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Athletic Training

Cardio vascular training

12/12/2005

Question:

my roommate and I are swimming for a cardio workout. we had an argument about eating a meal before cardio VS. not eating a meal - we want to know, if we are trying to lose excess body fat, what is better? I said it is better not eating before, because then you are burning excess fat instead of the meal you just ate. he said that it doesn`t matter - because if you eat before cardio you will burn the meal you just ate, instead of it ending up as excess fat. who is right? if either? and if neither, what is the best time to eat/cardio. one more - is it good for you (or for your muscles) to do cardio right after weight lifting?

Answer:

The first thing that a person must realize is that weight gain and weight loss are based on calories in vs calories expended.  If you are exercising and eating a healthy diet, chances are the weight loss you experience is going to be excess fat.

Now back to your question.  Eating before activity will increase your metabolism (energy usage), but the energy you expend during activity is based on the intensity of the exercise that you are doing.  The higher the intensity, the more carbohydrate that is needed to fuel that activity; the lower the intensity, the more fat that is utilized.  However, with that being said, almost all activity still requires a majority of the energy from carbohydrate.  So eating before or after activity is not going to affect your weight loss or fat loss that you are after.  It is still going to come down to calories in vs calories out for the day, week, month, etc...  By eating before hand you have more carbohydrate readily available for use, but again, that will not affect overall weight loss.

The real question is whether you are comfortable eating right before you swim and what your overall goal is.  Eating immediately before activity can take energy away from what is needed to fuel that activity because the body will be using energy to digest that food. It also can take some of the blood flow away from the working muscles and send it to the body for digestion.  Our athletes tend to eat 3-4 hours prior to activity, but their goal is performance not just weight loss.  So I don't think there truly is a right answer.

As far as cardio before or after weight training, again it would be based on your goal.  If your goal is to get as strong as possible, you would want the energy for the weight training first and do cardio second.  If you are looking to stay fit, then I would say cardio first, which would also warm the muscles and make them ready to handle the load of lifting.

I hope that helps.

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Response by:

Jeffery  A Bright, MS, ATC/L Jeffery A Bright, MS, ATC/L
Assistant Athletic Trainer, Department of Athletics
Instructor
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University