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Fatal Fat Loss Mistake #2 – Eating Carbs Before You Exercise

If fat loss is your goal, then eating carbohydrates before you exercise is a huge mistake that you need to avoid.

Eating carbs before you workout is like getting drunk right before a tightrope walking class. Things are going to be WAY harder than they should be, you're probably going to fail in the end, and your teacher (me) is going to think that you're clearly a lunatic.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen well-meaning people focused on losing weight eating a banana or sugary cereal bar at the gym right before they workout.

I can't believe what I'm witnessing when I see this… Seriously, you should see my face. It's like I just saw Big Foot or something.

I have tried to intercept a few fructose passes people were throwing into their mouths, but people are going to do what they want to do, ESPECIALLY if they believe they are doing the “right thing”.

What is this “right thing” I'm referring to? It's the idea that they need to “fuel up” for a long, tough workout.

People believe this because if you do a simple search on google for pre-workout nutrition you hear things like: “you must eat before you workout or you can't perform”, “exercising in a fasted state for better fat loss is a myth”, “carbs are the absolute best thing to have before exercising.”

The trouble with all of this is that most of it is old, outdated information that's designed for people who are training and competing in endurance events. This is NOT for the everyday person who just wants to get rid of their belly fat. But hardly anyone has stopped to reanalyze this cookie-cutter data. If you are training for a sport, then by all means have some carbs before you train and compete if that's what you want to do. But just don't blindly listen to the pre-workout carb dogma if your main interest is burning fat and looking great.

You Are Not A Midsize Sedan

The experts out there promoting the idea that you need to eat before you workout are very convincing (if you failed Kindergarden 3 times). They'll say things like, “Not eating carbs before your workout is like not putting fuel in your car. And you wouldn't try and drive your car without fuel would you?” The only problem with this analogy is that you are actually NOT a car. As a matter of fact, you are unquestionably different than a car.

Your body (unlike a car) can use different fuel sources at any given time. What's even more impressive is that your body can instantly shift and “create” it's own energy sources if it needs to.

Having carbs before you workout literally programs your body to use those free circulating carbs for energy and NOT your stored body fat. When it comes to eating carbs pre-workout, your body works like the accounting system LIFO which stands for “Last In, First Out”. It's going to use those carbs that just came in first, long before it gets around to using stored body fat.

Your body has an intelligent design that's all about efficiency and conservation. If those carbs you just ate are available, then why would your body want to go through the work of breaking down stored body fat and using it for fuel? Short answer: It won't.

Plus, an important realization is that if you fuel your workout on carbohydrates, you will inherently “hit a wall” once your blood sugar levels drop. Talk about poor performance… you were better off working out in a fasted state and training your body to use other energy sources.

Just like you train your body through exercise, you've got to train your body through nutrition. If fat loss is your goal, then you must train your body to utilize stored fat and amino acids as fuel, rather than carbohydrates. Through a process called gluconeogenesis, your body can actually create it's own glucose from amino acids and fatty acids so you don't need to haphazardly eat carbs. “This conversion (of amino acids to glucose) is a metabolically more expensive process, consisting of 20 or more metabolic steps, compared with the deep discount of consuming carbohydrates.” ~Dr. Doug McGuff, Body By Science

By avoiding the consumption of carbs pre-workout, your metabolism will actually be turned UP because it has to use stored fat and amino acids instead. The key here is that you are utilizing a smart exercise program that's not extremely glycolytic when you begin an approach like this.

If you're used to fueling your body on bagels and Kashi cereal, then you've got to give your body time to adjust to exercising with a lower carbohydrate intake, capicé?

If your goal is fat loss, and you're utilizing a smart exercise program, then exercising in a fasted state is biologically superior to almost any form of pre-exercise nutrition you can conjure up. Again, it takes some time for your body to adjust to this, but it will payoff nice dividends for you if you do.

