Move over fasted training, fed-state training is set to become your fitness go-to – and with good reason. Here, we explore the benefits of fuelling your body pre-workout.
Fasted training, or working out on an empty stomach (typically four to eight hours after your last meal), has long been popular with gym-goers and trainers alike, mainly because it is thought to enhance the body’s ability to use fat stores as energy, rather than glycogen – preserving muscle strength and endurance.
More recently, however, there’s been a shift towards fed-state training, which is the exact opposite – eating a small meal or snack before working out. If you’re firmly in camp fasted, you may take some convincing that fed-state training is the way to go – and, of course, it’s not one size fits all. Here, we look at the benefits of fed-state training, so you can make up your own mind about how or whether to fuel your next session.
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What does fasted and fed-state training really mean?
Fed-state training does exactly what it says on the tin – it means you’re working out shortly after a small meal or snack, rather than on an empty stomach.
“Fed-state training is training and having consumed food within the previous few hours, usually less than four hours,” explains personal trainer Beth Davies. “Fasted training is when you train but haven’t eaten for four to six hours, although we often think of it being overnight.”
What’s the appeal of fasted training?
Given that our bodies need food to burn as energy, it can feel counter-productive not to have anything in the tank when we work out, but proponents of fasted training believe that it protects muscle and glycogen stores and helps us to burn fat more efficiently.
“Fasted training can push our bodies into burning fat over glucose because that’s not available as the main energy source,” says Davies. “This is believed to protect muscle and glycogen, but it doesn’t necessarily make a workout more effective – it may appear to work initially, as with many new forms of training there can be some initial change.”
And for those who don’t like training on a fuller stomach, or have issues with digestion, fasted training can work – but there are many reasons why fed-state training could be considered the better choice.
What are the benefits of fed-state training?
It could improve performance
Rather than running on empty, working out after eating means that your body will be nourished and ready to perform.
“Fed-state training can be a very effective strategy to use when exercising,” explains personal trainer Mandy Wong Oultram. “Your body will use the carbohydrates consumed as a form of energy, allowing you to train for longer and with greater intensity. This is especially beneficial for anyone looking to build lean muscle and increase physical performance.”
In other words, if you’re fed, you’re more likely to get the best out of your workout and walk away feeling energised rather than exhausted.
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It can improve energy levels
“Many people experience a boost in energy and stamina having eaten and this can result in a better workout,” agrees personal trainer Emma Bord. “This means you’ll be able to train harder or faster and achieve more from your session. Training without the appropriate fuel, especially if it’s a long or intense workout, also puts you at risk of light-headedness and can make you feel shaky.”
It may boost recovery
Having fuel in the tank as soon as you’ve finished working out (from a pre-workout snack) can aid recovery, as the available nutrients and protein can be utilised immediately in muscle repair. This might mean you’re ready to go again faster, rather than struggling with DOMS for days.
It might help to regulate our hormones
“It’s important to consider the impact of fasted workouts on hormones, particularly for women,” says Bord. “Training at a high intensity without any fuel causes levels of the stress hormone cortisol to rise, causing greater stress on the mind and body and potentially disrupting our hormonal balance, as well as affecting blood sugar levels.”
And most of the studies into the benefits of fasted cardio haven’t been tested on women, who are genetically predisposed to hold onto fat and carbohydrate compared to men – meaning we are more likely to tap into our lean muscle mass for energy when we’re hungry rather than our fat stores, which our bodies try to preserve in case we need to support building a tiny human.
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“Ultimately, whether you choose to workout fasted or not will depend on your fitness goals, the length of your workout, the intensity of your training and your personal health,” advises Bord. “There is a lot to take into consideration and everyone is individual.”
We’re not advocating eating a three-course meal before your next run, as this is likely to leave you feeling sluggish and nauseous. But choosing a nutrient-dense snack could be a sensible option. As with any fitness regime, it’s important to listen to your body and find what works best for you.
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