Working out and getting your body moving is always a good idea for many reasons. It promotes circulation, removes toxins via sweat, builds muscle, strengthens endurance, and can of course aid in burning fat. There are different workouts and strategies depending on preferences as well as goals, but if the goal is to burn excess fat, what is the best strategy?
Working out in the mornings or on an empty stomach is one of the best ways to burn excess fat. The reason behind this is better explained when we understand how our body uses glucose as fuel and how we can then get to our fat stores. Glucose is our body’s preferred source of fuel for energy. Ideally the sources of glucose would come from complex carbohydrates such as legumes, vegetables, fruits, grains, and so on, rather than simple sugars like white flour or sodas. The main reason the former are more desirable is because they contain nutrients, as they have not been processed, as well as fibre, which helps keep our blood sugar levels in check and does not result in “sugar crashes’ the way the latter would. We then use this energy source throughout the day and we even use it up when we are asleep!
However, when we take in more glucose than we actually need in terms of energy throughout the day, our body stores this excess amount into our livers, which is called glycogen. We keep it stored for “emergency’ cases, so it is essentially our body’s way of being prepared and having a “back-up’ option readily available to us. What this means is that when we are not getting enough glucose, the next thing our bodies will choose to burn for fuel is the glycogen stores from our livers we have saved up. Only after our glycogen stores have been used up does our body then begin to burn fat for fuel. This is when exercise becomes most effective if fat loss is the ultimate goal.
As mentioned, even when we are asleep, we are still in need of energy – even just as a result of having dreams throughout the night. When we then wake up in the morning, our glycogen stores are actually at their lowest amount compared to any other time throughout the day, and we are therefore closest to burning fat during this time, before eating anything new. This is why when we choose to focus on doing some physical activity in the mornings on an empty stomach, our bodies will burn more fat than any other time since it is the only viable energy source our bodies have readily available to them. Of course, when you work out intensively, you will eventually get to the fat stores as well, but mornings on an empty stomach is the optimal time for burning fat in the sense that there is no “interference’. Whether your preferred choice of exercise is going for a long walk, going for a run, biking, or doing yoga or pilates, if your goal is to burn fat rather than focus only on endurance, this is the best strategy. Once you wake up, it is best to always drink a few glasses of water, do some stretches in order to ease into the physical activity of your choice, and then get ready to shed some fat!
It is important to note that in terms of endurance, eating before working out is a good idea as it will provide you with more energy. It is also a better idea to eat something if you do feel too tired or light-headed working out on an empty stomach or in the case of having low blood pressure or hypoglycemia. If any of these are the cases, you can still eat a small healthy snack or light breakfast in order to have a productive workout session and avoid any possible issues. Some good options for quick snack ideas pre-workout could be a handful of nuts and/or seeds, some cut up carrots or apples, or some yogurt. These options will provide enough fuel for you to still have a successful workout, even in the morning!
Working out in the morning also gives you the benefit of getting it out of the way, speeding up your metabolism, providing consistent energy throughout the day, as well as promoting a better and deeper sleep at night. It is also often easier to find excuses to avoid working out in the late afternoons or in the evenings as plans can change or develop, and/or the work day can be particularly draining or stressful, making it much more tempting to opt for a relaxing evening in rather than trying to muster up energy to commit to a workout.
What you do after working exercising is also just as important as what you do before. No matter how much you may enjoy your workout, your cortisol levels rise when you are physically active – the amount of course depending on the intensity of the workout. When our cortisol levels rise, our bodies are in a mode of stress, which makes them hold on to fat. The best way to counter this is to make sure to eat something – ideally a complex carbohydrate, right after working out. The insulin released after eating these types of carbohydrates can actually balance cortisol levels in our bodies getting us out of the stress-mode. This means more relaxation throughout the day and our bodies not remaining in a “panic’ and stubbornly holding onto fat.
After your morning fitness routine and stretches, you can opt to make a delicious green smoothie packed with nutrient-filled greens and fruits, or eat a banana with peanut butter, or have a healthy and filling home-made granola bar. All of these are delicious options that will steadily increase blood sugar levels therefore triggering the release of enough insulin in order to lower cortisol levels, leaving you stress-free, and still aiding in helping your body lose fat!
Photo courtesy of Peace Love Shea
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