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What you eat can either add to or take away from your workouts, and if you’re taking the time to train, you might as well see results, right?
Enter: “Fasted workouts”—the new “black” in the realm of fitness.
To eat or not eat before a morning workout?
A small snack? Breakfast? Nothing at all?
That IS the question.
Chances are, you’ve probably heard or read claims like: “Do morning cardio fasted,” or “Intermittent fasting burns more fat.”
The problem with many health claims is that we hear them, but never fully understand why we should follow them.
So…You’ve heard you “should fast to burn more fat”…BUT if I was to ask you, “Why is that?”…
Soooo…True or False? : “Fasted workouts help you burn fat.”
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Get the dirt…
Claim: Fasting burns fat since the body releases insulin (“the fat storage hormone”) less often. (And insulin is a “bad thing”).
Truth: True, when we aren’t eating frequently, less insulin is released. However, insulin is not always the bad guy (that many fitness blogs make it out to be). In fact, you actually need insulin to build lean muscle tissue and tone, plus deliver energy to your cells to keep going and going and going in the gym. Bottom line: Food and insulin are not necessarily the “bad guys” or enemies.
Claim: Fast before a workout to see quicker results.
Truth: If you’re not fueling your body throughout the day and eating enough calories in a full 24-hour period, then fasting before your workouts will only further slow your results. A trap MANY folks fall into with the idea of “fasted cardio” or “fasted workouts”—is “fasting” or under-eating throughout the day outside of their workouts too. Your body does NOT see exercise or pre/post-workout nutrition like you do—on a fixed 1-2 hour clock. Instead, it sees what you do consistently, as a whole, on a 24/7 time span. If you plan to “fast” before your workout in the morning, did you eat enough throughout the day yesterday, or a bigger dinner the night before? Outside of your small workout time frame, are you fueling up properly with plenty of real-food. recovery nutrition—and balance (carbs, fats, proteins)? If not, your body goes into “stressed-out” mode=no (or slow) results.
Claim: Studies show that fasting before a workout burns more fat.
Truth: Most studies these claims are built upon involve one species: Men. Researchers of the University of Surrey wanted to change that: Recruiting 30 men and women to take part in a look at the difference in pre- and post-workout nutrition on their “fat burn.”
Participants consumed a drink — either a caloric carbohydrate beverage or a zero-calorie placebo beverage — before and after class.
Women burned more fat overall than men, but the women who consumed the carbohydrate drink prior to exercise burned up to 22 percent more fat. Among men, however, those who consumed the carbohydrate drink after exercise burned up to 8 percent more fat.
In other words: Women’s bodies responded more favorably to having some fuel in the tank.
Claim: Fast before a workout, so you can eat whatever in your post-workout meal.
Truth: Fasting may set you up for an unhealthy view of food. You resist eating before a workout so you can “earn your food”: justifying the pancakes, the extra large sweet potato, butter in your cooking pan, a sushi roll, or anything else you want later that day. This extreme-mode thinking of (“fasting” vs. “eating whatever you want” or “allowing yourself to eat”), can also set you up for a perpetual diet-mentality cycle (the one you can’t seem to shake). You fast or deny yourself food, only to obsess over what your post-workout meal will be, count calories or macros throughout the day, binge, purge, over-eat, come to believe food will make you gain weight, and a slew of other unhealthy relationships with food.
Claim: Fasting promotes muscle gain.
Truth: Eating enough promotes lean mean muscle gain. No, not talking “bulking” here. The tone? Popping shoulders? Glutes? Abs, that you want to see? Muscles don’t come from not eating. Again, eating enough throughout the day is where the rubber meets the road here, and if you do workout on an empty stomach, ensuring that the meals throughout the rest of your day are meeting your daily energy requirements.
Claim: Burning fat is all about what you eat (or don’t eat).
Truth: Burning fat (and your metabolism, hormone balance, thyroid function, etc.) is all about what you digest (or don’t digest). The gut is the gateway to your health. If your digestion is awry (i.e. bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, IBS, parasites, low stomach acids, low enzyme production, etc.) then all the “work” you do for your metabolism or fat loss or overall health will yield little results because a disrupted gut microbiome=increased stress and poor nutritional uptake and metabolism throughout your bod. While some people do use fasting responsibly to support their digestion, if fasting and not eating enough throughout the day, or fasting and overeating later, are consistent habits, then we actually suppress stomach acid production and further stress our digestive systems to work hard when food is present.
Claim: Fasting means eating nothing.
Truth: Not necessarily. Of course, drinking water is always recommended, but some other options for “fasted” training could include: bone broth, branch-chain-amino-acids, bullet proof coffee or a scoop of protein powder in water. A little something something on the stomach and energy system.
Claim: Fast before any type of workout.
Truth: If your workout is longer than about 60-90 minutes, a fast is probably not your best bet to keep going strong—unless you are eating a super high fat diet (and have energy stores for days!). Just like a long road trip would require you to pull over for gas every once and a while, a longer workout won’t go far without fuel in the tank.
Claim: So what you’re really saying is “fasting is bad?”
Truth: It’s all about finding what works for YOUR body. For some, a HIIT style workout at 6 a.m. does not feel great with eggs in the belly. For others, breakfast is a must before setting foot in the gym. Instead of listening to dogmas of what you should and shouldn’t do…Find what works for you. And if you find yourself obsessing over food, not seeing the results you want to see, holding on to unhealthy weight or body fat, or with a slow metabolism, perhaps the whole “fasted workout” thing is not your thing (or you’re not eating enough throughout the day).
To fast or not to fast before a morning workout?
The bigger question is what are you doing the other 22-23 hours in the day outside of your workout?
Fasting of any sort will yield little (if any) results if you aren’t eating enough because “eating enough (energy)” and optimal digestion of your food is where “boosting your metabolism” and “fat loss” is won.
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