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The Best Way to Burn Fat

The Best Way to Burn Fat

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The debate has been strong for years. Is it better to perform cardio on an empty stomach or not? Will you burn fat or burn that precious muscle you've work so hard to obtain? Well the debate is over. We have sorted through the studies and gathered the information for you.

Back in the day I remember watching the pro bodybuilders train in southern California. We're talking the monstrous freakish-looking dudes. These guys ate like horses and trained hard. Some of them, due to their size, took in over 9,000 calories a day. That's a lot of food.

But what intrigued me most about these guys is the sheer number of them at the gym first thing in the morning, on the treadmills or stationary bikes, for 40+ minutes, looking like they were taking a Sunday stroll. You didn't see them panting or sweating. No pounding the pavement here. They were relaxed, chatting with their buddy next to them.

They were huge and they were ripped.

At the same time, right next to them, were the dudes sprinting on the treadmill or killing themselves on the stair climber, sweating up a storm and out of breath. They were also FAT (see: Dangers of Extreme Exercise).

What was going on here? One guy is relaxed and ripped. One is exhausted and soft. Huh?

You'll see plenty of studies that say cardio on an empty stomach will tear down your muscle. But be sure you look at those studies with a skeptical eye. Are these studies focused on high intesity cardio or low intensity? And how much time are they experimenting with? Because there IS a difference with how it affects your body.

Aerobic cardio, cardiovascular activity that doesn't reach into your muscles for energy, is typically your light to medium intensity exercises such as walking, cycling, or jogging at a relaxed pace. Anaerobic cardio is your higher intensity cardiovascular activity such as HIIT, sprints, aerobic classes, dance, martial arts, or sports.

Anaerobic cardio needs a lot of energy RIGHT NOW to produce the result. Since fat stores are slow processing energy, your body will reach into your muscles for the glucose it needs if it isn't readily available from food. These activities have wonderful benefits for strengthening the heart and lungs, and are oftentimes best performed with a meal eaten beforehand in order to give you the boost you need to get through the workout.

Aerobic cardio, on the other hand, doesn't need that high amount of energy at the moment and therefore will reach into fat stores if not fueled ahead of time. Therefore, slow-burning cardio such as walking or cycling at a slow to moderate pace, first thing in the morning, at the same intensity or intervals at a medium intensity, for short periods of time on an empty stomach, WILL burn fat. And this is key for those getting ready for a competition, wanting to shed those extra inches of fat and preserve that hard-earned muscle. This is all assuming of course that you are following a clean eating 6 or 7 meals a day plan, limiting starchy carbs and loading up on protein.

So what's the bottom line?

Off season:

- Perform anaerobic cardio such as sprints and spinning for heart and lung health. Eat beforehand to get the most out of your workout.

Contest prep:

- No anaerobic cardiovascular activity on an empty stomach
- Perform aerobic activity or moderate intervals such as walking or cycling at a slow to moderate pace first thing in the morning on an empty stomach for short periods of time. You should be able to carry on a conversation with someone fairly comfortably.

Author: Kristin Shaffer
kristin@figureandbikini.org

Member Comments

I am about to compete in my second competition. The first competition I would do 45 min on the tredmill at an incline 2 x a day but never before I ate breakfast because I was to lazy to get up before class and go and ended up not being lean enough. The second go around, I have done things very differently. I have done 2 hours of cardio a day in 2 different sessions (one session first thing in the morning on an empty stomach at a moderate pace on the stairmaster, 2nd session after my workout). The difference in results have been ridiculous! Much bigger difference! Thanks so much for posting this on FAB. It explains why it worked this time!
--spoplin6

That's awesome!!!! Thanks so much for posting your comments Summer!
--fabeditor

Two hours a day?? Are you competing in figure or bikini? I am doing 40min in the morning on a 5% incline and then 25min after my work out at night on the step mill. I know everyone is different, I am doing my own training, and its my first competition! Thanks so much for the post and comments!
--Erin

Gret article! It is very unfortunate that many professional athletes STILL do cardio on an empty stomach. There are bonified studies out there (go to workout911.com where Brad S documents this faclicy) show that this practice is not only is false, but could affect other areas as well. I'm navigating my way around the site so I'm sure I'll see so many more great articles from everyone!! Thanks.
--jcsmitty2

correction: I meant that there is really no benefit doing cardio on an empty stomach. Here's one study:
http://www.rodale.com/eating-exercise. Next one (and he has a series of articles): http://workout911.com/?p=3432 and at least 5 more.