Here are some simple examples of smart pre-workout nutrition if your #1 goal is fat loss:

If you workout in the morning:

  • Option 1. Exercise in a fasted state or
  • Option 2. Have 10 to 15 grams of HempForce Protein 30 minutes before training or
  • Option 3. Have some natural caffeine (from organic coffee or tea) by itself or blend it with some healthy fats (like coconut oil, grass-fed butter, or MCT oil)

If you workout in the afternoon/early evening:

  • Option 1. Eat what you want but allow at least 2 to 3 hours after you eat to exercise and/or
  • Option 2. Have 10 to 15 grams of HempForce Protein 30 minutes before training or
  • Option 3. Have some natural caffeine (from organic coffee or tea) by itself if you're not too sensitive to caffeine later in the day and it doesn't affect your sleep.

If you workout late at night:

Hold up! Training late in the evening for fat loss is a another Fatal Fat Loss Mistake that we're covering right here. This will help you to uncover the optimal time for exercise because (according to the research) it's not just about what you do, but when you do it, that can make all the difference in the world. Check out Fatal Fat Loss Mistake #3 right here!

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  1. Could you give some clarification on eating pre or post weight training workouts

  2. Two hrs late in reading this, but your bang on the money Raymond, so breaking down muscle in a rAted state….BCAA and a protein shakes pre lift for sure.

  3. Hi Shawn, I generally at a small serving of carbs 2-3 hours prior to workout however in the last year I have packed on nearly 20 pounds. I have had a brief recovery period after a partial hysterectomy due to fibroids. I have been trying to rationalize that this may be due to homonal fluctuations although I am not menopausal yet. I have gone from the leanest & most fit state ever to feeling really fatigued & not able to move the weight. Any suggestions? I eat very clean, don’t drink or smoke, workout 4-5 times per week ( a balance of cardio, HIIT, weight training ) HELP!

  4. Great read! I have been researching as to why I am at a standstill with my weight loss for the past 2 weeks when I workout and eat healthy daily. I have been doing an hour of cardio (variety) and 1/2 hour usually of strength training in the evenings during my work week. Usually around 6 or 7pm. Should I switch to early morning fasted workouts to break through this weight loss plateau??

  5. When you say you shoudn’t eat carbs before workout you mean simple carbs, sugary, fructose?, because complex carbs are a MUST 2-3 hours before the workout.

  6. Yeah. It never made sense to me to fuel up before a work out. It’s much more logical to use whatever energy you have stored to help with fat loss, then replenish stores after. Thx for confirming my suspicion.

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    I need an expert on this house to unravel my problem.
    May be that is you! Having a look ahead to peer you.

  8. I perform fasted solid-state cardio in the mornings before I eat, but I make sure to have some protein and maybe some carbs in my stomach when I work out. Hell, I used to eat a quest bar DURING every workout. Perhaps fasted exercise is good for moderate intensity cardio or some short cross training class, but you need to have something in your stomach for more involved workouts. When I walk into the gym for 2 hours of heavy weight training, endless supersets, and a lengthy core circuit, I cannot be fasted or I would simply run out of juice an hour into the workout. I’m 210lb, 6’3 and 7% body fat so I burn about 1200 calories during that workout, and my basal metabolic rate is like 2700 cals. I can eat 4000 calories and still be in a 400 calorie deficit for the day.

  9. Hi Shawn. I am on a low carb diet when I work out my sweat smells of ammonia which suggests there are no carbs to burn so otherwise burning protein from amino acids is that a good thing. Regards Andy

  10. Well I’m bodybuilding for approximately and hour then doing cardio for a 1/2 hour. I don’t think not eating carbs before I work out is a good idea. Can you comment?

  11. Wouldn’t your body scream starvation if working out in a fasting state, which would cause the metabolism to adjust itself by slowing down?

  12. Hi Shawn I feel this article is quite biased to your opionion of a low carb diet.
    You recommend hiit and weight training as the best sources of fat loss on your podcast, however both of these types of training run on glycogen.. By not eating carbs prior to working out our body produces its own source of energy right? When the liver’s glycogen level is low and you are not adding more through diet, it takes alanine and other substrates from the muscle to make more, which results in muscle atrophy… which is what we don’t want when trying to loose body fat and muscles are the body’s natural burner (info all from your podcast).
    Glucose is good for replenishing muscle glycogen and fructose is good at replenishing liver glycogen, however neither one will do the opposite. Muscles only contain the enzymes necessary to convert glucose into glycogen, and this energy is only available to the muscle. The liver makes glycogen from fructose, lactate and other three-carbon metabolites. The glycogen produced by the liver is responsible for supplying energy to the whole body.
    Fruit does not convert into muscle glycogen, being made up of mostly fructose, thus this fructose cannot be used for muscle glycogen but only liver glycogen which is what we use initially for energy right?

