The questions of whether or not you should eat before a morning cardio session is heavily debated across the international fitness community. From fat loss to muscle development and even improved endurance, the seemingly positive results of fasted cardio are the reason it’s often recommended by trainers and fitness enthusiasts alike. Although cardio has shown to be beneficial in burning fat, there is a fair amount of confusion about, fasted cardio, what it is and how you can use it to your benefit.
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How can this work for you?
Firstly, the amount of fat breakdown that occurs following a cardio-based workout will be the result of the type of cardio done. Countless studies have shown HIIT training and circuit training cardio is the most effective way to burn fat and increase your metabolic rate. So if you’re spending hours on the treadmill, neither non-fasted or fasted cardio will have any effect on your fat-loss journey.
Secondly, there is a lot of confusion around what fasted cardio actually is…
Most people think fasted cardio is exercise on an empty stomach, more often than not, the first thing in the morning.
But not all cardio on an empty stomach qualifies as fasted cardio…
Being in a fasted state means your body’s insulin levels are at their baseline minimum, and it is no longer in an absorptive state having completely finished digesting the last meal you consumed.
But, just because you feel empty doesn’t mean you’re in a fasted state – it usually takes between 14-18 hours, depending on your metabolism and body type, to enter the fasted state which is when working out might have some possible benefits.
The truth about fasted cardio: for fat loss
In 2014, a study was released from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looking at the body composition changes in fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise, and the results were very interesting.
It’s been hypothesised that working out on an empty stomach accelerates fat loss. In this study, 20 healthy young women were broken up and assigned one of two workout options: fasted and non-fasted cardio. Three days a week these women performed 1 hour of steady state aerobic exercises, with the only difference being one group was given a meal replacement shake beforehand and the other afterward.
Both groups showed significant weight loss in both overall mass and fat percentage, but there “were no significant between-group differences”.
What does this mean?
If you’re looking to lose weight, fasted cardio is neither necessary or proven in many circumstances to have any greater benefit on your fat loss journey than non-fasted cardio.
The truth about fasted cardio: for muscle retention
After months, or sometimes years of growing muscle, people often avoid cardio in order to retain as much muscle as possible. On the other hand, some believe fasted cardio can deliver a lean physique to accompany their muscles quickly and effectively. But it turns out, fasted cardio does some interesting things to your muscles…
When your body is in a calorie deficit, as is the result of most cardio sessions, there are a few things that happen: firstly your body uses the readily available energy such as food you’ve consumed or recent fat you’ve stored to replenish and re-energise your body (good!); if neither of these is enough, your body starts to break down muscle (bad!). In a recent study, an experiment testing the level of muscle breakdown in six healthy young men showed that when in a fasted state, the occurrence of this process was substantially higher compared to the non-fasting group. For muscle retention this is less than ideal not to mention far from what your body would rather as an energy source.
So what’s the verdict?
If you’re a morning person, but feel uncomfortable working out on a full stomach, by all means, run away! But, if you’re looking to increase your lean muscle mass and decrease your fat percentage, you don’t need to starve yourself in the morning to see a result.
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