Many people swear by fasted cardio. In theory, working out in a fasted state should burn more fat. With no fuel for the body to burn, it would have to turn to fat for energy. This would enhance fat loss and body composition. It makes logical sense and sounds pretty good, but does fasted cardio really work?
What is Fasted Cardio?
Fasted cardio is cardiovascular training in a fasted state; meaning the body has digested all food and either used or stored away all macronutrients from your last meal. A fasted state results in low insulin levels, and is generally around 4-8 hours after your last meal for most people, depending on your metabolism. For this reason, most people choose to perform fasted cardio after sleeping through the night, usually early in the morning.
How Fasted Cardio is Supposed to Work
In his 1999 book “Body For Life,” bodybuilder Bill Phillips discussed the idea of fasted cardio as the ultimate method for enhanced fat loss and body composition. He is generally credited with introducing the idea of fasted cardio.
With the body in a fasted state, all food has been digested and either used or stored away. The best example of this is when you wake up in the morning. Insulin levels are low, and the body is using fat as it’s primary energy source.
According to proponents of fasted cardio, exercising in a fasted state will force the body to use fat as an energy source, as no carbohydrate will be available in the bloodstream.
Benefits of Fasted Cardio
According to research, there are certain benefits to training in a fasted state. Whether it’s a good idea for you or not really depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
Improved Endurance Exercise Performance
One Study found that 6 weeks of regular cardiovascular training in a fasted state improved Metabolic Flexibility in subjects. This means that performing fasted cardio resulted in the body improving it’s ability to use fat as fuel during exercise.
The study also showed that training in a fasted state prevented a drop off in blood glucose levels during exercise. These adaptations would likely result in improved performance in endurance exercise.
Does Fasted Cardio Boost Fat Loss?
While the above study was encouraging, it’s not so clear cut.
A huge part of the fat being used as energy is coming from intramuscular fat deposits. This fat, stored within our muscle tissue, has little effect on how we look. It’s not the type of body fat most of us are trying to get rid of.
Another study from 2014 showed no difference in body composition or fat loss between a fasted cardio group and a group eating a meal before exercise.
So, do you burn more fat with fasted cardio? Maybe, but a huge percentage of it isn’t the fat you’re interested in getting rid of.
Problems With Fasted Cardio
There are several reasons why fasted cardio doesn’t work the way we’d like it to. While it seems like a logically sound method for burning extra fat, the human body is very complex. It doesn’t always work the way we’d like it to.
All 24 Hours Count, Not Just Your Workout
Even if a fasted cardio workout did burn more fat, it only represents a small portion of your day. All 24 hours count, not just the hour or two you spend in the gym.
Thermic Effect of Food and Exercise (“Afterburn”)
Taking in food before a workout has been shown to increase the Thermic effect of exercise after the workout. This means that fueling before you exercise increases the amount of calories (including fat) you’ll burn throughout the day. (Also known as the “afterburn” effect of exercise.)
Muscle Loss With Fasted Cardio
Training for one hour in a fasted state has been shown to more than double muscle loss compared to training while fueled. Approximately 10% of calorie expenditure can come from breaking down muscle protein (muscle gluconeogenesis, if you like fancy terms).
If you care at all about gaining or maintaining muscle mass, fasted cardio is a poor method, as you are literally forcing your body to burn away muscle tissue.
Exercise Intensity Suffers
Performing high intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to help you speed up fat loss when compared to steady state cardio. Studies have shown that HIIT can improve fat loss by 28% compared to steady state training.
Unfortunately, performing high intensity training in a fasted state is never going to be optimal.
With the body in a hypoglycemic state (low blood sugar), and low on fuel, exercise intensity will suffer. Part of the benefit of high intensity training is the post-exercise increase in metabolic rate, where you’ll be burning more calories all day long. You sacrifice part of this benefit when you train on empty.
Trading solid HIIT sessions for the sake of using fasted cardio just isn’t optimal. Attempting to perform high intensity workouts without fuel is a poor choice, as you’ll be stressing your body out and can impair your recovery abilities as well.
