It's the age-old debate: is it better to exercise in the morning, or at night? A new scientific study is firmly in camp 'first thing', after its findings suggested working out pre-breakfast could burn more fat.
The research, carried out by the Universities of Bath and Birmingham and published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, is only small - meaning more research into the topic is required to make any firm conclusions. It was focussed on people who are already overweight, and only assessed men, meaning no sweeping assumptions can be made about the whole population - but it does provide a useful theory nonetheless.
The participants, a group of 30 overweight men, were split into two groups - one of which ate breakfast before a cycling class, the other withheld from eating breakfast. The effects after six weeks were then monitored.
The results indicated that the group who worked out on an empty stomach burned double the amount of fat than the other group. This, researchers suggest, is because their insulin levels were lower after having fasted overnight. When you have less insulin in your blood, the body uses fat reserves to fuel exercise, meaning you burn more fat when training on an empty stomach.
So, should you start cancelling all your after-work gym sessions in place of early morning workouts? Well, if weight loss is your intention, don't get too ahead of yourself. In this particular study, researchers found after six weeks that there was no notable difference in weight loss between the two groups.
What they did find, however, was a "profound and positive" effect on health generally as a result of exercising before breakfast.
"The group who exercised before breakfast increased their ability to respond to insulin, which is all the more remarkable given that both exercise groups lost a similar amount of weight and both gained a similar amount of fitness. The only difference was the timing of the food intake," explained Dr Javier Gonzalez, from the Department for Health at the University of Bath.
Dr Gareth Wallis, a co-author of the study from University of Birmingham, said: "This work suggests that performing exercise in the overnight-fasted state can increase the health benefits of exercise for individuals, without changing the intensity, duration or perception of their effort. We now need to explore the longer-term effects of this type of exercise and whether women benefit in the same way as men."
If you've been convinced to try exercise in the morning before breakfast, make sure you check out a dietitian's two rules for working out on an empty stomach:
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