Fasted cardio refers to exercising on an empty stomach or in “fasted state.” It uses fat as the fuel needed for exercise, resulting in faster weight loss.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that fasted cardio mobilizes fat more effectively than that in the fed state (1). However, a review article shows that there’s not a lot of difference in weight loss or body composition between the two states (2).
Does this mean fasted cardio is not effective? Why do celebs like JLo follow it? Does it have any benefits? Keep reading to find out.
Table Of Contents
What Is Fasted Cardio?
Exercising without having food for at least 6 hours (in a fasted state) is known as fasted cardio. In the fasted state, your blood insulin levels are low and your body uses the stored fat and not glucose from a pre-workout meal as fuel (3).
Hence, when you wake up in the morning after at least 6 hours of sleep and do aerobic exercise, you are essentially indulging in fasted cardio. The following are the benefits of fasted cardio.
Benefits Of Fasted Cardio
- Helps you lose stubborn fat (4), (5).
- When mixed with HIIT, it prevents muscle loss and builds lean muscle mass (6).
- Tones the body and improves posture.
- Increases strength and endurance (6).
- Directs you toward a healthy lifestyle.
- Gives long-lasting results.
Is fasted cardio really helpful? Scroll down to find out.
Is Fasted Cardio Good?
Fasted cardio is ideal if you want to shed a few pounds. Fasted cardio follows the principle of the Warrior diet, which was followed by warriors in the ancient times.
The warriors would hunt or fight (cardio) in a fasted state and then feast on their win/kill. This diet pattern helped them stay lean, in shape, agile, and attentive. In the following section, we will look at how fasted cardio can help with weight loss.
How Does Fasted Cardio Work For Weight Loss?
Fasted cardio takes advantage of the basic human physiological design. Our body first uses glucose (sugar) as fuel for exercise. When that depletes, muscle glycogen or protein is converted to glucose and used up (7). In the end, fat is used up as a fuel source.
When you exercise in the fasted state, your body does not have glucose to aid exercise. Therefore, your body gets the energy from either muscle glycogen (glucose stored in the muscles), protein, or fat (which you really want to target).
Here’s a sample fasted cardio workout routine you may follow to aid faster weight loss.
Sample Fasted Cardio Workout Routine
You can do a mix of cardio and HIIT exercises to get the best results. Take a look at the sample fasted cardio workout plan:
- Warm-up – 10 minutes
- High knees – 3 sets of 20 reps
- Rope jumps – 3 sets of 50 reps
- Jump squats – 3 sets of 12 reps
Rest – 30 seconds
- Russian twist – 3 sets of 30 reps
- Leg up crunches – 3 sets of 20 reps
- Side jackknife – 3 sets of 20 reps
Rest – 45 seconds
- TRX pull-ups – 3 sets of 12 reps
- TRX knee tucks – 3 sets of 12 reps
- TRX abduction – 3 sets of 12 reps
Rest – 60 seconds
- Skater lunge – 3 sets of 15 reps
- Burpees – 2 sets of 10 reps
- Ball slam – 3 sets of 12 reps
Rest – 60 seconds
- Mountain climber – 3 sets of 15 reps
- Plank – 2 sets of 60 seconds hold
- Alternate plank dips – 2 sets of 10 reps
Rest – 30 seconds
- Cool down stretches – 5 mins
By the time you finish this routine, you will not only sweat (check out the benefits of sweating), but your “feel good” hormones will also work their magic, and you will begin to feel terrific.
But there’s one concern with fasted cardio.
Does Fasted Cardio Cause Muscle Loss?
Yes, fasted cardio may lead to muscle loss. When you are in a fasted state, your body chooses not fat but muscle glycogen or protein (proteins get converted to glucose through a biochemical process called gluconeogenesis) as a source of fuel. Moreover, if you do endurance cardio like running on the treadmill or walking, you will also lose muscle along with fat.
But there is a way to do fasted cardio, burn fat, and not lose muscle mass. It boils down to knowing the right type of cardio to perform in a fasted state.
What Type Of Fasted Cardio Is Best?
The best type of fasted cardio is HIIT. HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training, is a form of cardio performed at a high intensity for a short duration with an equally spaced resting phase.
This means that you will do high-intensity exercises for about 2-4 minutes and then take rest for 30-60 seconds. In these 2-4 minutes, you will do at least two different exercises, a minimum of 3 sets and 12 reps. HIIT is anaerobic and burns fat even after 2 hours of exercise.
