The Best Time to Exercise for Weight Loss

Bulletproof Weight Loss System

“The Best Time to Workout
for Weight Loss” What is the optimal exercise
timing for weight loss? Is it better to exercise
in the morning or in the evening? Before breakfast
or after breakfast? There was a Nobel Prize-
winning exercise physiologist who said he always ran a mile
every morning before breakfast. Was he right? Let’s find out. More than a dozen experiments
have been published comparing the amount
of fat burned in a fasted versus fed state,
and every single one found more fat was burned
on an empty stomach.

On average, a single bout of low-
to-moderate intensity activity before a meal burned off
three grams more fat than the same amount
of exercise after a meal. That’s about three-quarters
of a pat of butter’s worth of fat, enough to improve
insulin sensitivity. The same amount of exercise,
but more fat loss, all because of timing. Now, just because you burn
Being fatter while you’re exercising doesn’t necessarily
mean you end up with less fat
at the end of the day. Maybe your body offsets
the extra fat loss that occurs during exercise
with a little extra fat storage when you finally do eat,
balancing it out. Researchers in Japan set out
to investigate the possibility that your body makes
up for it later by measuring 24-hour fat
balance after 100 minutes of running either before
breakfast or after lunch.

On the exercise-after-lunch day, they burned a total
of 608 calories of fat over that day. In contrast, on the exercise-
before-breakfast days, in the same 24-hour period
they burned through nearly 90 percent more,
1,142 calories of straight fat. So, the next day, they woke up with about a quarter
cup of fat less after the same amount
of exercise. That’s remarkable! What about just
something like walking? Sixty minutes before breakfast,
after lunch, or after dinner. Over the 24 hours
they exercised in the evening, 432 calories were burned off. On the afternoon exercise day, they burned off
446 calories of fat. They also had a control day
with no exercise at all, and on that day, they burned
456 fat calories. That’s disappointing—it’s like
they never walked at all. But the same amount
of exercise before breakfast resulted in 717 calories
of fat loss. Throughout a day
timing matters, so much so that when it
comes to an hour of walking, exercise increases 24-hour
fat burning only when it is performed
before breakfast. Here’s the fat balance
graph with no exercise. You can see the fat storage bump up at breakfast, lunch, and supper, before slowly coming
back down overnight.

Exercise in the afternoon
or evening and end up with more fat
than not exercising at all, but exercise in the morning, and at least your fat balance comes
back to baseline. All such similar studies
on both men and women show we burn through more fat
on the days we exercise before, rather than after eating. After reading the
chronobiology chapter though or watching my
chronobiology videos, an alternative explanation
may spring to mind. Maybe it’s just a morning thing. Maybe it has nothing
to do with meals, and your circadian rhythm
is just dictating the difference. No. Exercising in the morning
after breakfast appears no better than exercising
in the evening after dinner, and exercising before
breakfast works better than immediately after breakfast,
both still in the morning. It does seem to be
a pre- versus post-meal effect. But why? Carbohydrate is the preferred
fuel of the body. When you eat sugars or starches, they get broken down
and converted into blood sugar. After a meal, blood sugars rise
and your muscles are quick to snatch it up for fuel
without having to rely much on your energy stores.

If you instead take a siesta, and your muscles have
no immediate need for energy, the excess blood sugar from a meal can be stored in our
muscles in the form of glycogen for later use. Glycogen is just a bunch
of blood sugar molecules strung together into
a mass of branches that can be broken off and used for quick bursts of energy
any time we need them. If you exercise after a meal,
your muscles can siphon off some of the extra blood sugar
floating around for energy. Before a meal, your
muscles have to instead resort to dipping
into your energy stores and end up burning mostly a combination
of glycogen and fat.

That explains why you burn
more fat during fasted exercise, but what about all the extra fat burned throughout
the rest of the day? Glycogen is more than a store. Glycogen isn’t just
an energy reserve but acts as a sensor capable
of activating metabolic pathways. Exercising before
breakfast can exhaust as much as 18 percent
of your glycogen stores, and that depletion can
act as a powerful rallying cry to your fatty tissues
to start pulling more of their weight
by breaking down more fat. The lower glycogen
stores fall, the greater the sustained
24-hour fat loss. How long do you have
to go without food to trigger this effect? Six hours may be sufficient; so, it doesn’t have
to be before breakfast.

If you timed it right, you could
exercise before a late lunch, or if you have an early enough
lunch, maybe before dinner when you get home from work. If exercise in a fasted
state isn’t possible, does it matter what you eat? Insulin release after a meal
appears to play a critical role in suppressing fat breakdown, explaining why lower
glycemic foods— in this case, muesli
versus cornflakes— can have less of an effect. Lentils were identified
as a promising option for maintaining
athletic endurance (which can take a hit
on an empty stomach) while maintaining more
fat dissolution. Lentils are said to be
unlikely to be consumed by the general population
due to ‘low palatability”. They haven’t tried
my mom’s lentil soup. It’s worth mentioning
that although there’s increased 24-hour
fat burning exercising in a fasted state,
the only way to see if this facilitates
weight loss over time is to put it to the test, which we’ll explore next.

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