Should I Workout on an Empty Stomach?

to eat or not to eatShould I workout on an empty stomach?

Will exercising on an empty stomach burn more fat?  These questions have been the subject of much debate in the fitness world.  Some suggest that exercising on an empty stomach is more effective for weight loss forcing the body to burn fat stores for fuel.  While the other side claims that exercising in a fasted state results in poor and less effective workouts.

So who’s right and who’s wrong?

Well, you can go to google and find several articles with medical studies that have been published to support both sides.  Ok, now how are you supposed to know what to do?  The reality is, every body is different and there are so many factors that come into play.  I will do my best to break it down for you and then encourage you to do what works for you, your fitness schedule and your goals.  I have to admit, I am a little biased because I do fuel before a workout, more on that later.

Our bodies utilize two fuel sources—carbs & fats—to generate energy for muscle contraction during exercise. For endurance exercise performed at a moderate intensity, you obtain the majority of your energy needs from glycogen (which is stored energy from carbs) and the rest from fat.  It is important to understand in order for your body to have the ability to convert fat to an energy source it needs glycogen to convert it. When exercising, burning fat is like burning a large oak log, it burns slow; where glycogen burns like kindling, it burns fast and you need lots of it.  One can conclude that you will always need glycogen as a fuel source.

When you deplete glycogen stores by fasting overnight, or going several hours without refueling, fatty acids break down in the mitochondria to be used as a secondary energy source.  Therefore you might burn slightly more fat during your exercise on an empty stomach but there is no sustainability.  Your overall workout will suffer because you are trying to workout in a depleted state.  Without fuel to aid the workout, exercise intensity and overall calorie burn will be reduced.

Have you ever bonked during a workout?  Are you wondering what a bonk is?  A bonk is when you have depleted all your glycogen stores and have nothing left to give, you’ve “hit the wall”.  This is not a fun feeling and will leave you defeated.  Your workout is compromised and less effective.  On the other hand people that fuel properly, 60-90 minutes, before exercising have more efficient workouts and a higher caloric burn.  As you burn more carbohydrates during your workout, the body will burn more fat post exercise, the “after-burn effect”, where your metabolism is elevated for several hours following your workout.  This is critical when debating the benefits of fasted cardio. While you may burn more fat during your workout on an empty stomach, your overall workout output will be lower.

Research facilities continue to test both methods and there will always be new studies to examine.  While trying to decipher what to do, understand this, energy and sustainability is better than a compromised workout.  In order to reach optimal performance and results do not workout on an empty stomach, otherwise your workout will suffer.  Get up a little earlier and eat a piece of fruit, toast with peanut butter, a handful of trail mix, anything small and easily digested, your brain and body will thank you.

powergelNow, why am I biased?  I fuel before my workouts because I have tried both ways and my body functions best when I have fed it a little something.  I do not do well working out on an empty stomach, I feel very light headed and low energy.  Most of my workouts are predominately early morning, therefore I have to get up about an hour earlier to allow my body to wake up and digest the little bit of something I put in there.  Usually it is a piece of whole grain toast spread with peanut butter, sometimes a banana, an energy bar, or a 2 of my homemade pancakes.  If I am doing an intense workout, like mile repeats, then it is a PowerBar gel, which is like injecting sugar into my blood stream, minimal digestion is necessary.  Try a few different things and see what your body can tolerate.  Most important thing to remember is just get out there, be active and do something.  “Some Beats None”.

Happy training.

About sherianne

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is SheriAnne Nelson and I am happily married to my husband Mike. I’m a mother of three beautiful children ages 9, almost 6, and 3, am a passionate fitness professional, and a Star Diamond Level fitness coach within the Team Beachbody program in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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