What are the benefits of HIIT exercises? Find out below.
Benefits Of HIIT In Fasted Cardio
HIIT is good because it prevents muscle loss and helps build lean muscle mass. It amps up your workout and keeps you active and agile. There are other benefits of HIIT training:
- It may increase insulin sensitivity(8).
- It may prevent you from feeling extremely hungry post workout(9).
- It may increase growth hormone levels that help fat loss(10).
- It may increase fat-burning chemicals like catecholamine(11).
- It may increase metabolic rate for the next 24 hours(12).
Now, let’s get to the main question – how do you do fasted cardio?
How To Do Fasted Cardio
There are two ways of doing fasted cardio:
- Exercising in the morning before breakfast.
- Exercising in the evening after fasting for at least 6 hours.
But here is something you must know – fasting cardio alone cannot give you the desired results. You must also follow a good diet and a healthy lifestyle to shed that stubborn fat from your arms, thighs, chin, back, and your love handles. Here are some dietary tips to get the best results from a fasted cardio.
Dietary Tips To Get The Best Results From A Fasted Cardio
- Inform your doctor and trainer – Keep your trainer and dietitian informed about your new exercise regimen.
- Consult experts – It will help you understand if fasted cardio will actually suit you and your lifestyle.
- Caffeine – When you are at the advanced levels of fasted cardio, consume black coffee as a source of caffeine. This can induce greater fat burn. Avoid it if you are caffeine sensitive.
- BCAAs – Consume BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) that contain leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are essential amino acids and help prevent muscle loss and help gain muscle.
- Do not cut too many calories – Maintain balance.
Fasted cardio gives the best results when targeting specific stubborn fat. Regular cardio only helps you lose overall body fat at a slow pace. With fasted cardio (along with HIIT), you will shed fat fast. Hence, talk to your trainer today and lose that stubborn fat fast.
Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions
How long should you do fasted cardio?
You can continue fasted cardio until you achieve your fitness goals. Also, consult your trainer to understand whether you must switch to any other advanced exercise training routine or continue performing fasted cardio.
Can I get rid of belly fat with fasted cardio?
Yes, you can get rid of belly fat with fasted cardio. But consult your doctor, especially if you have diabetes or are on any other medication. You must also consume low-calorie and other healthy foods for weight loss. Keep yourself active and stress-free. You will start to lose belly fat sooner than you expect.
What is the difference between fasted cardio and fed cardio?
Fasted cardio is working out after fasting for at least 6 hours or more without having a pre-workout meal. Fed cardio is working out after having a pre-workout meal. Fasted cardio helps burn fat. Fed cardio burns carbs in the form of glucose. Both fasted and fed cardio can cause muscle loss.
Should you eat after fasted cardio?
Yes, eat within 45-60 minutes after fasted cardio. Consume good carbs and protein in your post workout meal.
Does fasted cardio boost metabolism?
Fasted cardio boosts fat burn and mobilizes the fat. Hence, in a way, it boosts metabolism.
Should I take BCAA before fasted cardio?
Yes, BCAA can help prevent muscle loss and also build lean muscle mass.
- Effects of aerobic exercise performed in fasted v. fed state on fat and carbohydrate metabolism in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis, The British Journal of Nutrition, US Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effect of Overnight Fasted Exercise on Weight Loss and Body Composition: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, ResearchGate.
- Is exercise best served on an empty stomach? The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, US Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Exercising in the Fasted State Reduced 24-Hour Energy Intake in Active Male Adults, Journal of nutrition and metabolism, US Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effects of Prior Fasting on Fat Oxidation during Resistance Exercise, International Journal of Exercise Science, US Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- The Impact of Different High-Intensity Interval Training Protocols on Body Composition and Physical Fitness in Healthy Young Adult Females, BioResearch Open Access, US Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Metabolic responses to exercise after fasting, Journal of Applied Physiology, US Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- High-intensity interval training improves insulin sensitivity in older individuals, Acta physiologica, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Post-Exercise Appetite and Ad Libitum Energy Intake in Response to High-Intensity Interval Training versus Moderate- or Vigorous-Intensity Continuous Training among Physically Inactive Middle-Aged Adults, Nutrients, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Pilot study: an acute bout of high intensity interval exercise increases 12.5 h GH secretion, Physiological reports, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss, Journal of obesity, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Acute effects of high-intensity interval training and moderate-intensity continuous training sessions on cardiorespiratory parameters in healthy young men, European journal of applied physiology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
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