Our bodies use two main types of fuel. Fat and carbohydrates – and most of us wish we could tell them to burn a bit more of our fat reserves!
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Experiment : The laboratory test
The initial experiment had shown that for young men, eating carbohydrates (CHO) before exercise significantly decreased the amount of fatty tissue their bodies were burning for the 3 hours afterwards.
When we did a similar experiment with both men and women, the team found that the men still burned less fatty tissue if they had eaten carbohydrates before exercising . The women burned MORE fat if they had eaten carbohydrates before exercising .
Total fat (g) oxidation between treatments, and genders (Exercise + Recovery)
How it works
Men and women burn fat and carbohydrate in different ways.
Men are very much ‘carbohydrate burners’ – if as a man you eat carbohydrate then your body is going to burn it rather than fat. Just giving the men carbohydrate at any time in our experiment made them burn a bit less fat! However, given that we all have to eat (and carbohydrate is an important part of our food), it is better for men to eat after exercising if they want to burn fatty tissue. This is because after exercise, men will use that carbohydrate to replace the carbohydrate in their muscles rather than burn it for fuel and will continue to burn fat instead.
For women, the results clearly show that eating before they exercise is better than eating after if they want to burn fatty tissue. Women’s bodies tend to burn fat more easily than men’s, and are not fuelled so much by carbohydrate. Moreover, women are much better at conserving carbohydrate during exercise. So when women eat carbohydrate soon after exercise, this is effectively overloading them with fuel, and interferes with the body’s ability to burn fat.
The amount of carbohydrate in our tests is probably the equivalent of a piece of toast, or a small bowl of cereal – and for men ‘not eating before exercise’ means about 90 minutes before exercise, and for women ‘not eating after exercise’ similarly means for about 90 minutes after.
Although our study was quite small, put together with the evidence from the laboratory experiments, it does seem worth us all making that simple adjustment to when we eat in order to maximise the amount of fat that our bodies burn throughout the day.
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