Do You Burn More Fat by Exercising on an Empty Stomach?

If fat loss is your goal, should you fuel up before you workout or hit the gym on an empty stomach? Find out what and when to eat before a workout.
woman smiling making smoothie before workout

My mom (and maybe yours) always said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. As an early morning exerciser, I’ve faithfully followed mom’s advice and eaten before heading off to the gym or for a morning walk.

But when it comes to burning fat, some feel a fasted workout is more effective.

So who’s right?

Can You Boost Weight Loss By Exercising Before Breakfast?

One recent study revealed that a fasted workout burned twice as much fat as eating before a workout.

The study lasted for six weeks, involving overweight men who previously did not exercise. In addition to the fat-burning benefits, the men had lower insulin levels when they exercised.

However, that doesn’t mean exercising before a workout guarantees weight loss.

Researchers in another exercise study compared high-intensity interval training (HIIT) done before or after eating and found no significant difference in overweight women.

Moreover, there may be a downside to exercising before you eat. According to the Mayo Clinic, fueling your workout with carbohydrates may help improve workout performance, duration, and intensity.

Skipping breakfast before your morning workout may also lead to fatigue or dizziness after beginning to exercise.

What Should You Eat Before Your Workout?

Ready to fuel up before you work out?

Remember this: the studies recommending breakfast before exercise don’t include a recommendation to grab a glazed doughnut and a cup of coffee (with extra cream and sugar, please) on the way to the gym.

For your pre-workout breakfast, choose foods that will truly fuel your body’s performance, like pairing complex carbohydrates with protein.

  • Protein shake and banana
  • Egg and veggie scramble
  • Peanut butter toast
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie
  • Oatmeal + protein powder
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Whole-grain cereal

When you eat your breakfast is just as important as what to eat. So be sure to give yourself plenty of time to digest before you lace up your running shoes.

Experts advise consuming carbohydrates a minimum of one hour before that morning workout. In addition, drink plenty of fluids, aiming for two to three cups of water in the hours before you exercise.

Ultimately, when it comes to whether to eat breakfast before your morning workout, listen to your body and check with your healthcare provider. That expert can help you decide based on any personal health concerns, weight goals, and your fitness goals.

Joanne Eglash
Joanne Eglash has more than 15 years of experience writing for publications ranging from Fit Pregnancy to Healthline. She received her B.A. with honors from UCLA.