Man, I miss Calvin!
Burping noxious flavors is my primary concern when deciding what to eat pre-workout. Especially now that I have a couple of friends that I go running with a few mornings a week (friends! yay!!). We go early early to avoid both our kids and the hot sun and so this idea of what to eat before I go out has been on my mind a lot. I know some athletes carb-load while others swear by fasted-state cardio and still others strive for a balanced meal 1-3 hours before getting their sweat on. And let’s not forget the smoothie/shake contingent! ( The difference between a workout smoothie and a shake? Nothing except that women drink the former and men drink the latter.) But honestly who cares about blood glucose levels if I’m regurgitating sausage and peppers between sets? Therefore my pre-workout meals are generally pretty bland. Oh and I learned to avoid soy products the hard way when my gaseous emissions nearly asphyxiated an entire TurboKick class. (Yes, 5 years later and I’m still apologizing for that one.)
The issue of what to eat to best fuel your workout reminded me of an interesting interview from a couple of years ago with Kiefer John called “Females, Fat Loss and Performance“. The gist of the article is that the differences between the male and female body require different programs. He says, “Most of the recommendations women read in mainstream media are actually recommendations for male athletes that are blindly carried over and applied to women. That’s a huge problem.” Right off the bat, I love his premise. I’ve long wondered why men and women are treated exactly the same in the fitness literature when our differing hormonal profiles mandate that we respond differently to physiological stimuli. His main two points of difference are that women shouldn’t eat carbs because we burn proportionately more fat than men and that we should do less cardio if we want to be lean. His science was a little sketchy but I know a lot of people that wouldn’t argue with his conclusions.
In regards to the first point he writes, “ The hormonal situations occurring when you first wake up creates an optimal environment for fat burning, the moment that you eat carbs this environment is ruined. That’s why I always tell everyone, ‘as soon as you get up, bacon and eggs, bacon and eggs’.
This idea that the body awakes from its overnight fast in a state particularly attuned to burn fat has been around for a long time. But is it true? According to one of my all-time fave fitness writers Tom Venuto (and the first one I ever fell in exercise-love with – his book Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle was my very first Great Fitness Experiment ever!), some research supports this theory.
“1. When you wake up in the morning after an overnight 8-12 hour fast, your body’s stores of glycogen are somewhat depleted. Doing cardio in this state causes your body to mobilize more fat because of the unavailability of glycogen.
2. Eating causes a release of insulin. Insulin interferes with the mobilization of body fat. Less insulin is present in the morning; therefore, more body fat is burned when cardio is done in the morning.
3. There is less carbohydrate (glucose) “floating around” in the bloodstream when you wake up after an overnight fast. With less glucose available, you will burn more fat.
4. If you eat immediately before a workout, you have to burn off what you just ate first before tapping into stored body fat (and insulin is elevated after a meal.)
The real question however is if this makes any difference to fat loss or performance. Venuto quotes Lyle McDonald, an expert on bodybuilding nutrition and author of The Ketogenic Diet.
“All that research says is that you burn a greater proportion of fat this way, which I agree with 100%,” says Lyle. “The majority of research shows that as far as real world fat loss goes, it doesn’t really matter what you burn. Rather, 24-hour calorie balance is what matters. Because if you burn glucose during exercise, you tend to burn more fat the rest of the day. If you burn fat during exercise, you burn more glucose during the day. The end result is identical.”
The second key difference between men and women athletes says Kiefer is,
“For women in particular, one 45 minute bout of cardiovascular exercise at a heart rate above 65% will shut down the major metabolic regulator, T3 [Thyroid hormone] for about a week. So one day of over doing it, and you’ve shut down your metabolism for a week. This is unique to females. That’s a huge misconception, ‘if I need to lose weight, I need to run more, or be on the bike more, or get more cardio’; for women, it’s the opposite. This will make it much, much, harder.”
From my personal experience I would say his second point is right on the money – hello Rachel Cosgrove Experiment and the best results the Gym Buddies and I ever got! – but I’m still not sure about his first one.
In my years as a fitness nut – emphasis on the nut – I have tried everything when it comes to meal and workout timing. I did the only-fruit-for-brekkie thing courtesy of the Skinny Bitches (the book, I’m not calling anyone that) which ended with me leaving class so light headed and nauseous that when I sat down next to an old man he asked me if I was pregnant. (Which is exactly what a girl working out wants to hear…) For a couple of years fasted-state worked great for me but that was because I worked out at 5 a.m. (I miss you L!) and my stomach definitely did not want food that early. When I went through my carb-fearing phase, I loaded up on eggs and spinach which wasn’t bad but I felt like I was lacking some spring in my step. And then there was the 5 straight years of some kind of oatmeal concoction every morning – not bad with a chopped apple and walnuts, gag-worthy with a whole scoop of protein powder, most creatively done as an egg custard.
These days however it’s anything goes. That’s the beauty of Intuitive Eating – I eat what I feel like. Yesterday I had eggs scrambled with salmon and veggies (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!). The day before it was an apple. This morning it was German pancakes, whipped cream, berries, a fried egg, two strips of (pastured, all beef, nitrate-free) bacon and half a pound of asparagus. What? I was hungry! Like many other things in my life, I find that my pre-workout nutrition is best when I just go with what I feel like that day. But maybe what makes me happy isn’t best for my body? Why does research always generate more questions than it answers??
What’s your pre-workout eating philosophy? What do you think about women needing less carbs and less cardio than men because of our physiology? Anyone else burp up nasty stuff during a workout??