Hippocates, the father of modern medicine, wrote many years ago: “Fat people who want to reduce their weight should take their exercise on an empty stomach and sit down to their food out of breath…Thin people who want to get fat should do exactly the opposite and never take exercise on an empty stomach”.
Is it just possible he knew what he was talking about?
Yet for the last 50 years or so, all manner of ‘fitness experts’ have preached at us to “fuel up before exercise”. As a result we have become convinced that expensive glucose-saturated ‘energy’ drinks and carbo-loading are prerequisites for proper workouts. Yet well before the advent of these sugary shakes, mankind existed very nicely in a far more physical world where poor performance meant that a tribe might have to go to bed without supper that night. Long before we had experts to give us their opinion on how to combine food and exercise, mankind had an optimal approach to fueling for exercise, developed and honed over thousands of years of evolution.
Any Paleontologist will tell you that ancient man was all round fitter, stronger and healthier than any modern day Olympian, without ever relying on a consistent calorie supply. In the same way, any anthropologist will tell you many modern-day hunter-gatherer tribes still can’t obtain a regular, entirely dependable, source of food. For these people, both ancient and modern, the results of a day’s hunting was (and still is) varied and unpredictable. What’s certain is that they never had access to an immediate supply of sugary liquid or starchy fodder whenever they felt the bite of physical pressure.
Our ancient forefathers would have often hunted (walked/trotted/climbed and sprinted) vigorously without food in their bellies. They would sometimes have begun and ended their day’s exertions on an empty stomach – occasionally more than once before having the chance to consume significant calories again. It didn’t do them any harm and nor will it us. The result of this hungry exercise was their (and in effect our) bodies became adapted to providing energy from stored body fat not sugar and glucose. Because fasted exercise forced them to dip into their fat reserves rather than depend on accumulated sugar or glucose in the blood and muscles, there was always a serious absence of fat cavemen!
Now you may be wondering what the relevance is of this historical perspective in your nice, cosy modern existence? The answer is perhaps far closer to home than you might have ever dreamt. For underneath the hairspray, the deodorant and the nifty togs we now sport – physiologically we are still very much stone-age men and women. Sure, we have cooler toys to play with and far fewer saber-tooth tigers to outrun, but our Paleolithic instincts and genes remain essentially unchanged since before the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago.
So with just the smallest leap of faith and the gentlest stretch of the imagination it’s not hard to see that we humans don’t have to rely on ‘power drinks’, gels and snacks to get us through our next workout. It’s clear also that we needn’t fear situations where we can’t eat whatever we want, whenever we want it. We are well adapted to ‘make-do’ for quite long periods of time, if we can catch up missing calories later.
But if that’s the case, you might wonder how we find ourselves so confused today. How have we forgotten these ancient patterns of famine and fast? And, in a time of plenty, why do we fear to step out of the house without fuelling up with Ready-Brek?
The simple answer is that we fear the unknown. Only when you face the challenge of heading out on an early morning without porridge will you find out what it’s like.
‘What it’s like’, for many people, though is horrible! Starved of sugar the body is faced with a challenge for which it’s totally unprepared: burning fat as fuel. Shocked by this, their bodies, used to running on a full tank of glucose, complain like anything in its absence. The fatigue and discomfort they feel confirms the wisdom of most modern-day sports nutritionists and sends them scurrying back to their Gatorade for their next workout.
What if they were to keep trying for a few weeks though? What if they were to choose fat as their primary fuel, either by eating much more of it instead of all the sugar and carbs, or repeatedly exercising each morning before eating anything at all? Or both?
Surprisingly quickly, the body adapts. Not only does it learn to cope with this new state of affairs but it positively thrives, offering levels of performance that are at least equal, if not better, than before. At the same time, they can expect to start burning body fat when they exercise, perhaps for the first time ever.
For anybody who has tried and failed to lose weight through exercise, this is probably where you went wrong. You were running off highly elevated levels of sugar in your bloodstream rather than the fat around your body. This is the simple reason that most of us fail to lose much weight when we start an exercise programme. In fact, because we are not used to having low glucose levels in our blood, we will almost always crave more carbohydrate after exercise to top them up again.
Hence many regular exercisers on standard carbohydrate-based diets can often get fatter the more they train. However, exercising on an empty stomach and burning body-fat holds massive significance and power for the modern day human wanting to lose weight and feel great.
Modern Day Fasted Exercise
If you are intrigued by eating and exercising how nature intended then please give fasted exercise a try. If you’re used to eating before exercise and live predominantly on carbs for fuel, please don’t expect any sort of immediate improvement in actual performance. This isn’t about achieving ‘personal bests’ and, be warned, you may actually feel tired and sluggish as your body initially adapts to this new challenge.
Stick with it – it does get easier!
With this new perspective and understanding of how your body is meant to operate, in the longer term you will finally be free to lose that extra body-fat by unleashing nature’s intended supply of energy. It’s a source at least as bountiful as any pasta meal or ‘energy drink’ – and what’s more you might finally start to lose some weight!
With this exciting new perspective on who you really are and where you came from, you should now be able to look through all the self-serving ‘marketing ‘hype’ and the conventional ‘fitness experts’ rhetoric and realize – feeling leaner, stronger, happier, fitter doesn’t require money or expensive ‘health products’. It simply means following the eating and exercise patterns of your fitter, stronger and supremely healthy ancient ancestors!