Researchers from the Department of Exercise Science and Sports Studies at Springfield College, Springfield, MA, USA, have now found that apart from the type of exercise you chose to perform, the nutrition, especially in the hours before working out, determines whether you will predominantly burn fat or carbs to sustain the workout.
In their study (Gregory. 2011), Gregory et al. compared the metabolic responses of a group of 8 "active, pre-menopausal" women to a 30 minute exercise regimen performed after either a low carbohydrate (LC: 392 kcal @ 15% carbohydrate, 68% fat, and 18% protein) or a low fat (LF: 396 kcal @ 78% carbohydrate, 7% fat, and 15% protein) meal. Respiratory gas exchange (RER), blood glucose (G), insulin (IN), triglycerides (TG), and free fatty acids (FFA) were measured. While "no significant differences existed between test meals for fasting blood measurements", the post-exercise results showed significant differences:
Postexercise (PE) FFA (mEq·L-1) levels were significantly greater following LC [1.1 (0.3) vs. 0.5 (0.3)]. PE TG (mg·dL-1) levels were significantly greater following LC [152.0 (53.1) vs. 114.4 (40.9)]. RER was significantly lower at all time points following LC compared to LF.With the respiratory gas exchange being a measure of the relative contribution of fatty acids to fulfill the exercise-induced energy demand (Chessex. 1995), the researchers rightly conclude "ingestion of a single LC meal resulted in greater lipid oxidation at rest and during exercise as compared to a single LF meal." But, let's be honest - did you expect anything else?