Is skipping this meal a weight loss winner?

Is skipping this meal a weight loss winner?

Skipping a meal should be a good way to lose weight, right? Maybe not.

While skipping a meal could lower your daily calorie intake, it also puts your body on alert to use less energy, and you may end up eating more than usual later in the day.

But what happens when you throw exercise into the mix? That’s what a study recently published in the Journal of Nutrition sought to find out.

A group of young, physically active men were each put through three trials to measure the difference between how many calories they ate and how much their bodies burned. The groups either ate breakfast and then rested, ate breakfast then exercised or fasted overnight then exercised.

The result? After 24 hours, the group that fasted before working out burned 400 more calories than they ate over 24 hours.

Does that mean if you start exercising instead of eating breakfast every morning you’ll quickly lose weight? You might, but even if you’re a fit, physically active young person, your body may not react in the same way as the 23-year-olds in the study.

“Some people will feel nauseous if they do not eat a little something before exercising,” says Michele Stuglis, a registered dietitian at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “Others will feel better on an empty stomach. Each person needs to do what works best for them.”

If you’re one of those who feels sick when you exercise on an empty stomach, Stuglis recommends eating an hour before you work out. And if you’re thinking this sounds like your mom’s rule about waiting an hour after eating before going in the pool, you’re not wrong. But while mom’s rationale was always somewhat vague, Stuglis offers a more sound, scientific explanation.

“Eating less than an hour before a work out is not the best solution,” she says, “because your body pushes oxygenated blood to your digestive tract to help break down the food. Your muscles then compete with your digestion during exercise, and your food won’t digest properly, which can make you feel sick.”

“There is some validity to your body utilizing fat stores for energy if you do not eat, but,” she says, “it may also break down some muscle.”

That’s what’s happening when your sweat smells like ammonia after a workout. Your body’s first choice for energy is carbohydrates, but when it doesn’t have an adequate supply, it may turn to protein (your muscles). By breaking down your muscles – specifically your muscles’ amino acids, the building blocks of protein – your body finds the energy it’s looking for and, at the same time, frees up nitrogen, which your body either filters out through your kidneys or sweats out as ammonia.

So what can you do to keep your body from cannibalizing your muscles when you work out? For a start, you can eat a light meal beforehand, one that balances carbohydrates and protein. For after, especially if you’re committed to exercising on an empty stomach, Stuglis recommends eating within 30 minutes after a workout. “This is when the body is most receptive to rebuilding tissue.”

“This is not a meal,” she stresses, “but a recovery snack. Remember to control the serving size!”

Suggested post-workout snacks include: chocolate milk, yogurt, kefir, fruit with peanut butter, trail mix, hummus and pretzels, string cheese and crackers. Stuglis also urges you to drink enough fluids “before, during and after exercise!”

Healthy eating and regular exercise are important for everyone. And if that means a morning run before breakfast, go for it. If it’s an evening of walking, running, biking, swimming, dancing or chasing/getting chased by your kids, those are all great cardiovascular exercises, too. It all comes down to finding a diet and exercise regimen that works for you, and that’s one you’ll actually stick to.

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Phil Andres

Phil Andres, health enews contributor, is a copywriter for Advocate Aurora Health in Downers Grove. He’s also a classically trained chef, former trivia monkey and one of two males in a family of five (if you count the dog).