If you've done your research, you will know that there is a LOT of conflicting information online about whether to hit your morning training sessions in a fasted state or not. And the correct answer is: there is no right answer. Considering body composition goals, health goals, and personal preference, there are pros and cons of working out fasted and working out after consuming a meal. We'll look into these a little deeper, but first, let's chat about fasting.
What is fasting?
To put it simply, to fast is to refrain from eating and drinking over a specific time. In some cases, you may allow low-calorie beverages like black tea or coffee or sugar-free electrolyte waters. Still, for the most part, fasting is to go entirely without food or drink. Now, you may have had to fast overnight before for medical reasons like blood tests or operations. However, fasting in relation to diet and exercise specifically is a little different.
Also known as intermittent energy restriction, intermittent fasting in recent years has become a popular health trend for improving metabolic health. While there are several ways of using intermittent fasting to support your metabolism, one of the most common ways is called 16:8. Basically, you consume all of your daily calories within 8 hours and fast for 16 hours of the day. For example, you might have your first meal of the day at 10 am and your last meal by 6 pm and continue to fast until 10 am the next day. Research suggests that intermittent fasting is primarily used as a weight loss tool to alter your hormones to increase your metabolic rate. Other suggested benefits include reducing insulin resistance, reducing 'bad' LDL cholesterol, supporting brain health, and inflammation reduction. Like most weight loss tools or 'eating styles,' it all comes down to trial and error and working out what will compliment you and your body goals. With that said, let's get into fasting and training!
Working out on an empty stomach
As we mentioned earlier, there are benefits both ways when it comes to training fasted or not. It really depends on your body goals and what is going to work best for you!
Rumour has it that training on an empty stomach burns more body fat. Our body needs the energy to exercise, and this energy comes from carbohydrates. Now, if you've fasted overnight and are training on an empty stomach, what's your body using for fuel? Research suggests that you no longer have stored carbs to fuel your workout by morning, so where does your energy come from? Theories indicate that fasted training is fuelled by fat stores, leading to increased proteins used to metabolise fat. So does this mean that working out on an empty stomach is the way to go to reach your weight goals?... Let's take a look at the pros and cons.
ProsMany prefer to train on an empty stomach just because it feels better for them. Whether you are intermittent fasting or not, training without food may feel more comfortable for you digestively (especially if you are doing H.I.I.T. training - no one likes a stitch), allowing you to focus on putting 100% effort into your workout instead of feeling full. Research also suggests that fasted workouts may enhance fat utilisation. However, this is only recommended for low-intensity exercises. E.g., L.I.S.S. - low-intensity steady-state training. Our findings indicate that fasted workouts may also be beneficial for those who follow a KETO lifestyle. It may further encourage the state of ketosis, which is needed for fat loss, particularly when following a high-fat, low-carb diet.
ConsNo one likes feeling hungry while trying to smash out a quality workout. Feeling weak and hungry may come between you and your goals by interfering with the exertion required to work your muscles and complete your training sessions. Not to mention the risk of injury if you are feeling a little dizzy, clumsy, or distracted by the sounds of your rumbling stomach. As you have no glycogen stores when fasted, we highly recommend using Evolve Damage Control before training to stop muscle breakdown. Damage Control is an Essential Amino Acid matrix designed to support your muscle recovery and aid with the growth and maintenance of muscle mass. In other words, it may help your body hang on to your muscle instead of burning it as fuel.
Working out after a meal or snack
Preparing for a hard-hitting workout goes beyond just putting your favourite activewear on and rocking up at the gym. Consideration of your fuel source is a must if you have particular body composition goals or are preparing for an upcoming sporting event. When and what you eat is super important to how you feel when exercising and your results. We don't imagine consuming a big juicy burger or bowl of creamy, decadent pasta as a pre-workout meal will result in a happy stomach or quality performance in the gym, so consider your pre-workout meal and give thought to why you need it and what you want from it. Fruit (banana) is always an excellent fuel source. Generally speaking, it has just the right amount of carbs and calories to give you the energy you need without leaving you feeling full and sluggish. So, let's take a look at the pros and cons of consuming a pre-workout snack or meal and how this may benefit your workout or leave you wishing you reconsidered your food choices!
Our research suggests that eating a pre-workout meal or snack before high-intensity training may help your body burn carbohydrates at a faster rate and encourage healthy digestion and stimulate food metabolism. Quality nutrition will also enhance your overall performance, endurance, and stamina, particularly for high-intensity training or heavy weight lifting, while minimising the opportunity for muscle breakdown. Basically, a nutritious pre-workout meal will do everything and more for your performance and goals. Whether it's a banana, a bowl of oats, or peanut butter on toast, your body will utilise the nutrients to fuel your workout.
If you work odd hours or train really early in the morning, it may be challenging to get in a pre-workout meal that you enjoy… and no one likes to force food down when you're not hungry! The thing is, though, your body may actually start breaking down muscle tissue instead if it's being put to work without a healthy fuel source. This means all of those hard sessions and reps could be going to waste. You also risk becoming hyperglycemic - which can be very serious, especially if it causes you to faint/fall unconscious.
As you can see, there are benefits of both fasted training and non-fasted training. If you are anything like us here at Evolve, you always want to put your best foot forward and achieve results in the healthiest way possible. So, if you are still unsure which option will be best for you, give both a try and monitor your performance or consult with your coach or nutritionist for further information and support on how to proceed towards your health and wellness goals!