Why You Need to Workout Fasted

Have you ever considered fasted workouts? Either going straight from a good night’s sleep into a workout, or Fasting until your workout time and eating post? How about if I told you that doing so would burn additional fat? Let me tell you all about the advantages you can get by exercising on an empty stomach after you rise. Basically, scientific studies seem to show that fasted cardio and sometimes fasted exercise help eliminate extra fat.

There is a belief that if you work out without eating, the intensity level of your exercise is less than normal and therefore you are likely to burn less fat. Another school of thought holds that exercising on an empty stomach may actually cause you to lose muscle mass. So, who is right?


The Benefits of Fasted Workouts

Why do we do cardio work in the morning? Because our bodies have lowered glycogen or carbohydrate levels, and therefore we burn fat quicker. It’s the same reason that workout experts say that you don’t burn any fat until you’re at least twenty minutes into your cardio routine  – your system needs to deal with the excess glycogen first. So, it only makes sense that if you eat a meal before a workout, you will need to exercise longer to eliminate the same amount of fat, because your system will be saturated with glycogen.

This hold true for all workouts, by the way, not just morning cardio. If you go from 3 to 4 hours between meals, and do your cardio or lift weights after fasting, the same advantage applies because the glycogen levels are already low. Theoretically, working out just after rising from your nightly sleep will give you the most advantage, because your body has used its reserves of glycogen while you slept.


Drawbacks of Fasted Workouts

It’s important to bear in mind that no rule is always perfectly applicable in all instances. There are still questions about the effectiveness of fasted cardio in some people’s minds. There are those who think that it makes no difference whether you burn fat or glycogen, because it’s all calories. They say the essence of losing weight remains the same at all times, however; you need to burn up more energy (or calories) than you take in, so fasted cardio workouts are not really going to give you different results than any other fitness regime. Some claim that glycogen levels do not appreciably reduce during sleep, because the body is at rest and not actively using energy.

There are some people, too, who are simply not able to effectively work out as soon as they rise in the morning. Motivational issues sometimes prevent people from participating in a fasted morning cardio as well; for instance immediately following the birth of my first baby, my body was so tired first thing in the morning that I did not do any morning cardio for a long time. Even today, I don’t do weights when I first rise, because I struggle to get the time to warm up before starting.

I am back in a morning cardio routine now, however, because I warm up by taking my dog for a walk first! One proviso needs to be observed, though – fasted cardio might not be ideal for those looking to build muscle instead of losing weight; you need the fuel for that.

Myths about Fasted Workouts

I need to address some of the misconceptions about fasted workouts. Don’t believe you won’t be able to manage an intense workout just because you haven’t eaten. An intense workout is vital because it helps you achieve EPOC and allows your body to keep burning calories after you’ve finished the session. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) really helps with this facet of exercise. Personally, I have found I run just as fast as I do when I’m fasted as I do after I’ve finished my evening meal. My level of exercise intensity never changes, even during those times when I am engaged in an intermittent fast. In fact, it’s possible that if you work out in fasted state your exercise will naturally be more intense because your body is in ‘emergency mode’ and assumes you need the extra energy to achieve the same tasks.

The second myth is that fasted workouts will actually cause you to lose muscle mass. In my experience this is totally untrue and based on false assumptions. Some people feed their bodies more carbs and more protein to provide the necessary building blocks for muscle development.

For these people, a fasted workout is a change to the process, and eliminating the extra fuel changes the way their body converts it to muscle. But if you eat properly nutritious meals in adequate portions throughout the day, and continue to increase the weights you lift during your workout, you will not shed muscle mass by working out fasted. Occasionally, some people might find that they are unable to reduce weight, or are unable to achieve lifts as heavy, or heavier, than before; they may be losing muscle mass but it’s more than likely due to shedding pounds to quickly and weakening the core, not because they have worked out in a fasted state.


Fasted Workouts

In my opinion, there is room for more study to be done into the benefits of fasted cardio or fasted workouts, but even so you can do no harm by exercising on an empty stomach. You too might find that it actually speeds up the rate your body burns off stored fat, and if it doesn’t you are certainly not going to use up any less calories than you would by working out at any other time. You will still be able to maintain the same intensity, and you will still be able to maintain or increase your muscle mass. I’ve never looked back since I started doing cardio on an empty stomach!


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