Lately, I've started to eat before some of my workouts and worked out a bit later than usually. These are new things for me, because most of my adult life I have worked out fasted, first thing in the morning.
I usually work out pretty early in the morning, around 6 or 7am. Because it's so early, I train fasted, without having eaten anything since last night. I feel that it's physically hard to train if I have eaten, especially when I'm running or doing HIIT workouts.
Lately though, I've made some changes into my eating habits, and that has happened mostly because I am now putting a slightly more focus on two types of trainings that I never did before:
- Weight training (mostly with kettlebells)
- Skill training (pistol squats, handstands).
Different Training Types and Hunger
Both of them, weight and skill training, are performed way slower than HIIT that I usually do. HIIT can be done in 12 minutes and I can push myself really hard without having any food in my system–I actually feel much better without it. Besides, because I know I'm done in 15-20 minutes, I know that even if I get very hungry, I can eat pretty soon.
But as I started putting more focus on weight and skill training, I soon noticed that working out fasted doesn't really work that well. The reason is that those workouts are longer and take a lot of focus, more than HIIT workouts. You really have to pay attention to what and how you are doing, the technique becomes very important and you really need to slow down to be able to control yourself completely.
Therefore, I get hungry during those workout if I haven't eaten.
Sure enough, you have to control your body also when doing HIIT, but it's a little bit different. In HIIT, you need to do all the movements as fast as possible. The exercises are simpler (not necessarily easier, but simpler) than exercises with added weights. For example, when you are doing front squats with two kettlebells, you can't simply go insanely fast like you can with simple bodyweight squats.
Because HIIT is done faster and it doesn't require quite similar focus and attention as weight or skill training, I don't have to eat before it.
Skill & Strength Workouts and Hunger
At first, I tried to also do my strength and skill workouts fasted. But it didn't work out that well.
My planned skill / strength workout for the day could look like this:
- 5 x 5 Assisted Chin Ups
- 3 x 5 Band Assisted Pistol Squats
- 3 x 5 Pistol Squats on the bench
- 5 x 20 Handstand Shoulder Taps
Together with getting to the park where I work out at, warming up and doing the exercises, all this takes me about 30 minutes.
I am still learning the technique for all these exercises, so it really takes me time and focus to do them properly. If I additionally want to practice some freestanding handstands, I need even more time.
When I'm doing a slow workout like this, I feel the hunger kicking in. Hard exercise suppresses appetite, which isn't necessarily the case for slow paced skill practice or heavier lifting workouts.
When I'm getting hungry during my practice, it gets really hard to focus on my workout. I find myself counting reps, trying to get all done as fast as possible, thinking what I'm going to eat when I get home and wondering if I should stop by at a grocery store before getting home to get a quick snack to eat, like a banana or a protein bar.
Some people are probably able to forget about the hunger and still keep working. While I've become better in not having to eat immediately when I feel the first sensation of hunger (that's a hard practice, but it's necessary if you want to live a normal life and act like a normal person instead of going cranky), it's still hard to ignore the hunger when I'm working out.
When I get hungry, then, a result, I try to get it done as fast as I can or cut it shorter. The quality of the workout is definitely suffering when I'm trying to get my pistols just done, focusing on quantity instead of quality. For example, I'm not focusing on slowly getting up from the very bottom position but instead, bounce back up quickly to get my 5 x 5 reps done, which is not really the right way of doing it.
When I'm hungry, I can't fully focus on my skill workout.
What I Eat Before My Morning Workout
So, for the past 2-3 months or so I have switched up a part of my workout schedule and made changes also into my eating habits.
I still work out fasted when I'm running or doing HIIT and I never eat before my morning walks. I just don't need it.
But on the days that I'm doing heavier strength or skill training, like improving my kettlebell snatch technique or doing front squats with a heavy weight, practice pistol squats or handstands, I eat something before. I also train little bit later, between 10am and noon to give my body some time to digest.
I eat something pretty small, but still nutritient dense so that I don't turn into a snack monster for the whole day. For example, I could have something like this:
- a few hard boiled eggs topped with pesto
- an egg and a few slices of leftover roast chicken
- two scrambled eggs with spinach
- banana and peanut butter
- half avocado and half banana
- Coffee with butter and coconut oil
As you see, most of these foods are pretty high in fat. I feel that fat keeps me full and I love how I can eat a small amount of food and still feel that it was enough.
If I had a bunch of high carb foods for breakfast (a little bit is fine!), it would take up a lot of space in my stomach, which would make me feel heavy and working out hard. I want to clarify that I'm absolutely not against carbs, I think they are great, but they don't work for me too well in early mornings. When I used to eat oatmeal for breakfast every morning, I always felt ridiculously full right after eating it, but extremely hungry an hour later. I've noticed that I feel quite a bit better when I have a smaller meal that is slightly higher in fat.
Whether you need or don't need to eat before working out is very individual.
I feel that I need to eat before doing heavier strength or skill training, because those types of workouts require more focus and take longer time. But I prefer to work out fasted when I'm going for a run or doing a HIIT workout.
When I eat before a workout, it's a simple meal (worth probably 200-300 calories–I don't typically count them though), I know that it gets me though the practice so that I'm fully able to focus on my work, without feeling heavy.