How do you fuel your workouts? It can be especially tricky if you exercise first thing in the morning. Read on and I’ll share some things I’ve discovered, both from science and personal experience.
Let me start by saying I’m not a dietitian or nutritionist. (But I have stayed at a Holiday Inn.) Florida law prohibits me from giving nutritional counsel or advice. As a health educator, I can tell you what I know, in general terms. That said, I’ve actually done some research on this with some of my exercise science interns. Here’s what we came up with.
When you wake up in the morning you’re in a fasting state. Your blood glucose (sugar) is low, as is glycogen (sugar stored in muscle and liver). In college, 30 years ago, I was taught, if you exercise on an empty stomach, you’ll be more likely to burn fat to fuel the workout. We now know what you’re likely to burn is protein, taken from muscle. This is a really bad deal because, if weight loss (more specifically, fat loss) is the goal, every effort must be made to preserve muscle. After all, it’s in the muscle where fat and calories get burned. The more muscle, the more capacity to burn fat and calories.
What can you put into your empty stomach to maximize fat burn and minimize muscle loss? High-glycemic carbohydrates, such as bagels, will quickly raise blood glucose and will likely trigger an insulin response. (Insulin allows glucose to be taken up as fuel for cells to use.) Unfortunately, some research suggests this rapid rise in glucose, followed by an insulin response, is associated with enlarging of fat cells. This is another bad deal.
The best solution seems to be a low-glycemic, high-fiber carbohydrate paired with a low- or non-fat protein, like oatmeal and skim milk. I like my own oat bran muffins with some nonfat yogurt. Ideally, you’ll need about three hours to digest and metabolize this breakfast. I’m not inclined to get up at 3 for a 6 AM workout, so I’ll just get the muffin and yogurt when I do get up and hope for the best. For those exercising later in the day, a snack or meal of low-glycemic, high-fiber carbohydrates and low- or non-fat protein is still a good idea two to three hours pre-workout.
“Doc” Wheeler’s Expeditious Oat Bran Muffins
1 16-oz box, Hodgson Mills’ Oat Bran Cereal (or equivalent)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries
1½ cups plain non-fat yogurt
¼ cup real maple syrup
2 egg whites
Pre-heat oven to 375º F
Mix dry ingredients. To yogurt add maple syrup and egg whites. Fold wet into dry and mix thoroughly. Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full. (I use reusable silicon muffin cups arranged on a cookie sheet.) Bake for about 20—30 minutes or until tops are light brown and a toothpick comes out cleanly.
Two notes: 1) These muffins are very high in soluble fiber (hence, “expeditious”). You’ve been warned. 2) They’re not sweet. A dietitian friend tells me this recipe, as it is, is safe for diabetics, having a low glycemic load. (If you’re diabetic, check with your diabetes educator.) If you must have sweet muffins, add more maple syrup.
Nutritional Facts (per muffin)
Calories: 251, Fat: 9.1 g, Sat Fat: 1.1 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Carb: 47 g, Fiber: 6.5 g, Protein: 11.4 g, Calcium: 129 mg
Simple Yogurt Smoothie
In a blender combine 1 quart plain non-fat yogurt, 1 regular bag of frozen fruit (I like raspberries, blueberries or peaches) and honey to taste. Blend until smooth.
David Wheeler, MA, MS is Wellness & Health Recovery Coordinator at Premier Health & Fitness Center. He is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist. David provides fitness training and health coaching for those contending with health challenges and for healthy adults who want to stay that way. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-431-4835.