As intermittent fasting continues its rise in popularity and adoption, largely due to the fact it's been credited as an effective way to lose weight, it makes sense that health professionals and researchers are dedicating more time to studying the timing of when we do things, whether it's eating, sleeping or exercising and how it affects the body.
While everyone is different – some people prefer to fuel up on breakfast before hitting the gym in the morning, while others are perfectly fine working out on an empty stomach – according to a new study conducted by health researchers at the Universities of Bath and Birmingham, it may be those who skip breakfast before the gym who have the right idea, at least when it comes to overall health benefits they're getting.
According to the findings published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, participants who worked out before breakfast burned double the amount of fat than those who exercised after breakfast and were found to have a better response to insulin, therefore helping to lower blood sugar levels which in turn means potentially decreasing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
For the six-week study, researchers brought together thirty men who were classified as obese or overweight according to their BMI (Body Mass Index) and split them into three groups.
One group of ten were asked to eat breakfast before exercise, the second group exercised after breakfast and the third control group, made no lifestyle changes at all.
Over the six-week trial the researchers found that the muscles of the participants who exercised before breakfast were more responsive to insulin compared to the group who exercised after, despite identical exercise regimes and food intake.
The group of participants who exercised before breakfast were also found to have a greater increase in key proteins.
One of the most significant things, however, was that although the two groups (we're excluding the control group) on average loss the same amount of weight over the six-week period, it was the group who exercised before breakfast that reaped the most overall health benefits.
Surprisingly, in terms of insulin response, the group who exercised after breakfast responded no better than the control group who made no lifestyle changes at all.
"Our results suggest that changing the timing of when you eat in relation to when you exercise can bring about profound and positive changes to your overall health," explains Dr Javier Gonzalez of the Department for Health at the University of Bath.
"We found that the men in the study who exercised before breakfast burned double the amount of fat than the group who exercised after. Importantly, whilst this didn't have any effect on weight loss, it did dramatically improve their overall health.
"The group who exercised before breakfast increased their ability to respond to insulin, which is all the more remarkable given that both exercise groups lost a similar amount of weight and both gained a similar amount of fitness," Dr Gonzalez adds.
"The only difference was the timing of the food intake."
WATCH: Michael Mosley breaks the myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Story continues below...
Co-author Dr Gareth Wallis of the University of Birmingham adds that the study suggests performing exercise in the overnight-fasted state can increase the health benefits of exercise for people "without changing the intensity, duration or perception of their effort."
And of course, it likely didn't escape you that this study only explored how the timing of eating and exercise affects men, with Dr Wallis saying the next step is to explore whether women would benefit in the same way, and what the longer-term effects may be.
Either way, it's some very interesting insight, and while exercise and movement is always beneficial for your health, next time you head out in the morning to hit the gym, go to yoga class or get in a run, consider laying off the food til after your sweat session, for an added health kick.
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