When it comes to burning fat, people have cardio tunnel vision. Cardio has become synonymous with fat burning, and many people mistakenly believe that cardio alone will get them leaner and meaner.
But if you focus only on cardio, you’re missing out on a huge piece of the puzzle.
Lift Weights to Burn More Fat!
Your muscles are the metabolic engine of your body. Metabolism takes place inside your muscle tissue. They are essentially fat burning machines.
More muscle requires more energy. Resistance training can boost your resting metabolic rate, leaving you burning more calories all day, every day.
Variety and Balance are the Best Option
Using some variety is the most effective way to burn fat and get leaner without losing muscle mass in the long run. The following would be a pretty good approach to losing fat and maintaining or gaining muscle.
1-2 HIIT workouts per week
2-4 steady state cardio sessions per week
2-3 Resistance Training sessions per week
High protein diet, cut out the sugar and limit your carbs, focus on whole foods.
Conclusion: Should You Use Fasted Cardio?
As we said earlier, it really depends on you and what your goals are.
If your goal is improved metabolic flexibility and improved endurance exercise performance, then there’s some research to back up using fasted cardio.
If you just want to lose fat or get shredded, research has pretty definitively shown that training in a fasted state does not provide any measurable benefit vs. training in a fueled state.
At the end of the day, if you feel like something is working for you, and you’re seeing results and like the way you feel, then go for it!
*Note: This article contains affiliate links. Anything purchased comes at no additional cost to you.
Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.
Weight loss and exercising more account for well over half of all new year’s resolutions each year. Here’s a few statistics for you:
About 45 million Americans go on a weight loss diet every year.
Only 5-8% actually achieve lasting weight loss
Over 30% of Americans are obese. More than half of all Americans are either “overweight” or “obese.”
The 15 mistakes listed here aren’t the same ones you’ll find in every other copy and paste article. This is a much deeper look at the problems keeping you from achieving a goal that could really change your life.
Why do so few people achieve lasting weight loss?
There are many factors that result in a failed weight loss resolution. From the obvious diet and exercise issues, to deeper psychological factors, we’ll discuss the 15 biggest mistakes to avoid if you’re trying to lose weight this year.
Recommendation: Grab a pen and paper. If any of these resonate with you, write them down. Summarize what you get out of the article, and get motivated to crush whatever weight loss goals you have this year.
1. Have a “Why” Statement.
This could easily be the best tip for achieving any goal, and none more so than losing weight.
We’re all really good at knowing what we’re doing. We also can easily explain how we’re doing it. But can you really explain why you’re doing it?
When you have a goal of losing weight, your “what” would be trying to lose weight. Your “how” might be, exercise more and eat less. But your why is a much deeper question, and requires a deeper explanation. It is the source of your motivation for wanting to lose weight.
What is your Why?
Maybe you want to feel better and have more energy for life. Maybe you want to feel sexier and more confident. Whatever your deepest reasons are for wanting to lose weight, you need to define them and put them down on paper.
The why statement should resonate with you on a deep, emotional level.
Your “why” statement should be reviewed daily to keep you focused on the reasons you’re doing what you’re doing. In the darkest moments, when you’re feeling like you want to give up, it will come to your rescue and remind you of your vision for a better version of yourself.
To Do: Write down your why statement, and put it somewhere you’ll be able to see it every day. In your wallet, on your mirror or on the bedroom wall.
2. Take Massive Action Towards Weight Loss
Most of us dabble in all sorts of things, without ever achieving mastery of any of it. The reason? We never fully commit to it. We leave room for failure, or lose focus when something else has our attention.
Taking massive action means you are 100% sure that you’ll achieve your goal, because you’re willing to do whatever it takes until you reach it. It happens when you finally decide that you cannot go on living in your current circumstances.
Understanding your “why” can spark you to take massive action. Here’s a really motivational video where Tony Robbins explains how to take massive action.
3. Don’t Keep Calories Too Low
It’s a fact that you have to have a calorie deficit to lose weight. That means you’re expending more calories than you’re consuming every day.
