Metabolism, Hormones, and Exercising on an Empty Stomach


03 Mar
03Mar

How many times have you heard this one? "He has a fast metabolism, and that’s why he’s thin," as if a "fast metabolism" is some sort of elusive genetic endowment. We’ve touched slightly on this in previous blogs. You are lesser a product of your genes than you may believe. Sure there are predispositions to a particular body type, endo, ecto, and meso-morph, but despite these, you can make appreciable changes to your physique by optimizing your metabolism.

So what is metabolism? Distilled down, metabolism is the sum of all biochemical processes, both anabolic and catabolic and those by which cellular energy is produced. An optimized metabolism, one associated with health and longevity, is fueled predominantly by fat as opposed to carbohydrate, and in particular glucose. This will result in a leaner you regardless of your body type (a function of your inherent sensitivity to carbohydrate). And how do you coax your metabolism to preferentially utilize fat? Easy.

By choosing low glycemic index carbohydrates, eating ample fat, and supporting your hard-earned muscle with adequate protein intake, you will drive insulin levels down and by virtue, condition your metabolism to burn fat as opposed to sugar. This similarly occurs during the fasted state. Which brings me to a new point of contention… Exercising on an empty stomach. In the perfect world, we could all get up first thing in the morning and go exercise. We don’t live in a perfect world. People have responsibilities at home (i.e., children to wake up and get ready for school), but the Academy will provide for you the perfect environment where the first thing you do in the morning is PT. In the early morning hours, every single morning, you will be expected to PT on an empty stomach. This is a great way to start your day, ignite your metabolism, and put your body in a state of ketosis (fat burning).


To eat or not to eat before you exercise… 

You've probably heard you should always eat something before exercise. The idea behind this bit of fitness "wisdom" is that a pre-workout meal will help fuel your muscles for a more effective fat-smashing exercise session. But is this really the best advice if you goal is to burn body fat?


One key factor people often neglect when trying to lose weight is the importance of hormones, which control and set the pace for how quickly we burn fat and how fast we build muscle, which helps to boost metabolism. Yes, calories do play a big role in weight loss and fat burning, but when dieting and exercising you shouldn't only focus on calories while neglecting your hormones, because it's your hormones that will enable you to achieve the fastest fat burn and most rapid body transformation.


To relate this in a simple way, you’ve probably heard a friend or relative say something similar to the following: “When I was your age, I had a great metabolism. I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain any weight.” We have all heard this before. Truth be told, the problem isn’t age, it’s the hormone depletion that comes with aging.


When you eat a meal containing carbohydrates (and to a much lesser degree, protein), your body releases insulin, the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. Without it, our blood sugar would spike after meals, remain elevated and we would eventually die because too much sugar in our blood is toxic. To the contrary, insulin is also a fat storage hormone. So when insulin is elevated — as is the case after you eat — your body will be in a state of wanting to store fat, not burn it. It doesn't matter if you exercise like a mad man after a meal, you won't be able to burn body fat until insulin levels drop, which can typically take two-to-three hours, if not longer.


Now let's talk about another hormone that controls fat burn: growth hormone. Growth hormone not only facilitates fat burn, but also stimulates muscle growth and metabolism. And incidentally, insulin and growth hormone are antagonistic hormones. In other words, when one hormone is elevated, it will suppress the other hormone. So when we eat something, insulin levels rise, suppressing growth hormone. On the flip side, when we're in a fasted state, insulin levels are at their lowest point, so growth hormone will be elevated. Knowing this about how hormones work, and knowing more about your own fitness level and how your body responds to exercising on an empty stomach, hopefully this will help you in achieving your optimal fitness level.


Remember, everyone is different (to some extent), so if you get the shakes from exercising on an empty stomach, then eat something light before you go. Also, don’t let the “I didn’t get to work out before breakfast this morning, so I will just skip today” excuse become your crutch. Contrary to what is written above, working out immediately after eating may not start to burn into your body fat, but it could prevent your body from storing what you just ate. You are still burning just as many calories, the difference is from where those calories are being burnt. To stay in a state of ketosis throughout your workout, it’s best to work out on an empty stomach.

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