We’re all looking to maximise our efforts in the gym. If we’re going to put the time in and do the work, we want it to go as far as it can. If weight loss is the goal, this becomes even more true. It’s a long journey, and we want to make sure that we’re taking all the right steps to get to where we want to be.

It’s when we’re in this mindset, we look for any information that can help us. Tips. Hacks. Tricks. The internet is full of people claiming that their fitness or weight loss approach will override all science and get you to where you want to be in the shortest amount of time. The internet is also full of really valuable and helpful information regarding exercising, fat loss, and everything in between. It’s hard to figure out the helpful stuff from the not so.

A topic that keeps coming up is whether or not you should exercise on an empty stomach. There’s even a term for it. Fasted training. So, what is it, and should we all be doing it?

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What is fasted exercise?


It sounds like a super technical term, but it really just means going to the gym when you haven’t eaten anything in advance.

Fasting is a whole health topic in itself. And far before its connection to weight loss, it was, and still is, a religious practice. Fasting is the approach of not eating for prolonged windows of time. Some people do it for 12 hours, others 26, and sometimes longer. This usually takes place overnight, making up the majority of the fasting period. For example, someone who follows a 16-hour fast approach to eating would have their last meal at 6pm and then not eat until 12pm the next day.

Fasted exercise involves doing a workout in a fasted state. A fed state lasts for about 4-6 hours. So fasted training would mean working out without having eaten for around 6 hours. For most people, this means going to the gym first thing in the morning before eating breakfast.



What are the benefits of fasted training?


The reasons or benefits of training on an empty stomach might not align with what we think they are.

The main benefit of exercising on an empty stomach is that it allows you to go to the gym first thing in the morning. If your lifestyle is a busy one, then being able to hop out of bed and do your workout before breakfast may be the easiest way to fit everything in. Doing exercise in the morning can also help to energise you both physically and mentally for the day.

Another perk of this method is that getting up and going to the gym rather than going straight to the fridge will push back your eating window further into the day. If weight loss is your goal, this might be a handy tactic to eating a little less over your day. It’s easy to get into a routine of having breakfast and lunch within only a few hours of each other without necessarily needing to. Breaking this cycle allows our bodies to think for themselves and let us know when we really do need something to eat or when it’s just a force of habit.



What are the myths surrounding fasted exercise?


There’s a lot of science and research surrounding exercising on an empty stomach. Unfortunately, the takeaways are a little bit blurry and often misunderstood. The biggest question mark is around the claim that when you work out without eating first, you’ll burn fat at a better rate.

This is based on the science that your glycogen stores are closer to empty when you’re in a fasted state. This is where your body stores readily available energy to be used. If these are in short supply, then your body will turn to its fat stores for energy instead. And this science is accurate.

However, your body turning to its fat stores for energy during your morning workout isn’t the key to weight loss. If your calorie intake across the day is the exact same regardless of whether you train before or after a meal, the amount of energy you burn and the size of your calorie deficit will be exactly the same. It’s just a timing thing.

Across the entire day, your body is storing and burning fat. If you wake up and go straight to work, your body will start oxidising stored fat for energy. Then you eat breakfast, and your body stops doing this and uses the calories from your porridge for energy. After a while, it starts oxidising stored fat again until you have a snack. Then temporarily stops again. This carries on throughout the day in the same fashion. So, where you place your workout amongst all that won’t change that process.

The question is really: when total calorie intake and exercise intensity is the exact same, is exercising fasted more efficient at using energy than exercising non-fasted? The answer: probably not. The most recent research was unable to find that training in a fasted state increased the efficiency of fat oxidisation when all other variables were controlled.



So, should I workout without having something to eat first?


The answer to this question is all in personal preference. Some people find that getting up out of bed and doing their daily workout before breakfast is the best way to keep motivated and fit it all in.

Others prefer to train a little bit later in the day and have a meal beforehand to make sure they’re adequately fuelled and feeling strong for their session.

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