Do you know what the worst part about doing a milk round as 13 year old was? It wasn’t the fact that I had to carry heavy crates miles around a hilly village. It wasn’t that when it was -7c outside that the milk froze over the bottle and I couldn’t pick it up. It wasn’t even the fact that I got paid £12.50 a week for seven and a half hours work. The real kicker was that it started at 5:30 am. You see, I’m not a man who likes to get up early in the morning.
Recently though, I stayed over in a Travelodge on the way to a nutrition conference (yeah I know that’s pretty boring, but it’s my job to geek out so you don’t have to so don’t judge me too much, I promise I’m fun in real life). I decided that seeing as I was going to be spending the entire day sitting in a chair, I should get up early to fit some training in (see, practising what I preach). Rising at an uncomfortable 5:45 am, I sloped off to the nearest PureGym. That’s when I saw it. Reams of people walking on treadmills, doing intervals on bikes, and racing the computer on the rowing machine, all before breakfast on a Saturday. As far as they were concerned, if they want to do cardio right, they’d better do it fasted.
The idea goes like this; doing cardio before eating is better for fat loss than doing cardio after eating.
It’s an idea that just kinda feels right even though it’s completely wrong. What’s more, people all seem to be doing it and saying how amazing it is, your mate even does it and he’s shredded, so… Let’s take a look at the evidence and clear this up once and for all so you can stay in bed a bit longer, or eat your breakfast without worrying about it impacting your fat loss.
Despite what some people on the internet might say, or your mate, there is only one way to lose fat and that is by consuming fewer Calories than you expend. I know it’s a minefield of conflicting info out there, but it really is that simple. Food choices, the number of meals you eat, and what condition your hormones are in all matter; they just don’t matter when it comes to actual fat loss.
What is it about doing cardio before eating that makes people think it works so much better than doing it after a meal? Usually, it just comes down to confusion about how fat storage, Calories, and energy balance work:
- After eating a meal, insulin will be secreted.
- This, amongst other things, is to help deal with the protein and glucose floating around in the bloodstream.
- During this time, the body will stop breaking down fat tissue and will store any fat you’ve eaten while it deals with more pressing matters.
- However, that doesn’t mean that the fat that has been stored is there forever.
- As soon as the body needs it, it can get that fat right back out again to use for fuel. Just like taking butter out of the fridge.
- When you consume fewer Calories than you expend, your body is forced to take more of that butter out of the fridge to meet it’s energy needs.
- The end result is fat loss, regardless of insulin, or anything to do with when you ate.
Calories in, Calories Out is the only principle in fat loss, so that means the “fasted” part of “fasted cardio” is completely irrelevant. Cardio only works because it contributes more energy out
A common objection to this fact is the idea that you’ll burn more Calories over 24 hours if you do cardio without eating due to some special effect. This, as with most things, has been tested:
- Kenshiro Shimada and his team of science boffins set out to test if 24-hour energy expenditure was different after 60 minutes of fasted or fed cardio.
- As you may have guessed, there was absolutely no difference.
In 2014, Schoenfeld et al conducted the only study to date looking at real world fat loss differences between fasted and fed cardio
- 20 healthy females were randomly assigned to a fed or fasted group.
- They were given identical diets for 4 weeks.
- Fat loss was identical regardless of when cardio was performed.
Tried fasted cardio before? If you find yourself falling into any of the camps below, it might be time to rethink your early morning endeavours.
You completely hate it
You’re hungry as fuck
You haven’t read this article yet
You actually just need to sleep
Here’s the one and only reason you should do fasted cardio
You enjoy it
Here’s the thing; as much as fasted cardio has no special benefit, there’s nothing wrong with it either. If waking up and burning some Calories in the gym before you’ve eaten makes you feel good, then there is no reason not to do it. If, however, even thinking about moving without your favourite breakfast fills you with dread, then ditch the idea right now.
Doing cardio before you have eaten has no special benefit for fat loss. If you want to burn some extra Calories, find a time that works best for you before you consider anything else.
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