Does Studying Hurt Your Exercise Performance?

Can you actually deplete your physical energy by studying or doing other mentally challenging tasks before exercise? Get-Fit Guy has the surprising answer.

Ben Greenfield
1-minute read

Recently, I posted some nitty-gritty and occasionally downright gory photos to the Get-Fit Guy Facebook page of me completing a 3-hour treadmill run, along with blood draws, muscle and fat biopsies, carbon dioxide measurements and more. Later this year, you can expect me to reveal the full results of that study, which investigated high fat vs. low fat diets and the effects on physical performance and fat burning.

But in the meantime, you should know that before I got on that treadmill to run for 3 hours while staring a blank white wall, I went out of my way to avoid checking my email or working. Why was this?

Because it’s a known fact that you only have so much mental will-power, and studies in exercisers and athletes alike have shown that if you “pre-fatigue” your brain with mentally heavy weightlifting like studying, work, reading complex articles or emails, you actually reduce your physical capabilities!

I describe this phenomenon in detail in my article How to Fix Your Brain. The most recent study to look into this found that when subjects were given a cognitively demanding task, they had a significantly higher rating of perceived exertion on a 5K running time trial. This meant the participants felt they were working harder after doing the mental task.

So when you know you have a tough physical task ahead of you, avoid those tough mental activities like studying, and you’ll improve your physical performance.

Do you have questions whether studying hurts your exercise performance? Leave your thoughts over at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.