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Photo by Mariah Wilson

Try working out on an empty stomach

By Christie Melhorn, May 24th, 2017 —

Properly fueling your body for a workout is critical in maintaining a healthy balance of diet and exercise. However, there are many theories about when you should fuel to maximize results. Fitness enthusiasts who promote fasted cardio — or, cardio on an empty stomach — argue it is one of the most effective ways to get a lean figure. This week, I abandoned breakfast to give it a go.

Fasted cardio is often thought of as going on a run first thing in the morning, before eating anything — kind of like when you wake up late for an 8 a.m. class and need to book it to campus. However, the body generally enters a fasted state between eight and 12 hours after eating. This means you can exercise fasted at any time of the day. But since getting through your day on an empty stomach can be uncomfortable and unrealistic, most opt to do fasted cardio in the morning.

Fasted cardio isn’t just running either. While running can be an excellent and cathartic form of exercise, it is not your only option. For some, running is torture. Rowing, biking, stair-climbing and cycling are a few alternative forms of cardio. Doing what you enjoy is key to getting the most out of your workout and staying motivated.

Despite the fact that breakfast motivates me to get out of bed, fasted runs worked well for me. I genuinely enjoy running and my stomach sometimes takes extra time to wake up. Even if I was feeling some rumbling, it would usually subside as I got into the rhythm of my run.

Osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola explains the importance of listening to your body when exercising, especially when fasted. If you wake up hungry, working out immediately isn’t a good idea. And if your blood sugar levels fall too low, you could enter a hypoglycemic state and risk fainting and injury, which will only hinder your fitness goals.

Personal trainer and bodybuilding.com writer Shannon Clark recommends keeping fasted cardio at low-to-moderate intensity levels. Grueling high-intensity sessions on an empty stomach will not only be difficult but could result in muscle loss. Try staying within 40–70 per cent of your maximum heart rate for 30–45 minutes. This will encourage your body to rely on stubborn fat stores rather than carbohydrates to fuel your workout and prevent losing muscle.

Admittedly, my fasted cardio experiment did not result in any noticeable outward changes. This is likely due to the fact that I am a conditioned runner and a week rarely produces visible results. However, I felt a sense of accomplishment and found that I ate my post-workout breakfast more mindfully. Working out early always gives me an energy boost, keeping me productive and engaged throughout the day.

Whether you want to trim fat or just try a new routine, give fasted cardio a try. Switching things up challenges your body and can teach you more about yourself. You may find that working out fasted is a miserable experience or that it ignites your metabolism and makes breakfast go down a little easier. Just remember to listen to your body and slow down if needed.

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