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Fasted cardio: Useful or Useless?

by Repfuel Sports 24 Apr 2023 0 Comments

In the vibrant world of fitness, fasted cardio is making waves, promising to be the secret sauce for supercharging your fat-burning efforts. But before you grab your workout gear and embrace the trend, let's dive into the realm of fasted cardio. We'll explore its safety, unearth the tantalizing benefits, and help you navigate any potential pitfalls. Our mission? To equip you with the knowledge you need to decide if fasted cardio should become a valuable addition to your fitness journey.

Fasted Cardio Decoded: What's the Buzz All About?

Fasted cardio, the name says it all, is a type of cardiovascular exercise performed when your body is in a fasted state. In simpler terms, it's when you work out on an empty stomach. Typically, this happens in the morning after you've had a full night's rest, but it can also be embraced later in the day, particularly if you're embracing intermittent fasting.

Safety Check: Is Fasted Cardio Your Fitness Pal?

For most individuals in good health, integrating short to moderate-length steady-state fasted cardio sessions into your fitness regimen is a generally safe bet. However, if your exercise plans involve extended periods or high-intensity workouts, it's important to be aware of the potential risks. These can include low blood sugar and dehydration, which might manifest as symptoms like feeling lightheaded, dizzy, shaky, or even faint.

The Lure of Fasted Cardio: Benefits to Whet Your Fitness Appetite

The core concept behind fasted cardio is intriguing—by working out in a fasted state, typically in the morning after a night of fasting, your body reaches out to its fat stores for energy instead of relying on the usual glucose. While research is still unfolding on its effectiveness, fasted cardio offers a tantalizing array of potential perks:

  1. Time Savior:Fasted cardio eliminates the need for pre-workout meal prep, eating, and digestion, making it a time-efficient choice for those leading busy lives.
  2. Intermittent Fasting Harmony:If you're a fan of intermittent fasting, fasted cardio allows you to slip in a workout before breaking your daily fast.

Personal Preference: Some individuals simply feel more comfortable and energized when they exercise on an empty stomach, especially if they have a sensitive gut.

Fasted Cardio and Weight Loss: Unlocking the Connection

At the heart of weight loss lies a simple truth: you must burn more calories than you consume. The research on whether fasted cardio genuinely promotes fat loss is a topic of ongoing discussion among experts.

In a study involving 20 young women divided into two groups—one performing 1 hour of fasted steady-state cardio and the other engaging in 1 hour of nonfasted steady-state cardio—no significant differences in weight loss or body composition were observed between the two groups. Both groups adhered to a calorie-deficit diet, reinforcing the notion that weight loss primarily hinges on managing calorie intake.

However, some research suggests that fasted cardio may indeed enhance fat burning during the workout itself. In 2016, a comprehensive review of 27 studies appeared in the British Journal of Nutrition. This review found that engaging in aerobic exercise while in a fasted state resulted in greater fat burning compared to when exercise was done after eating. However, it's important to note that this fat-burning advantage during exercise may not significantly affect your total calorie burn over the course of a full day.

To make real strides in your weight loss journey, focusing on non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)—the calories that you burn through daily activities like walking, taking the stairs, and staying active—is essential. NEAT accounts for approximately 15% of your daily calorie expenditure, depending on your activity level.

The Caveats of Fasted Cardio: What You Should Know

While fasted cardio holds promise, it comes with its share of caveats:

  1. Muscle Considerations:In a fasted state, with limited carbohydrates available for energy, your body might resort to gluconeogenesis, a process that converts protein into fuel. This could potentially hamper the availability of protein for muscle repair and growth. In this context, low-intensity steady-state cardio might be a wiser choice, as it relies more on free fatty acids for energy, sparing your precious muscle protein.
  2. Performance Hiccups:If you're planning a moderate or high-intensity workout, such as HIIT, boot camp, or weight training, on an empty stomach, be prepared for potential energy level fluctuations. Stay alert for the signs related to low blood sugar levels and dehydration, as they can affect your workout experience.

Who Should Consider an Alternative to Fasted Cardio?

Certain individuals may want to think twice about embracing fasted cardio:

  1. Health Concerns:If you have underlying medical conditions related to low blood sugar level and blood pressure, or if you're pregnant, fasted cardio might not be the best choice for you.
  2. Newcomers to Fitness: If you're just starting your fitness journey, it might be wise to hold off on fasted cardio initially. Understanding how your body responds to exercise should be your primary focus as you embark on this exciting journey.

Your Roadmap for Safe and Effective Fasted Cardio

For those in good health, incorporating fasted cardio into your routine is a personal decision. If you're new to the practice or curious to try it, here's your roadmap to ensure a safe and effective experience:

  1. Stay Hydrated:Hydration is key before and during your fasted cardio session. Ensure you're well-hydrated to ward off the risk of dehydration.
  2. Start Gradually:Begin with low to moderate-intensity steady-state exercises like walking, running, cycling, or using the elliptical for a short duration—say, 10 minutes. Gauge your body's response and gradually increase the duration to 30 minutes or more as your comfort level grows.
  3. Post-Workout Nutrition:After your fasted cardio session, refuel with a balanced meal or snack which is rich in both protein and carbohydrates. This aids in recovery and replenishing your energy stores.
  4. Avoid High Intensity:Steer clear of high-intensity workouts that place significant demands on your body, especially sessions lasting longer than an hour during fasted cardio.
  5. Embrace Rest Days:Incorporate one or two rest days into your weekly routine to allow your body ample time for recovery and rejuvenation.

The Final Verdict on Fasted Cardio

Cardiovascular exercise, whether performed in a fasted or fed state, delivers a plethora of health benefits. While the exact metabolic effects of fasted cardio continue to be unravelled, its suitability largely hinges on your lifestyle, preferences, and individual responses.

If you're in good health and fasted cardio aligns with your routine and preferences, it's worth giving it a shot. However, always remember that nutrition plays a pivotal role in your weight loss journey. Sustainable results are best achieved through a holistic approach that blends regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and increased daily activity. Whether you choose fasted or non-fasted cardio, your success story is written through your commitment to a healthier, more vibrant life. So, lace up those sneakers and embark on your fitness adventure—it's a journey full of exhilarating discoveries and a healthier, happier version of yourself.

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