Many people think that by this logic, they should eat as little as possible. This is a huge mistake, and can have some very negative consequences, such as:
Loss of muscle and strength
Increase in stress hormones, causing inflammation and signalling the body to store fat.
Slower metabolism. As the body tries to conserve energy due to limited nutrition intake, it will actually fight off weight loss. This is known as Adaptive Thermogenesis (AT).
Decreased energy and impaired immune system.
A 2015 Study showed that calorie intake below 1500/day should be avoided by active people. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of consuming less than 1200 calories per day.
The bottom line is that our bodies adapt to everything that we do. The way the body adapts to an energy shortage is by slowing down, and trying to hold on to as many calories as possible.
To Do: It’s far more productive to focus more on what you’re eating. Base every meal around lean protein, and have whole, single-ingredient foods make up a big part of your diet. This alone can have a dramatic effect on your health and success in losing weight.
4. Too Much Exercise is Not Beneficial
It’s another easy trap to fall into. The more exercise we do, the more calories we burn, right?
Not so fast…
One particular study placed overweight, sedentary women into four groups: No exercise, low exercise, moderate exercise and high exercise. They then predicted how much weight they should lose over a 6 month period based on how much activity they were doing.
The graph below shows the results. While it was predicted that the high exercise group should lose the most weight, this is not what actually happened. The moderate activity group lost the most weight.
It’s important to understand that in a given day, there is only so much energy to go around. Our body cannot infinitely supply energy. When exercise levels, activity and stress go beyond a certain point, the brain will take over and begin pulling energy away from other functions.
When this happens, we end up accumulating a recovery debt. When this becomes a chronic problem, our body’s homeostasis becomes completely disrupted. Hormones go out of control, our insulin sensitivity decreases, and the body is unable to properly recover from all the demands being placed on it.
To Do: Pay attention to your body. If you’re feeling run down, perform low intensity cardio, or even go for a long walk. Recovering from the daily stress we place on our body is essential for staying healthy and for long term weight loss.
5. Eat More Protein for Faster Weight Loss
Protein is probably the single most important component of a weight loss diet. Getting at least 30% of your daily calories from protein will:
Boost your metabolism
Reduce your apetite
Improve fat burning and weight-regulating hormone levels
Studies have shown that high protein diets result in improved body composition, greater weight loss, and greater reductions in fat-mass.
Here’s a list of some of the best protein sources for a weight loss diet:
Lean meats like chicken breast and white fish
Beans: Black beans, Lima beans, Garbanzo beans (also high in fiber!)
Low-fat cottage cheese
Eggs or Egg whites
To Do: Base every meal around protein. Shoot for 25-30 grams of protein at each meal. You can also use a protein supplement. Whey protein, or if you prefer, there are vegan options such as pea protein that are high quality.
6. Alcohol Can Hurt Your Weight Loss Goals
I don’t want to be the one to ruin the party, but I have to tell you…
Weight loss can be completely derailed by having too many drinks. The main reasons why alcohol is counterproductive for weight loss are:
Alcohol contains empty calories. Zero nutritional value, but still provides energy that has to be burned off..
Alcohol will be used as energy first before fat. That means that when you drink, fat burning ceases until your body has burned the alcohol away.
Regular drinking reduces testosterone levels. Lower testosterone = less muscle. Less muscle = slower metabolism. Slower metabolism = … you get the idea.
Alcohol affects nutrient uptake in the digestive system.
Drinking makes you HUNGRY! You’ll eat more after having a few drinks. (You’ll think of me when you’re ordering Mexican food at 1:00am)
To Do: Having a few drinks once in a while isn’t likely to stop you from achieving your weight loss goals. Stay away from binge eating when you drink, and try to limit how often you consume alcohol.
7. Don’t Rely on Motivation and Willpower to Lose Weight
“Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on Discipline.”
We’ve all felt the spark of motivation. We get excited to start something, jump right into it, and soon find that our motivation has left us. Where did it go?
Motivation vs. Willpower
Motivation is our desire to do something. Willpower is our ability to get it done. The problem? Willpower is fleeting. One really interesting study terms this “Decision Fatigue.” Exercising our willpower over and over results in fatigue, until it is finally spent and we are no longer able to execute our motivations.
