Worried about that extra luggage you might acquire around the holidays—adding to an already expanded waistline? Even if the number of pounds gained is not all that much, there is the phenomenon commonly called “holiday creep.” We gain the most weight during the holidays and rarely shed it afterwards — so it accumulates over the years, until by middle age, we are a bit too hefty around the middle and elsewhere.
But New York Times columnist Gretchen Reynolds says there’s a simple solution to the holiday excesses: exercise before breakfast. In her fascinating December 15 column, she cites a Belgium study that had 28 healthy young men gorge on fat and calories and subjected them to a rigorous and almost-daily exercise regimen of running and bicycling. Those who exercised before breakfast — on an empty stomach — gained nary a pound and showed none of the ill effects of those who didn’t exercise at all or who exercised after breakfast. They didn’t develop insulin resistance or begin storing fat within and between their muscle cells — both risk factors for diabetes.
Jennifer Ventrelle, a registered dietitian at Rush who directs a study for people with metabolic syndrome, said the results fly in the face of earlier research, which told us we should eat some carbohydrate — the most readily available source of fuel — before workouts, to avoid the possibility of breaking down muscle instead of fat.
Ventrelle likes the fact that the study looked at more than just weight gain. But she had some words of caution.
“How healthy young men metabolize food may very well be different from the way, say, a sedentary, 50-year-old women metabolizes food,” Ventrelle said. “Such a person may not even be able to get to the intensity level required without some added fuel from carbohydrates.”
Ventrelle also said she wouldn’t want any of her diabetic patients to exercise on an empty stomach — the inability of their bodies to adequately regulate blood sugar levels could very well cause them to have a hypoglycemic reaction.