Fasted Cardio (updated July 2019)

What is Fasted Cardio?

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More than likely, you’ve heard of someone performing fasted cardio. Simply put, fasted cardio is performing cardiovascular exercise without eating first. Studies show that this type of morning cardio burns up to 20% more fat than performing cardio after eating. Because of this, fasted cardio is considered the king of cardiovascular exercises. Especially among gym newbies.

Why Does it Burn so Much Fat?

Under normal circumstances, the body requires ATP energy from stored muscle glycogen to perform work. This fuel is taken from dietary carbohydrate — i.e, that cereal you had for breakfast and that sandwich you had for lunch. Those carbohydrates are then broken down into molecules and stored within the muscles. When needed, this muscle glycogen is utilized to perform work.

So what happens when there’s no muscle glycogen to support this work? The body goes to its next available energy source: fat. Especially since fat is normally recruited for aerobic exercise. This is due to the body’s reliance on oxidative phosphorylation. Oxidative phosphorylation produces the most amount of energy per capita — 36ATP, to be exact — and is the most reliant energy source.

So the body’s dependency on fat not only produces the most energy, but also takes stored body fat. So it’s basically a win-win. (source linked here.)

The Benefits of Fasted Cardio

Fasted cardio has many benefits. Most of them revolve around fat loss, especially stubborn fat loss, but that’s not really a bad thing.

Here are a few benefits to fasted cardio:

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  1. Higher fat burn. This was already discussed, but it doesn’t hurt to bring it up again. Performing cardiovascular exercise while in a fasted state increases fat utilization, which increases fat loss.
  2. Target stubborn fat. For women, trouble areas are the thighs and hips; for men, it’s the lower back and lower abdomen. Sound familiar? Because the body needs a large amount of energy in order to perform work, it’s going to take from the largest stores. Good news for you, it’s normally the stubborn areas that have the most fat. So, logically speaking, the body’s going to take from there. Another win-win for fasted cardio!
  3. It pairs well with caffeine. Caffeine naturally releases fatty acids from their stores and releases them into the bloodstream. Fasted cardio utilizes fat for energy. Having an influx of readily available fatty acids makes it easier for the body to utilize them as fuel. It also makes it easier for you to lose fat. So skip the breakfast before cardio, but not the coffee.

The Negatives of Fasted Cardio

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to fasted cardio. The positives outweigh the negatives, but the negatives still exist. Here are some arguments against fasted cardio.

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  1. It’s not the key factor in fat loss. Even though fasted cardio burns 20% more calories than other forms of cardio, it’s not the key player in fat loss. Diet is the number one factor in fat loss. Specifically, you need to be in a caloric deficit in order to lose weight. For example, if you burn 300 calories during your morning cardio but eat an excess of 500 calories throughout the day, you’re still over your daily caloric intake. No matter how much cardio you perform, overeating is overeating. Therefore, fasted cardio should supplement a well-rounded diet, not replace one.
  2. It can result in muscle loss. This is undeniably the weaker argument of the two, but it’s still a possibility. If performing too intense of work with too little energy stores, the body will then utilize muscle for energy. However, fasted cardio should be performed at a moderate intensity at most, so this is not a large issue. If you’re concerned about muscle loss, however, then take a scoop of branched chain amino acids or protein powder before your cardio session. It will count toward your daily caloric intake, yes, but will not stop fat utilization.(source linked here.)

The General Takeaway

So you want to begin fasted cardio. That’s great! Just remember that it is a supplement to fat loss, not the total solution. Even though fasted cardio burns up to 20% more fat than cardio after eating, it’s not the number one solution. First and foremost, caloric intake is the key to fat loss. Secondly, a good cardio regimen.

However, there are more benefits to fasted cardio than negatives. So if you’re someone who needs to get up and get their workout in, no sweat. Just drink some coffee or pre-workout and hit that treadmill.

Cardio Exercises for Weight Loss (updated July 2019)

The Best Cardio For Weight Loss
Best cardio for weight loss
Best cardio for weight loss

First and foremost, any form of exercise will help you to lose weight. Losing weight is simply calories in versus calories out, or burning more calories during the day than you consume. For example, if you eat 1,700 calories in one day but burn almost 2,000 calories from daily activities, metabolic pathways, and exercise, then you’ve burned 300 calories for that day. Likewise, if the numbers were reversed and you consumed 2,000 calories but only burned 1,700 calories, then you would gain 300 calories that day.

