The workout food conundrum

drinking a smoothie by the garden

Should you eat before and/or during a workout? Or do you recommend exercising on an empty stomach? I drink about half of my fruit smoothie, made with protein powder and ice before I work out and take sips during my thirty second workout breaks so by the time the my workout is complete I’ve finished my drink. Then I make another one and down that too. If you consume carbohydrates, which are converted to glucose in the body, this may inhibit fat burning. Here’s why: “Glucose feeding suppresses fat lipolysis…during exercise.” So if you eat or drink any carbohydrate during exercise, fat loss will be lower than if you didn’t eat carbs. If your body is ineffective at using fat stores for energy after your glycogen stores* are depleted, and consuming carbs during exercise stops fat loss, how do you find the energy to finish a workout?

Fitness trainers want you to eat prior to your workout so you don’t crash. What this means is that your energy plummets, you feel dizzy and nauseous, and cannot finish the exercise session since your glycogen stores are too low. To prevent bonking, it is recommended to have protein with carbs at least 30 minutes prior to exercise. Knowing this you may be wondering why I’m drinking my fruit smoothie during my workout. What I didn’t tell you is that I follow that plan only during weight training. When you train with weights your body primarily uses glycogen stores for energy so it doesn’t matter if you have carbs during your training. The fat loss will come later when your muscles grow and burn more calories.

When you don’t want to consume carbs during exercise is when you are solely doing cardio. Prior to a cardiovascular workout, consume your drink or food before you start. The reason you should have carbs at least 30 minutes before you begin any strenuous workout is because it takes 30 minutes into a workout before your glycogen stores plummet. You don’t want to pass out or thump your head on the gym floor! That floor has germs. Yuck!

If your exercises sessions are long, over 90 minutes, you’ll need to refuel again with carbohydrates. Don’t worry so much about carbs. Exercise is the best weapon for weight loss. The more you exercise, the more effective your body will be at burning fat for energy. That’s great news!


*Your body turns all forms of carbohydrates into glucose. After glucose (from food just consumed) is used up, the body takes stored glycogen for energy.

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