Empty Stomach Cardio Training: Is it Worth The Hype?

If you’re familiar with the fitness scene, you probably have already head about empty stomach cardio training. The notion behind this type of cardio is it’s done prior to eating any food, thus the thinking is you’ll tap into fat stores faster than if you had already eaten food and had that food to burn off first.


So what’s the real deal with this type of cardio? Will it help you lose weight faster than just a standard session of cardio alone? And, should you be doing it with your workout program?


Let’s look at a few things that you’ll want to consider.



The Type Of Cardio You’re Doing

First, you need to look at the type of cardio you’re planning on doing here. Note that if you have not eaten beforehand, you won’t be able to perform intense cardio training because your body simply won’t have the fuel source (glucose) present to perform that type of training. You need carbohydrates in order to exercise with intensity. There’s simply no way around that one, so always keep that in mind.


If you are just doing a moderate paced, steady state cardio workout, then you can proceed with empty stomach cardio training.


Most people will find that doing the cardio training without eating first can be more challenging however as you’ll feel more fatigue due to the lack of glucose in your system.



The TOTAL Calorie Burn Factor

The next thing you’ll want to think about is the total calorie burn factor. This is a big one as it relates directly to the fat loss results you’re going to see. Since empty stomach cardio is primarily intended to help you boost your overall rate of fat burning, it would make sense that you’d only want to do this if it can maximize the fat burning, right?


Well, here’s what you need to think about. Yes, doing the moderate intensity cardio first without eating first may help you burn fat faster than if you had eaten before.


But, since you are exercising at a lower intensity level, you’ll burn fewer calories minute by minute as you do the exercise.


Second, since you aren’t working out at any great intensity level, you’ll get very little in the way of post-workout calorie burning taking place. EPOC, as it’s often called, can be very powerful after doing higher intensity interval training and allow you to burn far more calories for hours after the session is over.


So what this essentially means to you is that while you may burn more fat calories doing your low intensity exercise, you’ll burn more calories total doing the intense cardio in a fed state.


Assuming your total calorie intake at the end of the day is the same in either scenario, the type of cardio that produces the greatest overall calorie burn is the cardio variation that is going to give you the best possible results.


Meaning, the empty stomach cardio training isn’t so optimal after all as far as total fat loss is concerned.


The only time it may be optimal is if you are choosing between either performing empty stomach cardio at a moderate intensity or the exact same cardio session performed at a later time in the day when you are fed.


In that scenario, doing it on an empty stomach may get you slightly ahead.



The Issue Of Catabolism

Another point of consideration is the issue of catabolism. You do have a slightly greater chance of burning up lean muscle mass tissue when you are performing cardio training on an empty stomach.


Whenever your body does not have fuel available, it has one of two choices for fuel. It can turn to your body fat stores, or it can break down lean muscle mass and use the energy from that.


Clearly you want the former and not the latter. Doing lower intensity exercise helps ensure you use fat as fuel and not lean muscle, so you will already be doing your part to prevent this.


That said, you can’t prevent it 100%. You may still lose some lean muscle mass tissue, especially if you are using a heavily calorie restricted diet and thus carrying around a large calorie deficit.


If you begin losing lean muscle mass, this means your resting metabolism may become slower, making it harder to lose weight into the future.


Generally speaking, you want to do everything you can to prevent lean muscle mass on a diet plan, so this is a very good argument against empty stomach cardio training.



Making A Smart Choice

So all in all, which option is right for you? The people who will be best served by early morning, empty stomach, moderate paced cardio training are those who have at least 30 pounds to lose (so they have plenty of body fat to burn), those who aren’t using a very low calorie low carb diet, and those who don’t possess the fitness level to perform interval training instead.


This group of people will be at the lowest risk of losing lean muscle mass tissue while doing this type of cardio training and will also benefit more from it because their alternative choice is that same cardio session done in the fed state.


All other individuals should likely opt for a more intense form of cardio training done with food in your body. That form of training simply provides greater overall fitness and fat loss benefits, thus can get you closer to your end goal.


And if you think you can get the best of both worlds and do empty stomach intense interval training, you’ll want to think again. Not only will you be unlikely to exercise with enough intensity without glucose present in your system, but you’ll be highly likely to burn up lean muscle mass tissue as an energy source.


So keep these points in mind. There is a time and a place for empty stomach cardio training, but most people should likely pass on it.


Related Cardio Articles

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Pre or post workout cardio: When is it ideal?

December 15, 2016 by Shannon Clark

Shannon holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and is a certified personal trainer.

Tags: Training

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