Me personally, there's no way with the type of hard-core training (at least for me) that I'm doing for my first figure. I eat right before leaving out for the gym and it's very light so it doesn't impair my workout: 1/2 cup steel oats (I prepare mine in advanced) and greek yogurt. One carb, one protein--that's enough to fuel me without weighing myself down. Since I use the employee gym, between the commute, etc., at least 40-45 minutes have passed before I step foot in the gym so I'm not just jumping into a workout :-)
--jcsmitty2

My do fasting morning, but my coach want heart at least 75% or depends on the cardio exercise I have to do. Right now I have to do 5 fasting cardio, but I did get lean. It was very hard at first. Getting up in the morning and not eating and I love a good breakfast. Now I like to get up at 4am and do fasting cardio. I feel better throughout the day. After comp I think I will continue with morning cardio. Maybe takes walk with the baby and my husband, if he gets up. :)

--Desebskeke2

This is a very informative article. Thank You! Stay tuned for my results!
--gigidetroit

I can't wait! <3

With love,

Kristin
--fabeditor

I wish there was a 'like' button, I want to 'like' all of these comments! Thanks for sharing, I think this thread will be very beneficial to me. Morning Cardio, here I come! :-)
--Ericahnna

Wonderful Ericahnna! I just started my morning cardio again after taking a break for a couple of weeks. It feels SO good.

Be sure to let us know if you have any questions.

With love,

Kristin
--fabeditor

@fabeditor-

Hi Kristin - when you say "slow periods".. could you give an example of what your time is? For beginners like me- is that 10min to start on empty stomach or should I go longer?

Thank you so much! - I truly love this site!
xoxo-
Stephanie
--smdouglas2007

So waking to a stair master for continuous movement is better than speed intervals if fasted. If doing HIIT cardio, I benefit from having something light to eat to get me started?

I finally understand that not all cardio is created equal. I have been doing fasted HIIT running or plyometric drills when I cannot make it to the gym and I see that my invested time in cardio is not being returned because I'm not properly fueled. I enjoy my morning sprints so I'm also going to enjoy trying out stairmaster or inclined treadmill fasted for a couple mornings and sprints with breakfast a couple mornings and see what that yeilds!

When I was preparing for a half marathon, I just had coffee. When I started fast/slow intervals, I also just had coffee yet I see where I could have been making up my desired results later in the day since I ate something light before supersets lifting followed by HIIT each round.

Thanks so much! Feel free to correct if I'm understanding this correctly!
--AllynciaWi

Thank you so much for your comments! Since I wrote this article several years ago the science is now coming out to change my thinking, but not by much. Today I still perform fasted cardio first thing in the morning, but it's not for long and it's not so intense to lose muscle. And I've continued to have AMAZING results, at now 44 years old (and prepping for my next competition). :)

For instance, I love just hopping out of bed, throwing on my sweats, and hitting the treadmill for no more than 16 minutes, a 3.0 mph pace for 2 minutes no incline and then 3.5 mph at the highest incline for 2 minutes. It's not very intense and does the trick. Fat literally melts off my body while I keep my hard-earned muscle.

Now, will you not have the same results if you have something to eat beforehand? Well the studies now seem to be mixed on that notion when in the past the fasted theory was the predominant one.

I think if I were to eat something beforehand I would keep it light, like egg whites.

But... and this is huge for me... by just making it part of my routine right when I get up in the morning I'm guaranteed to actually DO it. And I truly believe this is the most important factor to any diet and exercise lifestyle. The more we find excuses NOT to exercise or NOT to cook our meals in advance, we are destined to fail.

I hope that helps!

With love,

Kristin <3
--fabeditor

Hi, great article!

I can say (only from my own experience) that fasted cardio in the morning works better at burning fat than just adding extra sessions of cardio after a weight routine for example.

For my first bikini comp my coach had me doing between 3 and 5 days of fasted cardio, starting at 30 min and ending with 45 min at the end of my prep. It really helped to budge those last few kilos when I started to plateau.

This with the occasional HIIT session is a sure fire way to get to your goals. I know 'they' keep changing what the best course of action is, but I know this works for me, with or without some scientific paper behind it!

And I 100% agree with you, the act of actually exercising is more important than whether you've eaten or not!

:)
--CrunchTime

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