You’ve probably heard this advice before (maybe even from a personal trainer or fitness expert) that exercising on an empty stomach (also often referred to as ‘fasted cardio’) is a great way to burn fat and lose weight FAST (pardon the pun). Let’s start with the rationale behind this advice. The idea is that exercising without eating anything first forces your body to tap into your fat stores for fuel.
So does it work? What does the research show?
Well, here’s where it gets confusing — there is science to support both — that it works and that it doesn’t!
For example, one 2013 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that subjects who exercised first thing in the morning on an empty stomach burned 20 percent more fat than those who had breakfast first. Another study published in 2010 in the Journal of Physiology found that sweating before eating may help prevent weight gain and maintain insulin sensitivity, especially with a fat-rich diet (subjects were all intentionally fed a high sugar and high fat diet during the study to better demonstrate the positive effects, if any, of working out without eating).
OK, so it sounds like you shouldn’t eat before a workout, right? Not exactly.
Another report published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal in 2011 found that your body burns, on average, the same amount of fat whether you eat before or after a workout. Not only that, but they also found that you are also more likely to lose more muscle and experience a drop in the intensity and overall calorie burn of your workout when exercising on an empty stomach. What’s more, another 2002 study found that women who consumed 45 grams of carbohydrates (via a carb-rich drink) prior to working out ended up eating less calories overall for the rest of the day.
Super confused as to what to do? It’s hard not to be! This is where your personal preference and body’s needs have to come into play.
If working out on an empty stomach makes you feel dizzy, nauseous and or lethargic, then forget it! If your body doesn’t like running on empty, you won’t be able to have the energy you need to perform your best during your workout. Now how is that going to help you burn more fat?
On the other hand, if you wake up early to workout and just can’t stomach anything beforehand but feel fine, energetic, etc. during your exercise session, then feel free to sweat it out without eating first.
The takeaway: Eating or not eating before a workout should be based on how you feel, your schedule, personal preferences and daily caloric needs for your goals — not on the idea that you will burn more fat by fasting.
To burn more fat during your workouts (without having to do a single burpee or push up!) be sure to check out our “Walk On: 21 Day Weight Loss Plan.” This low impact (but high results) program is a complete weight loss rotation that’s designed to maximize your energy and fat burning potential!