However, there are better ways to initially lose body fat. High-intensity cardiovascular activity will initially burn more fat because of the energy pathways it requires. If done consistently, you’ll be well on your way to losing inches quickly.

Energy Pathways?

Cardiovascular exercise requires more energy than lifting does. (It’s why you’re more out of breath after a five-mile run than a handful of deadlifts.) This is because cardiovascular activity requires energy from fat stores, not glycogen stores. It also requires the energy pathway of oxidative phosphorylation, or the conversion of oxygen into ATP energy, instead of glycolysis, which converts glucose into stored ATP energy.

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Oxidative phosphorylation requires more energy and more work. Your body has to work harder to convert this type of ATP versus already stored ATP from the muscles, hence a greater percentage of fat loss. So the harder you work, the more your body has to work to keep up with you, and the more fat you burn. Easy, right?

So What Makes it High Intensity?

You should be able to tell when an exercise is intense by how hard you’re breathing. If you can hold a conversation, it’s not that intense. If you can’t speak without wheezing, chances are the exercise is intense enough. Intensity is also calculated through the scale of Rates of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is a scale from 1-10, where 1 is the easiest (think: lying in bed) and 10 is the hardest (think: about to faint because you’re so minded).

Any cardiovascular exercise you do with the goal of losing significant amounts of body fat should be upwards on the RPE scale. Again, you’re aiming to be sweaty and out of breath in order for your body to continually fight for oxygen and generate ATP. If you can grab energy from your muscles, then the body has no reason to work as hard for its energy. If that happens, your metabolism slows. Don’t let that happen!

Get sweaty! Breathe hard! Make your body work!

Various Cardiovascular Exercises

So now you’re thinking, “Well okay, I need to work hard to lose body fat. What exercises are good for that?”

Any exercise that gets your heart rate up, gets you sweaty and makes you lose your breath is a fantastic form of cardiovascular exercise. However, there are some exercises that are easier to perform than others:

  1. Cardiovascular machines. These machines are commonplace gym equipment, such as the: treadmill, elliptical, Stairmaster, and stationary bike. Your gym may have something more unique than those, but those are the main four cardiovascular machines that, when utilized properly, can help to get your heart rate up. Most newer models even have workout options for an increased heart rate, which is great for beginners!
  2. Running. And yes, actually running. Jogging will not get your heart rate up as much, so spare it when you can. Use it as a cool down method to bring your heart rate back to baseline at the end of your workout.

    HIIT
    HIIT
  3. Sled pushes, tire flips, or battle ropes. For the more skilled athlete training at more rugged-style gyms, sled pushes, battle ropes, and tire flips are a great option. These exercises give a greater resistance during activity, which helps to sustain muscle while still getting your heart rate up.

The King of all Cardio

Although the list above is great, there’s something even better. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a cardiovascular exercise that has interchanging periods of rest and activity. The purpose of HIIT is to get your heart rate up to the highest possible level — or the optimal “fat burning zone” — and then let it come back down again before starting the whole process over again. This is a great tactic because the optimal “fat burning zone” can only be withheld for so long before your body needs to stop. It simply cannot produce oxygen that quickly.

 

 

A great example of HIIT cardio is a treadmill sprint. Generally, a sprint can only be held for about 20-30 seconds before you’re physically out of breath. This is the “activity” portion of the exercise. The “rest” portion lasts for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on your current level of fitness. It gives your heart rate a chance to come back down. However, the key here is to make sure that your heart rate doesn’t return to baseline. Make sure your rest periods are only as long as it takes you to catch your breath. Then you’re off again!

An example of HIIT cardio would be:

20 minutes of full activity –> 90 seconds rest, 30 seconds sprint (activity) / Repeat 10 times.

The General Takeaway

Cardiovascular activity of any intensity is great for heart health. Cardio in of itself gets your blood pumping and your heart beating, which helps to regulate your cardiovascular system. However, when wanting to burn fat, the more intense the exercise the more fat is burned in a shorter period of time.

Exercise intensity is based on how you feel through Ratings of Perceived Exertion. Remember: aim for higher levels, like 7+, in order to really get your heart rate up and increase your body’s demand for oxygen and ATP energy. Without that high demand, the body can use stored energy and the metabolism will not have to work as hard in that moment. That equals less fat loss, which is no good.

In general, the more you sweat the more fat is burned. So get sweating!