Sometimes people who get into hiking put their bodies to the test in every possible way. In short, they arbitrarily exclude from their daily routine whatever they feel is unnecessary to get healthier. An example? Many people skip breakfast before working out. In fact, total beginners believe that walking on an empty stomach is a great way to lose body fat. There is no doubt this is a common practice (even many fitness gurus spread the word on their blogs). Yet, doing sports after 10 hours of fasting is not suitable for everyone.
This is due to the fact that when you exercise, many variables come into play. For instance, the stress your body is going through and the hours you spend practicing play a crucial role. And, as you can guess, your age is relevant too. Thus, before going for a walk without fueling up your body, you should gather tons of information about risks.
The good news is that you don’t have to worry about retrieving information because we’ve done it for you. We organized this article into two different parts. First, we will sum up some scientific studies that concern working out on an empty stomach. In the second part, instead, we’ll talk about the best food you can eat before doing sports.
Fasted Cardio, a Practice that Never Goes Out of Style
So far, we have used words like ‘walking on an empty stomach’ or ‘working out on an empty stomach’. However, this practice has a specific name, fasted cardio.
Does this expression ring a bell? If not, let us refresh the concept for you. Fasted cardio is a theory that was first expressed by Bill Phillips in his book, ‘Body-for-LIFE’, published in 1999. In particular, the author defined as fasted cardio all types of aerobic workouts performed before food intake. For example, if you go cycling right after waking up, that is a fasted cardio activity. Of course, in this context, the length of the fasting period is of primary importance. In fasted cardio, Bill Phillip says, you must observe fasting for 8 to 12 hours to get results.
According to that book, fasting would affect the way your body gains the energy you need. When you eat, you usually input lots of carbs into your system. Yes, we know you are thinking about pasta, but the truth is that bananas and vegetables contain carbs too. As you eat food, your body isolates carbs and burns them to ‘run the engine’. However, if you do not introduce new foods, things should change. In a few words, the body would be pushed to use the energy you already stored, i.e., body fats.
There are a few scientific studies that could confirm Bill Phillip is right. For instance, in 2012, they conducted research on Muslim athletes that had relevant results. In particular, they compared a group of fed people with others that observed Ramadan. According to the study, people from both groups lost weight during the test. Yet, researchers recorded a decrease of body fats in fasting athletes only. Specifically, those athletes lost 6.2% of their body fat.
Are there Scientific Studies that Don’t Recommend Working Out on an Empty Stomach?
Even though some researches prove that fasted cardio theory has a point, this is not enough. In a nutshell, you should always include context to understand what a scientific study can demonstrate. Consider the research on Muslim athletes: in that study, they tested young healthy men only. Besides, those athletes could have lost body fat because of the insulin level in their blood, which was very low. Thus, we can’t use that research for general purposes. Moreover, other studies prove that working out on an empty stomach brings no benefits to weight loss.
This claim is also supported by a US-based study conducted in 2014 on 20 young women. The participants were divided into two groups, the fed volunteers and the fasted ones. In particular, 10 women had breakfast before working out, while the other ones exercised on an empty stomach. The experiment lasted 4 weeks, and the volunteers would do sports for an hour three times a week. When the test was finished, researchers found that both groups were heterogeneous. In other words, people from both groups lost body mass and body fats in a similar way.
Let’s move on to more recent studies. In 2018, the Limerick University carried out research based on 46 studies conducted some time before. As a result, researchers discovered that eating before working out allows people to do sports for much longer. This is really an intriguing topic for all hikers, don’t you think?
In a Few Words
In this article, we provided a brief overview of the current scientific discoveries on fasted cardio. Research is progressing, and at the moment, there aren’t enough studies to tell if this theory is wrong or not. The fact is that fat burning could be very complex. Besides keeping in control the sources of energy, you should maintain a certain rhythm while exercising, etc. If you fail to do so, your body could start using protein. And that is not a good scenario.
In fact, the role of protein is to restore your muscles once the training is over. Thus, eating before exercise has the function of preserving your muscular mass. Please note: protecting the muscle mass is something totally different from gaining some. In addition, if you don’t have a sugar reserve in your body, you may pass out while you work out. If you fall during hiking, you can get badly injured, so this is something you don’t want to happen. Finally, low insulin levels can cause nausea or impact cognitive ability.
What to do then? Well, the key is to balance the way you eat, plan your meals around your schedule. While skipping a meal is something you should never do, you should avoid overeating too. In fact, stuffing yourself before exercising would cause you to feel nauseous. Here’s an example: are you planning to perform high-impact training? Then doctors suggest eating two to three hours before your workout. In particular, you should opt for a combination of carbs and protein.
If, on the other hand, you prefer a low-impact exercise, you can eat one hour before starting the workout. In this case, though, you should eat fruit or a snack (hand that chocolate over, that’s not the right one!)
Suitable Foods for Hiking
So here is a list of the best foods you should have when doing sports.
Specifically, you should opt for:
Earlier, we said that most of the food you eat contains carbs. However, there are three different kinds of carbs, the simple ones, the complex ones, and the fiber ones. The first category comprehends lots of foods, and among them, you can find even fruit. Complex ones, instead, are useful because they have to be broken into glucose before you can digest them. Thus, they can provide energy for a long time. The best complex carbs you can have to fuel up for your hike are whole grain, potatoes, and legumes. Finally, among fiber carbs, you can find lots of green vegetables.
- Healthy Fats
Such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocados.
As far as hiking is concerned, the best protein to eat is lean meat, eggs, and low-fat dairy products.
- Seeds and Trail Mix
Walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, etc., are rich in iron, so they are perfect for sports.
What to Eat in the Morning
We mentioned it before: if you’re planning to hike, having a hearty breakfast isn’t a good idea. Of course, you can still walk at a slow pace, but bear in mind that hiking involves many muscles. Thus, most of the blood will flow to the muscles, and digestion will be slowed down.
Are you wondering what you should eat then? Most hikers have a cup of oats because this is a complex carb, and it provides you energy for hours. Others, instead, choose greek yogurt, a dairy product that has a low-fat content. As an alternative, you can have a handful of nuts and almonds, which provide the right amount of energy. If you feel like eating something hearty, you can have a slice of brown bread with some peanut butter. Finally, if you prefer something savory, you can eat some eggs.
So far, we only talked about inconveniences you face if you go walking in the morning on an empty stomach. However, even if you already had a small breakfast, bringing some comfort food with you is always the right choice. In particular, you should pick granola bars or a banana. Just remember to buy foods that do not contain extra sugars because those ingredients damage your health.
There is no doubt that walking on an empty stomach has a negative impact on your workout. And we think that through this article we were able to prove it to you. However, if you are not that hungry in the morning, you can still skip breakfast and exercise. Eating is fundamental, but forcing yourself is never a good idea because it could lead you to throw up! Before you go, make sure the trail and the conditions are safe enough.