We know that timing plays a huge role when it comes to fitness. In fact, you should schedule your gym time differently based upon whether your goal is primarily weight loss or gaining muscle. But it turns out that minding the clock is also key when it comes to eating—and not just as it relates to cutting fat or bulking up.
While fueling properly is essential for just about everything, it turns out that being hungry does have its advantages. Read on to find out how being (reasonably) “hangry” may give you a leg up when making difficult decisions, falling asleep, having sex, and more.
Editor’s note: Keep in mind you should always listen to your body and eat if you’re truly hungry.
Exercising in a “fasted state” actually spurs your body to burn more fat and potentially prevent weight gain, according to a study published in the Journal Physiology. A group of healthy young men gorged themselves for six weeks on a diet with 20% more calories and 50% more fat than what they were eating before. After, a portion remained sedentary; another started a strenuous, midmorning exercise routine after eating breakfast; and a third group performed that same workout regimen, only they exercised before eating in the morning. Men who exercised first thing in the morning on an empty stomach gained practically no weight, retained healthy insulin levels, and burned more fat throughout the day. The optimal fat-burning, weight-loss strategy may just be an earlier wake-up call and an empty stomach.
Lifting on an empty stomach shouldn’t hurt your performance or gains either. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found bodybuilders who were fasting for Ramadan didn’t negatively affect their body mass or composition. Researchers from another study published in the Journal of Physiology even found heavy lifting in a fasted state seems to increase the muscle-building response to a post-training meal of carbs, protein, and leucine.
However, keep in mind that this approach may not be best for every dude. If you wake up and are starving, eat.
The phenomenon known as being “hangry” serves more than one purpose (other than making you incredibly irritable). According to a study published in the journal PLOS One, being hangry—more specifically, hungry—helps you make better decisions. The researchers came to the conclusion that hunger and an empty stomach are associated with advantageous decision-making by having volunteers fast overnight. After the fast, they served half of them breakfast the following day when they arrived at the laboratory. After, all the subjects took the “Iowa Gambling Task,” a psychological test based on gambling that’s supposed to simulate real-life decision-making.
The researchers found the subjects who were hungry made more advantageous choices and performed better on the test than those who were sated. Hungry volunteers were also better able to appreciate future big rewards, even if it brought immediate delays. When you’re hungry, you’re in a so called “hot state” where you rely more on emotions, which surprisingly allows for a better recognition of risks. In other words, you’re more apt to make a favorable decision involving uncertain outcomes.
Maybe the key to winning big is skipping the buffet…
To optimize sleep, you don’t want to go to bed too full or too hungry. If you’re starving, it’ll keep you from falling asleep (plus the low blood sugar may make waking up the next morning more difficult), and if you have a stomach full of food, it’s highly likely it’ll be stored as fat rather than used as fuel seeing as you’re not torching too many calories as you snooze. Digestive problems like acid reflux can be worsened if there’s too much food in your stomach, too. A study from the British Journal of Nutrition found eating small meals throughout the day was advantageous because it prompts the body to obtain energy from fat stores (instead of muscle) overnight. It’s worth noting that experts still debate whether late-night eats is the reason for excessive weight gain or if the blame can be put on excessive intake of calories regardless of the time they’re consumed. But one thing can all agree on is it’s unfavorable to eat the majority of your calories at night, rather than spacing meals regularly out through the day.
Take ED meds
According to the University of California San Francisco, for Viagra to really work you need to take it on an empty stomach. Taking it during or immediately after a high-fat meal is especially bad because it can prevent your stomach and intestines from absorbing the medicine, making it less effective. Foods can also interact with your medication. According to the UK National Health Service, certain foods can increase or decrease the amount of medicine in the blood so they become dangerous or ineffective; other foods can neutralize the medication.
Sex (for you)
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the erectile tissue in the penis has many tiny pools of blood vessels surrounded by smooth muscles. When aroused, your central nervous system releases chemicals like nitric oxide that create and maintain an erection by smoothing the muscles in the penis, allowing blood to flow freely and double the tissue’s diameter (also squeezing shut the surrounding veins so the blood can’t drain). Obviously, during sex you need as much blood as you can get to maintain an erection, but if you’ve just polished off a five-course meal you’re going to have blood traveling and working with the organs of your digestive system.