Should I Eat Before Working Out – Dieting Hungry, Stop Eating Your Muscle

Photo of author

By David Thoreau

Updated on

fact checked

Man eating

Hungry from all that dieting? Why not snack on your own muscles for now, and when you do eat some food, you can store all the fat for next time you starve yourself.

Your body will go to hell and you’ll feel terrible, but at least you’re sticking to your diet, right?

Does that hit too close to the mark for some of you?

People still do the ‘go hungry’ crash diet with the idea that a few weeks of starving themselves will suddenly produce the body of their dreams, or at least get them ‘on the right track’.

Only, it usually goes south after less than a week when friends invite them out for dinner or they adopt the just-one-more rule, or both, or any one of the countless reasons crash diets fail.

They don’t just fail because they stop short – if anything, it’s a good thing they do stop – but these diets also fail to do any good at all when the person is sticking to it.

When approaching events like Christmas, a Birthday celebration, Weddings – anything – you might think: ‘I’m going to bank some pounds by going through some painful, hungry weeks now.’

Even if you succeed in the short-term, you’re just going to fail in the long-run. It’s the exact reason people yo-yo in weight and it’s also the reason consistent fat loss and improvement in physique is a theoretical pipe dream for many people.

Man eating after training

Staying Hungry is Useless

Sure, you will drop some weight (we’ll get to weight loss vs fat loss in a bit), but you will be constantly miserable from being hungry. If only that was the worst of it.

Hunger is a sign that your body needs nutrients. Deprive it of them and it will enter a mode where it will break down your muscle, because:
muscle has a lot of valuable nutrients that your system needs but is not getting; and
muscle takes too much energy to maintain during this period of famine

What is even worse is the body thinks it has to hoard fat the next time you consume it, just in case you need it for one of the silly starvation periods again.

A lot of people call this ‘starvation mode’. Call it self cannibalization if it helps you get the point; which is that being hungry is pointless.

TIP: I’m a snacker, always have been, and always will be. By reducing my main meal portions a little and incorporating fruit and veg in my snacks along with the odd small bowl of Alpen or something, I get roughly the same calorie intake as large meals with no snacking – except I don’t get hunger pangs. The key is to start seeing fruit and vegetables as your fillers.

Cravings versus Hunger

There’s a flip-side to the section you’ve just read. Cravings and hunger are different. One has to do with need, and the other has to do with the bacterial flora composition in your gut. In simple terms, this means that if you eat junk food, your gut flora will start to consist of bacteria that subsist on whatever is in that food. The result, you crave that food.

Resisting cravings for junk is different to starving yourself. You need to gradually change your gut flora to crave nutritional food – by eating it mainly.

TIP: Find healthier alternatives to the junk you like. I’m not saying go from extreme to extreme overnight, but do it in steps. Have these foods on hand and ready to be eaten so you don’t stump for the fast, easy, junky option. For example, I love dipping crunchy veg in hummus. If it’s in my fridge, then I’ll just dig into that instead of letting myself dream of burgers or something.

Portion Control or Nutrient Density

Okay, what’s better: eating the same meal but making it smaller or packing a good sized meal full of nutrient dense foods?

Obviously, that’s a leading question, your honour!! Yes, but the defence may continue.

Food has one purpose: get the nutrients we need into our body. The more of these nutrients we can get into each mouthful of food, the better. And, incidentally, hunger pangs are largely the result of needing nutrients, so you can kill a few birds with one stone here.

Upping the nutrient density allows for two things:

  1. less volume has to be consumed
  2. benefits of a meal last longer

On point (1), fat is a macro nutrient that makes us feel full. If you consume a good balance of quality fats, then you are going to satiate yourself much quicker, and not have to consume more of it, some of which would otherwise be stored as body fat.

TIP: When you make a meal, think about the simple things you can do to add nutrient density. For example; I never used to like cabbage until I read somewhere that cabbage, fried off in a little coconut oil, with turmeric and black pepper is good. And it’s really good. That there is a flavour-packed addition to your plate that’s super healthy.

Man with low body fat percentage

Weight Loss does not Equal Fat Loss

You might even be dropping some pounds but not looking any better physically. This goes back to the starvation mode point. If you are losing muscle then you are bound to lose weight, but the fat might not really be going anywhere.

In fact, your body might be keeping the fat on the of chance you have gone mad and are not going to feed it properly again. The body needs fat for many functions so if it thinks you are going to deprive it for good then it’s not going to go without a fight.

Scales tell you half of the truth, and it’s often a false positive if you are losing weight but looking pretty similar. You can build some dense, toned muscle, dropped several pounds in fat, and still weight the same as before – but you would look phenomenal.

Ditch the Scales

TIP: If scales are your only motivator then try this – take a photograph of yourself every month in the same setting and stance and compare them as you go. Watch yourself improve your body composition. You’ll soon realize weight is irrelevant. Just don’t share the selfie picture on the iCloud…erk!!

Supplements should Add not Replace

Supplements are there to supplement your nutritional and active life, not to make up for something you are neglecting in either aspect.

When you are checking the nutrition and exercise boxes, a supplement can really help you achieve your goals.

TIP: I use a quality fat-burner as part of my daily routine. It helps me burn a few hundred more calories than a would without it, and it gives me a long, sustained energized feeling.

Photo of author

about the author

David Thoreau is a Biotechnologist with a background in life sciences. He has worked for many years on research projects that have helped people improve their quality of life. David has enjoyed collaborating with other scientists around the world, and he loves sharing his knowledge to help educate others about biotechnology.