What is Fasted Cardio & Why It’s A Big Deal (Beginner’s Guide)

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What is Fasted Cardio

What if I told you that one of the best ways to lose fat quickly is to work out first thing in the morning prior to any food consumption?

This is referred to as fasted cardio, a popular weight-loss approach in the world of fitness.

Many support that it helps accelerate fat loss and help achieve a lean, strong body quicker than regular cardio.

Studies support the ideas that performing physical activity while fasted can result in the body burning fat as a source of energy, meaning fast weight loss.

Kind of makes sense if we think of our ancestors, right?

The norm for them was to wake up and immediately go hunt and gather their food… aka exercising to precede the initial consumption of nutrients.

Let’s take a more in-depth view of this type of training and its benefits.

First Things First: What is Fasted Cardio?

It refers to cardio done in a “fasted” state.

Many people interpret this as cardio done on an “empty stomach.” That is not the case. There is a difference between your stomach feeling empty and full versus it being fed and fasted.

When you consume food, your body breaks it down into various molecules that can be used by the cells and are released into the blood.

Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is then released, and its function is to move these molecules into other cells around the body.

Depending on the size and makeup of your meal, insulin levels can stay elevated for anywhere between 3 – 6+ hours. [1]

When exercise is being done during a period where insulin levels are higher, and there is food being absorbed and processed, this is called “fed” training.

Therefore, any exercise that is done when insulin levels are at a baseline level, and the food is no longer being absorbed; this is “fasted” training.

When your body is looking for fuel, it will burn whatever you have eaten before it will find alternate sources.

So, if you don’t have any fuel in your stomach because you’re in a fasted state, it will rely on what it has stored away as a form of energy (i.e. fat).

How Does Fasted Cardio Work?

In order for this cardio approach to be most effective, you want to make sure your body continues to burn fat without burning through carbs instead.

How Does Fasted Cardio Work

By keeping a lower intensity, such as a 30-minute walk or a slow pace Stairmaster, your body can stay within a state that it can melt away fat as a fuel source.

But slow and steady doesn’t necessarily win the race.

Low-intensity cardio will only burn fat during the workout, whereas higher intensity workouts will continue to shed fat after the session as well, the problem however is during the workout, you will burn some fat.

But you end up using stored carbohydrates as a main source of energy.

Many researchers find that incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) while in a fasted state will boost your metabolism and keeps burning fat for extended periods post-workout.

It has also shown to improve insulin sensitivity and overall cardiovascular health. [2]

However, none of this matters if your diet is not in check.

Regardless of the fact that your body is fasted or not, at the end of the day, you only lose weight as a result of a calorie (or energy) deficiency – you must burn more than you eat.

Benefits of Fasted Cardio on Those Stubborn Fat Areas

This is one of the main reasons people turn to fasted cardio.

Its ability to help blast those hard to target fat loss areas. Without getting into the crazy science behind it, the body produces chemicals referred to as catecholamines.

These chemicals break down fat cells so they can be used as energy. [3]

They travel through the blood and attach to fat cell receptors, which triggers the release of energy from within the cells.

They contain two different receptors, beta-receptors and alpha receptors. Beta speeds up the metabolizing of fat and alpha hinders it. [4]

The more alpha receptors a fat cell contains, the more resistant it is to being mobilized. Areas that can get lean quickly have beta-receptor heavy fat cells compared to those that do not.

Blood flow is another huge factor when it comes to shedding stubborn fat areas.

Less blood flow means fewer catecholamines that can reach fat cells, which means slower fat loss.

Now, when you do cardio in a fasted state it increases blood flow, particularly in the abdominal region. [5]

This means more catecholamines can travel throughout the body and aid with the mobilization of fat.

It has been found that those who participate in fasted cardio have resulted in a 28% increase of GLUT4, a glucose transponder that allows glucose to be used for energy by the muscles instead of being stored as fat.

Those who participated in fed cardio only saw a 2% increase. [6]

Guidelines to Fasted Cardio: Avoid Muscle Loss

fasted cardio muscle loss

One major question people will ask when it comes to doing cardio in a fasted state is, “how do I lose fat without losing muscle?”

The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism is.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that it’s important to make sure muscle mass stays high as fat loss is occurring.

There are some simple rules you can follow to maximize fat loss, minimize muscle loss and assure you are keeping your body healthy while making these changes.

1. Keep your calorie intake moderately aggressive

As mentioned above, the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume.

By keeping your calorie intake moderate, you can assure that your energy spent is higher than your energy taken in.

2. Follow a high-protein diet

Protein is not only the power house of muscle building, but it also helps reduce appetite, stimulates metabolism and changes weight-regulating hormones. [7]

In fact, a higher protein intake creates changes within the hypothalamus, the weight regulating area of the brain.

You can reduce hunger hormones and increase satiety hormones such as GLP-1 and peptide YY. [8] [9]

3. Don’t forget about resistance training

Resistance training will help you build and maintain muscle and strength.

Try and incorporate resistance training at least 3 – 4 times per week to see the best growth and results.

Resistance training also has a number of other benefits such as bone health, mood improvement and let’s face it, a sexy body!

4. What to eat after fasted cardio

Eat a high-protein/low-moderate carb meal post fasted training.

Your body will benefit from the consumption of a protein packed meal combined with carbohydrates 20 – 30 minutes post workout.

It is important to prevent your insulin levels from spiking, however. Spiked insulin levels results in the stopping of fat burning and the decline of growth hormones.

Some good meal options would be a protein shake with a source of Omega-3’s or grilled chicken with some vegetables.

You’re giving your muscles the protein and essential fats they need to repair and grow.

Should I Do Fasted Cardio?

So, the simple answer to this is well… yes, if you want to!

If you’re able to get up early in the morning and crank out a cardio session before mowing down on some egg whites and veggies, it won’t hurt you.

Many people swear by the significant results that fasted cardio can produce.

So although it isn’t a magic fat-loss cure, if done correctly can yield in some promising and impressive results.

What are your thoughts?

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Elyssa Duncan

Elyssa Duncan

Hi there, I’m Elyssa. Lover of healthy living, laughter and all things adventurous.