Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Spartan Logic

It’s great when science confirms what we already know. Somehow, the thought of a bunch of folks wearing white coats, wielding test tubes, and nodding with approval gives us comfort. Denis over at the Fitness Nerd points this out in his latest post about whether or not when should eat before exercise.

I believe it was the ancient Spartans who first asked the question, "Should we have a small snack before we conquer Aigitida? Or is it best to pillage on an empty stomach? After all, while we want to be at our blood-thirsty best, we also wish to continue shedding fat, as to accentuate our glorious, hard-earned abs."

The study he’s citing is no great shakes, at least if you’ve been hip to sports nutrition over the last couple of millennia or read my blog. Essentially, researchers at the University of Birmingham concluded that it’s better to eat prior to intense exercise and not to eat for easier exercise.

To be fair the study’s provocative-ness goes a little deeper, concluding that some hard training on an empty stomach will help you metabolize fat better but not recommending it as a regular course of action because it exacerbates tissue breakdown and hinders performance (you bonk, in modern colloquial). This is pretty useful info; essentially that our bodies work in a negative-feedback loop so negative reactions generally cause something positive to happen. Running out of blood sugar stores (glycogen) is bad because we are forced to revert to adipose tissue (body fat) for energy. And while it doesn’t do as good a job, meaning performance drops and muscle tissue breaks down more rapidly, it’s a process your body can improve at which has benefits at the other end of the spectrum because you can work harder using stored fat and, thus, save your limited stores of blood glycogen for when you really need it. This is especially important for long events, like a bike race or, perhaps, storming across the country to Thermopylae.

When I talk about this process I often refer to an old experiment done with cyclist Chris Boardman that showed he could burn a much fat in three hours as it took the average person 18. This is somewhat common knowledge in the outdoor sports world, as one of the scientists point out:

"Science is finally catching up with what smart runners have always known," said Ron Maughan, a professor of sport, exercise and health sciences at Loughborough University in Britain. "If you have a long, hard run without breakfast once a week, that hard run will train you to burn fat," he said. "And for the rest of the week, have plenty of carbohydrates so you can train hard."

But since most Beachbody-ers are more interested in Spartan physiques than conquering Troy, here’s another tidbit for you. Daniel Kobbina, a personal trainer who also runs a martial arts school in London, said the method requires discipline — but it works.

"If you train on an empty stomach, you'll see that six-pack a lot sooner," he said.


Scott S said...

So if you're doing Insanity in the morning and want to burn more fat then do it on an empty stomach?

Anonymous said...

Posted this comment over on The Fitness Nerd as well, but didn't want to leave you out! :)

Expanding on this further, you might want to check out this Hammer article on pre-race/workout fueling: http://www.hammernutrition.com/knowledge/how-to-properly-fuel-prior-to-workouts-races.1279.html?sect=advanced-knowledge-section
Especially take note of Dr. Misner's timing rationale and exceptions to the 3-hour rule. It's made a HUGE difference in my performance anywhere from 10k to marathon foot races, not to mention distance cycling.


Steve Edwards said...

Scott, only rarely. Occasional hard training on an empty stomach help improve fat mobilization but you need to eat post workout, and then afterwards, slightly more than normal to offset the extra breakdown that will occur.

Steve Edwards said...

Thanks for that link, michm. Misner's stuff is always worth a read. I've alterted his schedule somewhat through a lot of trial and error over the years (for myself and Beachbody customers) but I found that his science is better than most people's. He, however, only fuels for endurance events and admits that his theories aren't the standard and to which many more well know professionals adhere. The key to exactly what works for fueling per any individual is personal trail (and unfortunately generally some error).

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Selica Sevigny