Should I Workout On An Empty Stomach?
Should I Workout On An Empty Stomach?
One of the most talked about topics in the health and fitness industry is whether it is better to be working out on an empty stomach, or if you should eat before a workout.
In more recent times, phrases such as ‘intermittent fasting’ and ‘fasted cardio’ are also being used a lot when discussing this topic. If you want to know more, keep reading!
What is fasted cardio?
Fasted cardio basically means doing your cardio when your body is in a fasted state. A ‘fasted state’ means doing exercise when your body is no longer processing food (which usually takes about 3-6 hours to happen). In other words, it means working out on an empty stomach.
Should you workout on an empty stomach?
I have heard many opinions on this topic, which includes the idea that you may burn more fat doing fasted cardio. Most people want to know whether to workout on an empty stomach, in the hope that it may improve their results.
As you might expect, there are pros and cons to fasted cardio, as well as eating before a workout. Ultimately, you should do what feels right for your body. Some of us can eat before a workout and feel amazing, whereas others can’t even stand the sight of food before a workout. Is there necessarily a certain way that will make you lose fat faster?
Let’s take a look at the debate a little more closely.
Potential benefits of fasted cardio
Some people are huge advocates of fasted cardio. They believe that jumping out of bed in the morning should immediately be followed by exercise, like a LISS cardio workout, before you even think about breakfast.
The idea stems from the fact that glycogen, a stored carbohydrate, is often depleted in the morning. So after a night without eating, your body could potentially burn a greater percentage of fat working out on an empty stomach as your store of carbohydrates (your body’s preferred energy source) is not easily available.
While reduced glycogen stores in a fasted state may help your body to prioritise or burn more fat, if they are completely depleted then this can potentially be bad for your body and may even use up your muscle for energy. This is something we DO NOT want, as muscle is what gives you definition, shape and tone! Usually, if you were at this stage, you wouldn’t be feeling that great either.
However, this situation would be an extreme one — most of us have a meal a few hours before getting to sleep and with the busy lives we lead, we may not always get the recommended 8 hours of shut-eye. This means that the likelihood of completely depleting your glycogen stores while sleeping is pretty slim.
Therefore, if you are working out on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, glycogen would still be in your body, allowing you to burn fat (safely) and maybe even more of it.
How does our body burn fat?
Without going into too much detail, what you need to know is that fat is stored in special tissue called adipose tissue. This is stored in various locations throughout the body. In order for fat to be burned (i.e. used for energy), it must first be freed from this adipose tissue. To do this, fats must first be converted to triglycerides and released into the bloodstream. This process is called lipolysis, which is kickstarted in the first few minutes of your workout!
Once the fatty acids (triglycerides) are in your bloodstream, they are delivered to your muscles, where they will be oxidised (burned) for energy. However, the important thing to remember is that fat is a complex structure and oxygen must be present in order for it to be broken down.
If you don’t 100% understand this process, the most important thing to remember is that lipolysis is not the step that determines your body’s fat burning ability, but how much oxygen is available to help break down that fat.
So, should you workout on an empty stomach?
It is important to understand that if you have eaten a large meal before your workout, a portion of your blood is potentially being diverted away from your working muscles to the digestive system to help process your food. As blood is your body’s oxygen delivery system, this means that there is a high likelihood that there will be less oxygen available to your muscles, which can reduce your body’s fat burning capabilities when exercising.
Alternatively, if you don’t eat before a workout, science also says that this has no significant impact or change on your body's ability to burn fat. If you are anything like me, training on an overly full stomach may leave you feeling a bit sick but doing exercise on an empty stomach isn't amazing either!
Working out on an empty stomach or after a light meal means that your body is not preoccupied with digesting huge amounts of food. Instead, it is able to deliver large amounts of oxygen to your muscles and potentially burn more fat. Also, if you're using any supplements, with less interference in your digestive process these can essentially be absorbed faster.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone should train on an empty stomach and I am also not saying that you should eat a huge meal before exercise either. One way is not significantly better or worse than the other.
Ultimately, science shows that there is no huge or significant benefit between working out on an empty stomach or choosing to eat before a workout. It is important to listen to your body and do what makes you feel comfortable.
What to eat before a workout
If you want to eat before a workout, as a suggestion I would recommend reaching for light food. The closer you are to working out, the lighter the snack should be! I don’t recommend eating large meals within an hour of working out BUT if you’re super hungry and will be exercising within an hour of eating, try one of these pre-workout snacks:
- An apple
- A few nuts
- A banana
These are good foods to eat before a workout because they are easy to digest.
If you like to train after dinner, it could be a good idea to wait a few hours after eating to allow for digestion, especially if you eat a heavy meal.
See if fasted cardio works for you
As I've said above, don't feel pressured to do fasted cardio simply because you want to speed up your results. If training on an empty stomach makes you feel ill and lacking in energy, then eat something beforehand so that you can put in more effort and go harder!
Listen to your body and do what works best for you.
Love, Kayla xx
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.