With each new year, we hear about a new strategy that has been created to shed unwanted fat.
Over the past year, it seems fasted cardio is the new thing. Many people rave about it on the internet and I get a ton of questions about it in class. So, I decided to dive into the subject to see if it's a good fit for me and we'll see if it's a good fit for you.
What is Fasted Cardio?
Essentially fasted cardio is completing a workout with very little to nothing in your stomach. This started to gain more attention because many people have found intermittent fasting to be helpful. As a result of the long fasts people have pursued, some found benefits in participating in workouts when in their fasted state.
This eventually evolved into people waking up after a fasted state, also known as sleep, and going straight into a workout without any type of refueling. So essentially they didn't break their fast with breakfast. (P.s. if you didn't know that's how they derived the name for breakfast....it breaks your fast.)
The benefits people were seeing as a result of this strategy were overall pretty positive. Since glycogen storages are low in the morning, the body then turns to fat oxidation for it's fuel source. We're finally targeting and banishing the fat we want to lose!
Eureka! We've found the magic bullet!
...but there's a catch.
It only works under certain conditions.
Is Fasted Cardio Right For Me?
Through the research that's been conducted, there are situations where fasted cardio can be successful for all people.
The people who found the most success with fasted cardio participated in low-intensity exercise, like a walk or very light cardio, and kept their daily caloric intake below their average caloric expenditure.
That's the catch.
The effectiveness of fasted cardio only worked when people participated in low-intensity exercises. Workouts that have very low demands on the body.
Also, if you end up eating more than you burn in the day, you've just negated any fat loss you acquired by participating in fasted cardio. What you eat and how much you eat still and will always trump when you eat.
As individuals started participating in moderate to higher intensity workouts or in general strength training, the performance and effectiveness of the workout suffered as a result of the poor or inefficient energy source. In fact, due to the higher demands of moderate to high-intensity workouts, fasted cardio actually produced stress on the body which we know down-regulates metabolic function and increases the amount of glucose stored in our fat cells.
What's a Better Alternative?
If you're an individual who likes your long slow walks and low-intensity cardio, that's awesome. Those workouts are a very useful exercise to incorporate into a healthy week. That's my go-to on Thursdays. On those days, keep your fasted cardio if you wish, and make sure you're focusing on whole unprocessed foods in the right amounts to fit your long-term goals.
The next steps for you could be incorporating some higher intensity and/or strength workouts. Muscle development will only occur when we put our body through this "good stress" and our body will need proper fueling to be able to handle this kind of stress. Muscle helps us burn through fat. It's the best tool we have and to utilize this tool effectively, we have to maximize our muscle development through strength training and adequate fueling.
If you're an individual who knows all too well the tremendous benefits of higher intensity workouts and strength training, the alternative is simple. Eat something. We want to maximize our performance and the benefits from our strength training and that can only happen if we fuel ourselves properly.
Grab something small and simple. If your plan is to work out within the hour, keep your calories low. The caloric target for a pre-workout snack is your weight in calories. For me, I'm about 180 lbs so I'll target about 180 calories for my pre-workout snack. The snack should be 50% carbs, 30% fat and about 20% protein. This could be sliced banana and almond butter over toast. Simple and effective.
Regardless of the category you find yourself in, the laws around fat loss are the same.
Focus on real food
Be mindful of the stress you're putting on your body
Get enough protein and non-starchy vegetables
Participate in workouts that fuel muscle and cardiovascular development
For more helpful tips on how to maximize your metabolic function, check out our other blogs and course options.