Working out on an empty stomach seems like a great idea in theory. I mean, why not immediately burn off extra fat instead of running off the last meal you ate? If you think this seems like a no-brainer, though, think again.
In reality, exercising on an empty stomach isn’t as great as it seems. Yes, you do burn faster, but your body also compensates for that in other ways.
It might seem like there are perks to exercising on an empty stomach, like burning more fat per workout, but the downsides greatly outweigh the benefits. Here’s why you’re probably better off fueling up before you go for a run or crank out some super sets at the gym.
For starters, your body isn’t a fan of being starved, and it likes having fat stores. When you burn fat rapidly, your body begins to adjust your metabolism to compensate for that loss. Basically, it goes into a kind of survival mode and starts to burn fewer calories, says Pritchett.
By burning so much fat, your body thinks it needs to store more of it when eating your next meal, completely counteracting those fat burning benefits. Eating before a workout doesn’t have to be all bad! Make sure you’re getting the right foods and then you’ll really be able to make the most of the exercise you put in.
It’s a debate, Is it better or worse to work out on an empty stomach? Wars have been waged and nations have fallen (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration) during the eternal battle of fed versus fasted exercise, but it’s time for this madness to end. We have the final answer.
The fasted state produces two significant effects:
- Improved insulin sensitivity. Put very simply, the body releases insulin(a hormone) when we eat to help us absorb the nutrients from our food. The hormone then takes the sugar out of our bloodstream and directs them to the liver, muscles, and fat cells to be used as energy later on. The trouble is that eating too much and too often can make us more resistant to insulin’s effects, and while poor insulin sensitivity ups the risk of heart disease and cancer, it also makes it harder to lose body fat. Eating less frequently (i.e. fasting more regularly) is one way to help remedy the issue, because it results in the body releasing insulin less often, so we become more sensitive to it—and that makes it easier to lose fat, improves blood flow to muscles, and even curbs the impact of an unhealthy diet .
- The second reason a good old-fashioned fast can promote muscle gain and fat loss come down to growth hormone, a magical liquid of a hormone that helps the body make new muscle tissue, burn fat, and improve bone quality, physical function, and longevity.
So You Want to Fast Before Exercise? Your Action Plan
We know what you’re thinking. “I can’t handle intense exercise without food in my belly!” Firstly, give yourself a little credit! You’re capable of more than you think with the right frame of mind. Secondly, there are several tips you can follow to help you out with this new approach to eating:
You can consume more than just water. Feel free to quell cravings and get an energy boost with black coffee, plain tea, caffeine pills, branched-chain amino acids, creatine, or any kind of drink or supplement that’s virtually calorie-free. According to the leading experts on t subject, Brad pilon and Martin Berkhan, even Diet Coke or sugar-free gum won’t break the fast.
Break your fast whenever you’d like. A lot of people like their first meal right after exercising since the fast improves the absorption of the post-workout meal, but it’s actually no big deal if the fast lasts for a while longer. Even if you exercise in the morning and don’t eat until the evening, the wave of growth hormone you’ll be riding all day should prevent any muscle loss. However you decide to approach this, your body’s got you covered.