How often have you heard “Don’t worry, I’ll burn it off later.”

This is typically stated right after someone takes a bite of something you and they both know they shouldn’t. All the time right? We all have this assumption that we can get rid of what we store in our bodies if we do some exercise later.

If only it were that easy…

There are a couple problems with the “eat first, workout later” strategy.

The first is the most obvious: most people never get to the workout later stage. 

I whole heartedly believe everyone intends to workout after a meal, but very few actually make it to the gym to get that workout in. We constantly find other high priority items that have to be taken care of or we just get lazy. In either case, those calories we said we would burn stay right where we left them.

Another problem that is quite a bit more technical, but equally important is how our body responds to exercise before and after a meal.

There is a lot of literature available about the benefits of fasted training, which I encourage you to look up if you interested in this topic. For the purposes of this article, I want to illustrate this point with a story.

Imagine you were living in Africa 100,000 years ago. You start getting hungry, but realize you don’t have any food stored. What do you do? You go get some! You go hunting, pick some fruit, or dig up some tubers. All this activity is your workout. After you acquire enough food, you eat it. Then you rest and your body stores all this energy you just consumed. When you get hungry again, you’ll repeat the process.

In the above situation, hunger always stimulates activity and rest and recovery always follows a feast. That’s the way it’s been for all but the last 10,000 years or so. Our bodies have evolved to be excellent at working to get food when we are hungry and to relax and be lazy when we are full. Opposing this order will be quite the challenge and far less effective if you’re goal is to maintain a healthy bodyweight.

The abundance of food we all enjoy is a completely new state that our bodies have yet to catch up to.

Very few of us ever really need to “earn” our food. Very few of us are ever really hungry. I think we can all agree, the convenience is nice and not worrying about where our next meal is coming from is always better than not. However, we can adjust our mindset slightly and maintain a healthier lifestyle.

You don’t need to workout fasted every day, but think about working out before a meal rather than after it. When you eat something, think about whether you’ve earned it or not. Quit promising yourself to exercise it off later. We both know it’s unlikely you will. 

Yours in Health,

Brian