How to Overcome limited willpower
It’s only a matter of time before willpower will fail you. To overcome this obstacle, here are 3 things you can do:
Develop routines: From the moment we open our eyes in the morning, our day is full of decisions. Limiting how many decisions you have to make can reduce decision fatigue and prolong willpower. Have your meals planned out. Have your workouts planned ahead of time (or use a program).
Develop habits: Research has shown that over 40% of what we do every day is done on autopilot. If you eat donuts every morning, that will become a habit. Likewise, if you prepare your meals every other night, have a morning ritual of reviewing your “why” statement, and work out every day at 5:00am.. those things will also become habits that will no longer require decision-making energy.
Increase your mental toughness: Discipline is certainly one form of mental toughness. So is controlling your emotions. If you want to learn how to improve your mental resilience, check out my article on 6 Habits for Serious Mental Toughness.
Motivation and Willpower alone will never be enough to achieve long term, lasting weight loss. You’ll need to establish routines, habits and will have to have a personal why statement to remind you of what you’re trying to accomplish.
8. Don’t Get Too comfortable with your workouts.
It’s one of the three fundamental aspects of any training program:
The other two are specificity and overload. Progression means that you must continue challenging your body in order for it to improve.
If you’re doing the same exact workout without ever making it more challenging, your body will stop improving. This is because:
Over time, the body gets more and more efficient at doing whatever tasks we do all the time. More efficient means it takes less energy to do it.
The body has adapted to the activity already and no longer needs to improve to accomplish the task.
To Do: Try adding some new exercises to your routine, walk or run a little faster, or start lifting weights if you aren’t already. You have to give your body a reason why it has to make changes.
9. Don’t Rely on Weight Loss Pills to Lose Pounds
Americans spent around $2 Billion dollars last year on weight loss supplements. And that number is only going up. So, do they work?
The truth about diet and weight loss supplements
The truth is that you never really know exactly what you’re taking when you buy a supplement. Supplement companies can make all kinds of claims, and do not have to disclose exactly what’s inside the product.
The most popular fat loss supplements, like Hydroxycut, contain stimulants like caffeine that boost metabolism and speed up fat loss. While this may work, you can simply get the caffeine naturally through a cup or two of coffee, without the added mystery ingredients.
Studies show that caffeine can increase metabolism by up to 11% and boost fat burning by up to 29%. And that was on only 100mg of caffeine! The bottom line, it works, and chances are you’re already drinking a lot more than 100mg per day.
To Do: Basing your diet around protein and limiting sugary foods is a far better and more effective approach to losing weight than relying on diet pills. Use natural caffeine, which has proven health benefits, along with a solid diet strategy, to achieve lasting weight loss.
10. Lift Weights For a Toned Body
Neglecting resistance training is a huge mistake people make when they set out to lose weight. There’s an important fact you should understand about your metabolism:
Muscle is the engine driving your metabolism. More muscle = higher metabolism.
It takes energy to grow, maintain and repair muscle tissue. Resistance training can raise your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn at rest) and speed up fat loss. That means you’ll burn more calories, even when you’re at home watching netflix.
Studies show that a combination of cardio and resistance training gets the best results for weight and fat loss. If you’re not lifting, consider implementing some resistance training into your routine. You’ll get stronger, lose more fat, and look better.
11. Ignore fancy Marketing Labels When Making Food Choices.
It’s a hugely successful ploy by food companies. Slap a label like “low fat” or “all natural” on a product, and people will assume it’s healthy.
Unfortunately, the “no fat” healthy fruit drink has 60 grams of sugar in it. The “all natural ingredients” cupcake has 20 grams of unhealthy fat.
Read the nutrition label
Instead of being lured in by fancy marketing, turn the product around and read the label in the back. Look for how much sugar it has, how much fat it has and how much protein it has. Stay away from high sugar foods at all costs.
