercising rule went as follows: your body is already running a bit of a calorie deficit when you wake up in the morning since it’s been so long since you last ate, so any exercise you do would require dipping into fat stores for fuel. And when you think about it, that sort of makes sense.

Except that’s not the case. According to a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, people who eat breakfast actually burn more calories both 12 and 24 hours after their morning cardio workouts, which means more fat calories, too.

This news comes as something of a relief and, selfishly, I hope it stops people from hitting the gym before they eat something. Over the years I’ve had to rescue several clients and gym members who felt dizzy and sick when their blood sugar plummeted after working out on an empty stomach. Not the greatest way for them to start their day, and it was kind of scary for me, too, until I figured out I just needed to give them something to eat.

My dog Max naps nearby while I spend some time on a cardio machine.

Here are the study details: Researchers in Italy measured oxygen consumption in people who either exercised before eating (fasted) or after eating (fed) a standard Mediterranean breakfast. Oxygen consumption is a measure of energy expenditure — basically, the more oxygen being consumed the greater the macronutrients that are being used, which means a higher caloric burn. During both time frames, the fed group showed higher oxygen consumption, and, therefore, higher calorie burns.

So, eat before you work out! But what should you eat? Anything you can easily digest and that won’t weigh you down. That could mean a protein shake, a bowl of cereal, or maybe a banana smeared with peanut butter. Experiment and see what works best for you — when I teach a double-header of group exercise classes first thing in the morning, I find that either a protein shake with added fruit or a light “regular” meal (say, a couple ounces of turkey breast with some sweet potatoes) holds me best and doesn’t upset my stomach. Yogurt (for me and many of my clients) tends to be a no-no before a vigorous workout. But your mileage may vary.

A well-fueled workout is a results-getting workout — just remember that if you’re trying to lose weight, those pre-workout calories still count!

Wendy Watkins

About Wendy Watkins

Wendy Watkins is a Bangor-based personal trainer, fitness coach, studio owner, and writer/editor. She is the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Losing 20 Pounds in 2 Months. Visit her website at