As our schedules become increasingly busy and the hours in the day seem to disappear more rapidly,  getting in a run can seem like a challenge at best and impossible at worst.

For many, the solution is running first thing in the morning before life intrudes.  Sounds easy enough right?

If you don’t have time to run during the day or in the evening then just run in the morning.  

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But of course, nothing can ever be that simple.  Now it’s time to decide whether or not to run on an empty stomach after fasting all night while sleeping. The struggle is real folks.

Eat small snacks

Traditionally, eating a small snack (100-200 calories) 30-45 minutes prior to a short run and a small meal (250-400 calories) 1-2 hours prior to a longer or more intense run has been recommended in order to supply your muscles with the glycogen necessary to complete the workout.

But what happens when you just can’t eat before a run?

Should you throw in the towel and resign yourself to being a weekend warrior or hit the pavement and risk hitting the wall?

While there is conflicting evidence on whether or not running on an empty stomach is beneficial, harmful or neutral, some of the research indicates that it might not be as bad as once thought.

Here are a few ways in which it might be beneficial:

1. Increased fat oxidation

Research suggests that performing endurance exercise following a period of fasting, such as first thing in the morning after fasting during sleep, forces the body to rely on fat stores rather than carbohydrates for fuel.

This means that you will burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates, which means greater fat loss.

2. Improved insulin sensitivity

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas in response to eating and allows your body to use the glucose (sugar) from carbohydrates for energy.  Insulin signals cells to absorb sugars from the bloodstream and keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high or too low.

When we eat too frequently or too much we become more resistant to the effects of insulin, which can lead to health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.  When we fast we release less insulin, which makes us more sensitive to it and improves our ability to lose fat.

3. Increased production of growth hormone

Some studies indicate that exercise following fasting increases the body’s production of growth hormone, which is a peptide hormone that stimulates growth, cell reproduction and cell regeneration.

4. Improved use of energy stores and absorption of nutrients in the post-workout meal

running on an empty stomach_2So, back to the question at hand –

 Could you run on an empty stomach – and the answer is Yes.  

Maybe it would be more accurate to ask – Should you run on an empty stomach?

Well that depends on the goals and tolerance of the individual. Admit it, you saw that coming!

If you would like to attempt running in the fasted state here are a few tips to help you do so safely:

– Perform your first fasted run in the afternoon after skipping lunch rather than first thing in the morning.  This will allow you to attempt a fasted run after a shorter fasting period (4-5 hours vs. 7-9) but will provide the same benefits as you will still be running with depleted energy stores.

– Make sure to drink plenty of water so that you are not running in a dehydrated state as well as a fasted state.

– Make your first fasted state run a short run (3 miles or less) performed at your easy pace (meaning that you could carry on a conversation) or even perform a run/walk.

– Start out with one fasted state run a week and work up from there as your tolerance allows.

– Carry a small snack with you.  If you begin to feel dizzy, shaky, and/or weak stop and eat your snack and discontinue your run.

– Always listen to your body and do not push yourself past your limits!

So the next time you find yourself lacing up your shoes first thing in the morning or heading out for an afternoon run when you were too busy to eat lunch have no fear, you might actually burn more fat and improve nutrient absorption at your next meal.

As always, happy running!!

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