The best approach is to have whole, single-ingredient foods make up as large a percentage of your diet as possible. This way you know what you’re eating, you know it probably has a lot of nutritional value, the fats are much healthier, and it’s going to be a lot better for your weight loss goals than any processed food could possibly be.
12. Most People Overestimate How Many Calories They Burn
A 2015 study showed that people tend to overestimate how many calories they burn while exercising by 3-4 times what they actually expended.
To make things worse… the study found that when people were asked to compensate for how much energy they expended in their workout by eating, they ate 2-3 times more calories than they actually burned in the workout.
This is a common mistake people make when trying to lose weight. We exercise and mistakenly believe we burned 700-800 calories, when in reality we actually only burned around 200-300. We then allow ourselves to eat a big meal to compensate for the exercise we just did, believing the workout will negate the food.
To Do: Pay attention to how many calories you’re eating, and don’t overestimate how many calories you burn, because you probably burned less than you think. An hour of jogging will burn less than 400 calories. Don’t be discouraged by this. Add resistance training to your workouts, and mix up the type of cardio you’re doing. Along with healthy eating, long term results will be all but guaranteed!
13. Have a Vision
Along with having a “why” statement, having a clear vision of the end result is critical to achieving your weight loss goal.
Beginning with the end in mind is one of the 7 habits outlined in Stephen Covey’s bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” It means beginning each day with a clear vision for what you want to accomplish.
Having a vision of exactly what you want to look like when your weight loss goal is achieved can keep you motivated to make the right choices throughout the day. Seeing that vision in our mind can give us clarity in making decisions every day that we know will lead us toward our ideal vision.
To Do: Take 5 minutes and visualize looking in the mirror at yourself, seeing what you look like and imagining how you feel with your goal achieved. Be as vivid as possible. Do this every day for 5 minutes.
14. Stay Away From High-Glycemic Carbs and Sugar Drinks
If there’s one thing that has contributed the most to our obesity problems, it has to be sugar.
High glycemic foods like white bread, donuts, soda and cake are cheap and taste amazing. Eating these foods causes a huge release of dopamine in the brain, which causes us to feel good and want more. This essentially becomes an addiction.
What happens when you eat high-sugar foods?
Eating high-glycemic foods causes a massive spike in insulin, which is an energy-storage hormone. This causes that huge dose of sugar to be converted into glucose and then into fat, which then gets shuttled into cells for storage.
Repeat this process over and over for years, and you can see how easy it is to gain weight over time. We have a sugar epidemic, and if your goal is weight loss, you NEED to leave the sugar fix behind.
Here are a few ways you can cut back on the sugar:
Stop drinking sugar drinks like soda, gatorade and fruit juice.
Eat low-glycemic fruit, like watermelon, to help curb the cravings.
Drink more water, or zero calorie flavored water.
15. Sleep is Crucial For Burning Fat
Studies have clearly shown a link between poor sleeping habits and obesity.
A 2010 study found that when a group of dieters were sleep deprived (5.5 hours/night), they lost significantly more muscle mass and less fat mass than when they slept for 8.5 hours per night. When sleep deprived, the subjects also expressed that they were much hungrier.
When we sleep, our body is active. Repairing tissues, regulating hormones and preparing us for the stress and activity of the upcoming day. When we don’t sleep enough, we incur a recovery debt and cause our body to be in a sympathetic stress-state. The result is a cascade of catabolic hormones, inflammation and poor insulin sensitivity.
Getting solid sleep is a huge part of being healthy, and is critical to any weight loss goal. Try to develop a bedtime routine, limit screen-time before bed, and make the room cool and dark.
The statistics certainly aren’t on your side, and I hope this article helped shed some light on why so many people fail to achieve their weight loss goals. Armed with some new knowledge and tools, you can dust yourself off and get after it.
Take massive action, write your “why” statement, have a vision. Drink some coffee, lift some weights, and crush some goals!
I hope this article was helpful, and as always… I hope it somehow helped you get a little closer to that best version of YOU!
*This article contains affiliate links. Any purchases made come at no additional cost to you.
Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.
While we’re all stuck inside for the time being, many are trying to find ways to stay in shape, maintain muscle and strength or maybe even improve overall fitness.