  13. Everybody’s body is different. If I had such small amounts of food before workout I would get sick or at the very least nauseous. If I had only caffeine… I would probably kill over & die. ???? So… there’s that! There’s no specific formula that applies to every person. Study up on research out there then just listen to your body & do what’s right for you. ????

  14. Hey Shawn! Great article debunking this common myth. My goal over the last 5 mos. has been to reduce body fat. I went from 30% to 15%. I want to get to 10% w/o losing much muscle. I workout in the early afternoon. Breakfast consists of 6 egg whites + 1 yolk + 1/2 steel cut oats around 8am. Then 30g whey + raw walnuts/almonds at 11a. Then Workout at 1p. Lunch right after consists of 6oz chicken breast + sweet potato + veggies. At 4p its another 30g whey. Dinner at 6p consists of 6oz. lean meats + veggies. No carbs. Then another 30g of Whey around 8p. Done.

    Based on what you read, would you change anything ? How’s the timing of carbs look?
    Thx – Mike

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  16. Hey Shawn great article man! If you could enlighten me on one problem I’m having. For fat loss, yes, carbs pre WO. Not a great idea. Rather opt for a fasted state. However you mentioned the body will create its own energy (amino acids) also using fat stores. Are you referring to muscle breakdown? Is that the form of energy you are referring to? For example if you are looking to burn fat then opt for fasted however if you were looking to retain muscle tissue throughout that workout while simultaneously utilizing fat stores.. In assuming protein intake pre workout as well as BCAAs would be sufficient enough?

  17. Shawn, i generally work out in the a.m. and depending on the workout just drink water or drink a little whey protein shake, like 3 oz b4 workout when i go to boxing class. Then a full whey protein shake after. However I am noticing some bloating and want to try something new. What do you think about drinking BCAAs b4 boxing to give energy then post workout shake using hempforce protein?

  18. Hi Shawn, loved the article!
    So, what would be the best time to eat carbs? I work out in the mornings…
    Thank you

  19. So is it Ok to use to this method if I want to lose a bit of fat but keep gaining muscle? If I just quick carb up after session?

  20. Hi Shawn. Huge fan. When you say 15 grams of Hemp Force protein before working out do you mean one scoop (which is 15 grams of the powder itself) or the full serving of 3 scoops (which is 15 grams of protein). Thanks in advance!

    1. Hey, Mel, thank you so much! I mean 2 to three scoops i.e. 10 to 15 grams of protein. 🙂

  21. hey Shawn i wondert if you can tell me a good whey protain that i could buy ,i am from europe ,Thank you

    1. Trisha, I would definitely look for a hemp protein first for most people (unless you are sure you don’t react negatively to whey – i.e. digestive distress, or acne, or fatigue, etc).

  22. Great article! I also agree working out first thing in the morning in a fasted state is best for weight loss. Except if you are pregnant or breastfeeding 😉

  23. I have boys that compete wrestling and I’ve always struggled with what carbs I should be giving them before meets.
    I usually make them a plant based protein green smoothie loaded with super herbs.
    I want to make sure I’m giving their bodies what it needs.

    1. Danielle, these are the exact situations where carbs pre-training/pre-performance are a thumbs up. And your choice for the boys, EXCELLENT. Great job mom!

  24. WOOT! There it is. The real deal about the pre-work out meal. The only HYRDATE I think about pre-workout is to hydrate my body with water; not carbs. Bringing sexy back Shawn. Thank you!

  25. This email came right on time! Just drank my detox and was wondering if it was ok to workout on an otherwise empty stomach! Thanks for the advise!

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