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Should I workout on an empty stomach?

Jan 15, 2014

Yesterday while out giving a demonstration and taking questions on fitness and exercise, I got one of the most common questions that I seem to always get asked: "Will working out first thing in the morning on an empty stomach help me burn fat?"

With time constraints and a complicated answer I had to give the short and to-the-point answer: "It all depends."

This isn't exactly what anyone in pursuit of fat loss wants to hear. What constitutes "it depends"? How are we supposed to know if we are the type of person that fasted fitness training will benefit?

The concept of fasted training has been around for some time now but is still a relatively new approach to fat loss. The idea behind it (in a nut shell) is if you workout while having eaten, your blood sugar (and insulin) will be higher than if you had not eaten prior to exercise. With blood sugar and insulin being higher, your body will rely on readily available carbs for energy instead of tapping into your fat stores.

There are some other things we need to consider before approaching fasted training. First, you always want to talk to your physician and probably get some blood work done to make sure your blood sugar levels are within a healthy range. One thing exercise does is lower your blood sugar, SO exercising with unregulated blood sugar can potentially be very dangerous.

Second, it takes time for a person to become more adapted to tapping into their fat stores, especially for those with metabolic conditions and the obese. You can't just jump right into training on an empty stomach with any degree of intensity without first acclimating yourself.

Third, if performance (and thus fat loss) is truly your goal, it's best to have some pre-workout carbs to fuel your workout. With carbs on hand in the blood you can get that extra boost you need to power you through your difficult workout. The harder you're able to work during your workout, the better results you'll get in the end.

Now, when I say "have some pre-workout carbs" that doesn't mean head to Cinnabon and double down prior to your workout! Have a small amount of fruit with a small amount of protein as a pre-workout snack. Something else to think about: digestion! Allow yourself enough time between snack and workout to digest your food. Digestion takes a lot of energy and can rob your working muscles of what they need to get you through your workout.

So, what's the take home message? Consult with your physician and then if you get the go-ahead, you have to become your own experiment. Try it out. If your performance lacks, that's a sign that fasted training probably isn't the best option for you.

If you have any more questions that may delve into this issue a little deeper, feel free to ask me any time!

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