So we have 2 choices… Wait it out and do nothing, or make the most out of it and come out even better.
Every problem carries with it an opportunity. Yes, the gyms are closed.. But sometimes taking a step back can be a good thing. You can discover new ways of training, work on some weaknesses. It’s a chance to grow.
1.) Follow Along With Great Trainers
Xplicit Fitness Quarantine Workout Series
It helps to know some people in the fitness industry, and I’m lucky to know these guys. Having spent some time as a trainer at Xplicit Fitness in San Diego, CA, I can tell you that these workouts are among the best you’ll find to do from home.
Here’s a full at-home, 30 minute full body workout they posted to keep their members in shape during the quarantine. Chad (the owner) makes every workout fun and he’s a great motivator.
Body Rock TV: A huge collection of at home workouts with limited equipment.
2.) Work Out Like an Inmate
I spent over 10 years working in a prison. Being a trainer, I spent a LOT of time watching how inmates in my units work out.
Use what you’ve got
With no equipment other than a pull up bar, they stay in extremely good shape. Some fill up trash bags with water to use as resistance. Others filled pillowcases with books or soda bottles.
The point is, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Here’s one example I saw a lot:
Perform one set (4 push ups) of the push up variation below, get up to your feet and jog in place. Jog in place only as long as you need to perform another set. Repeat this for a set period of time. For example, 20 minutes (inmates would do it for 1-2 hours)
Keep it Simple
With no equipment, inmates are forced to keep it simple. You can add pull ups and/or some body weight squats and lunges into the mix and get a great full body workout.
Looking for help with push ups or pull ups? Check these two articles out:
Tabata workouts are 2 things: Really short, and really hard.
They’re also really simple. To perform a Tabata workout, just follow these guidelines:
Choose an exercise, preferable a compound movement like a squat, squat jump, push up, or even jump rope.
Do as many reps as you can in 20 seconds, then rest 10 seconds
Repeat 8 times, for 4 total minutes = 1 Tabata
Perform one, or several Tabatas to make up your workout
Studies Show Tabata Workouts Work
A Study by ACE showed that a 20 minute tabata workout could burn 240-360 calories, and met the criteria to improve cardiovascular fitness and improve body composition.
Since Tabata workouts are high intensity, It is recommended to perform them 1-2 times per week, allowing your body 2-3 days of rest in between sessions.
If you’re looking for home workout ideas, try this out:
5.). Run Sprints
It always amazes me that more people aren’t out there running sprints. The benefits of sprinting are tremendous:
Build Lean Muscle (look at any Olympic sprinter, male or female)
Improve cardiovascular fitness
Improve body composition (burn fat)
Can be done quickly, and from almost anywhere
Studies show that just 6 sprint sessions can improve performance in athletes. This is because maximum effort sprinting is a very high intensity effort. It pushes your heart rate up to the upper zones, and forces your fast twitch muscle fibers to their limit.
Sprinting can raise your resting metabolic rate, causing your body to burn more calories for several hours or even days after your workout.
How to Work out with Sprints:
To get the most out of a sprinting workout, use interval sprints. This means you’ll sprint as hard as you can for a set distance (or time), then walk slowly the same distance (or time) to recover. Then repeat.
My favorite Sprint workouts are 400 meter (1/4 mile) sprints, but 200 meter sprints can also work really well.
30/60’s and 60/120’s
Another Sprinting workout that works really well are 30/60’s and 60/120’s. We used these in the military a lot. You simply sprint for 30 seconds, then walk for 60 seconds, and repeat. If that’s too easy, then up the time to 60 seconds sprinting and 120 seconds walking.
Since sprinting is very demanding on the body, it is recommended to only do 1-2 sprint sessions per week, so your body can recover properly and you can get the most benefit from your hard work.
Relying on the gym can cause you to miss out on a lot of activities that can improve your overall fitness. It’s always good to take a step back and find new ways of pushing your body.
I hope you found some of these ideas helpful, and as always, I hope something here will help you get a little closer to that best version of you!