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Bigger benefit to exercising before breakfast

Published February 05. 2011 09:00AM

You might think that my lack of a medical degree would in some way limit this column. Instead, the lack is liberating, allowing intuition, experimentation, and common sense to be peers rather than poor little sisters of scientific research.

My first column on the low-carb crazecreated in large part by the paperback publication of Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution in 1999serves as a fine example of the fruits of this freedom.

Since the only scientific research done on the Atkins Diet at that time was a rather unfavorable study published in the the Journal of the American Medical Association in response to the swift success of Dr. Atkins' first book in 1972it sold more than 900,000 copies in seven months!those with ties to the medical community felt compelled to cite the 1973 JAMA study and condemn the new version of the Atkins diet.

I, however, could consider the significant weight loss of the 25,000 clients Atkins personally assisted, the burgeoning obesity epidemic, and my personal experience with simple and complex carbohydrates and praisealbeit partiallythe Atkins diet. I wrote that while there is a better way to lose weight, the Atkins diet worked for the majority of Americans because they already made two major dietary mistakes: they ate too many overly refined, simple carbohydrates and they ate too much fat.

Eliminating the one that triggers excessive insulin secretion, I explained, makes it easier not to overeat and lose weighta fact that was verified years latersurprise, surpriseby scientific research. And years after that, additional research verified the diet I prefer, a high-protein, high-complex carb diet that's low on simple carbs and bad fats not only works as well for long-term weight loss but also is better for athletic performance.

Am I bragging? Um . . . maybe. But I can argue the aforementioned example is an appropriate introduction to the fact that exercising before breakfastsomething I've been advocating for yearshas another even more significant benefit.

Exercise before breakfast has been shown to mitigate the effects of a poor diet.

The Belgian study, published in The Journal of Physiology, took 28 healthy young men, had them eat an intentionally bad dietone comprised of 50 percent fat by calories and 30 percent more total calories than they neededand then placed them in one of three groups. One group did no exercise at any time during the day, one group exercised after a breakfast high in carbs and used a sports drink during workouts, and one group exercised before eating breakfast and drank only water during workouts.

The exercise performed by both groups was supervised to be sure it remained identical and strenuous. Both groups worked out four times a week by either running or cycling, with two of the workouts lasting 60 minutes and the other two lasting 90.

Six weeks later, all three groups were weighed, andsurprise, surprisethe members of the no-exercise group gained an average of six pounds. A real surprise, however, occurred in the comparison between the breakfast-before-exercise group and the exercise-before-breakfast group.

The breakfast-before-exercise group averaged a three-pound weight gain. But even though the exercise-before-breakfast group consumed the same number of excessive calories and bad ones at that, they gained no weight.

Yet a bigger surprise was how the timing of the exercise affected insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

As expected, the no-exercise groupdespite their young age, prior good health, and the relatively short study periodhad developed insulin resistance. They also showed evidence of fat being stored between muscle cells, another harbinger of health problems.

What wasn't expected was that the exercise-before-breakfast group would show neither of these conditions while the breakfast-before-exercise group did. So in essence, at least for the short term, exercise before breakfast can be seen as a way to negate the previous day's pig out.

But athletes, and especially bodybuilders preparing for a competition, have been doing this for decades as a way to burn fat and to teach the body how to burn a higher percentage of fat as fuel during sedentary times and less-than-intense exercise.

And scientific studieseventuallyproved that this practice works. That' because after a fast such as the one induced by a night's sleep your blood sugar is at what's considered its baseline fasting level.

In other words, there's no immediate fuel to stoke your exercise fire. So instead of secreting insulin, your body secrets glucagon, which allows stored fatty acids to be broken down into energy.

Do this with some frequency and your body becomes more efficient at using this energy store and resorts to it more quickly.

While a study from last April has shown exercise intensity is lowered by the fasting state, the fasting state was created by exercise, a fast, and then a second bout of intense exercise was measured. My personal experience indicates that your body needs a few weeks to acclimate to before-breakfast exercise and that aerobic exercise can reach the same level of intensity as later-in-the-day exercise.

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