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If you think that empty stomach and running shouldn’t be next to each other in a sentence, you’re not alone. The thought of pounding the pavement without as much as a piece of toast in our system is cringe-inducing. Before you say, “No, thanks. I’ll pass,” know that the science behind fasted cardio is too good to ignore, but it does have some caveats.
The Fast Way to Lose Fat?
It’s not very often that we get a study about a weight loss method whose conclusion could give any slimming programs on the market a run for their money. So, when exercising in a fasted state promises to deliver such a result, we waste no time jumping on it.
Even if we have to abstain from any food for at least 14 hours and fake a cough or two to mask the sound of our growling, empty stomach from the person running next to us, the saying goes, “no pain, no gain,” right?
So how exactly does fasted running perform its miracle?
Burns More Body Fat At a Faster Rate
Our bodies need fuel to do just about everything. We get this fuel from glycogen and stored carbohydrates. But when we cut our food intake through fasting, we won’t have as much glycogen in supply. During an intense exercise such as running, the body is then forced to look for an alternative source of energy. Guess where? Our fat supply.
With faster fat metabolism, the fat in our bodies doesn't have the leisure to sit comfortably on our lower bellies or upper thighs. Bye, muffin tops!
Increases Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin is like a whip to carbs. When we take in high-carb food, the amount of sugar in our blood spikes and the body releases insulin to break down the carbs into glucose. Our bodies then transfer glucose to our organs and muscles.
The catch is when we eat too much and too often (a.k.a. weekly buffet brunches), the body becomes more insensitive to insulin. This means fewer carbs being digested, and suddenly, we have the urge to hide our weighing scale for good.
Fasting can be a quick fix to this problem. With less food intake, our bodies don’t have to produce insulin as much. When it does release insulin, the body will respond better to it.
Promotes Growth Hormone
The one responsible for muscle building, fat burning and bringing us a step closer to our #bodygoals. Together with testosterone, a hormone naturally produced during exercise, growth hormone helps to form lean muscles and prevent the accumulation of body fats.
Exercising in a fasted state has been found to jack up growth hormone production by 2,000x in males and 1,300x in females. No wonder Wolverine himself credited fasted exercise for his body transformation.
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Too Easy To Be True?
“That’s all? All I have to do is skip some meals and exercise on an empty stomach?” That sounds simple and easy. But of course, we know that losing weight is anything but that. So, what’s the catch this time?
While fasted running has been on the playbook of many fitness gurus for weight loss, researchers haven’t been able to agree on the effects of fasted exercise. A more recent finding shows that the amount of fat burnt when exercising in a fasted state is not significantly different than exercising in a fed state.
Also, exercising on an empty stomach will lower our blood sugar level, which causes “ravenous hunger” and makes us eat more than usual. Eating a little something before working out could be a better way to lose weight as we’ll end up eating less during the day due to the improved efficiency of our bodies to use the absorbed nutrients.
Less Intense Exercise
Imagine doing interval running on an empty stomach. We wouldn’t have to stretch our brains to predict the likely outcome. Studies done on a group of cyclists have shown that fasting induces fatigue faster and reduces exercise time by 30 minutes.
Even though theory suggests that our bodies are supposed to tap into the abundant fat resources to power through the exercise, we all know that our bodies can be a tough opponent to beat when it comes to food. Just think of the many times we give in to cravings!
Going into an exercise well-fed, on the other hand, gives us the energy needed to engage in high-intensity training, which results in higher excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC is the amount of calories burnt post-exercise. With higher EPOC, the body will burn more fat overall, even days after the exercise.
Oh, the horror! All those hours sculpting the thighs and calves can be undone with excessive fasting. While it is true that exercising in a fasted state will force the body to use fat as a source of energy, this is its very last resort. The body is likely to use the proteins in the body first before moving on to fat. About ten percent of the calories burned when exercising in a fasted state comes from protein and muscle loss. Quite a price to pay, don’t you think?
So, is it advisable to do fasted running for fat loss? It’s hard to tell, honestly. The possibility of it working in our favour makes us rub our hands in glee, but the downside is not to be looked over as well. Decisions, decisions.
Just in case you want to give it a try, here are some guidelines:
Assess Your Health Conditions and Training Status
If you’re a beginner to running or cardio exercise or if you’re diabetic, you may want to start slowly with fasted running. Exercising on an empty stomach isn’t advisable as it may result in low blood sugar, which may cause dizziness and nausea. You can start with consuming light snacks before running, and as you build your endurance, you can try fasted running. Keep monitoring your body’s response to fasted running.
Maintain the Intensity of the Exercise
Don’t go overboard when exercising on an empty stomach as it will likely do your body more harm than good. Keep the exercise at light to moderate intensity. A good rule of thumb for moderate intensity is that you should still be able to talk to other people easily while doing the routine.
Replenish Your Body with a High-Protein Meal
As there’s a chance that your body will use up some proteins during fasted running, restore the balance and help repair your muscles after a workout. Treat yourself to a high-protein meal! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming 20 to 30 grams of protein every four hours after a workout to maximize muscle growth.
While fasted running has been on the playbook of many fitness gurus for weight loss, researchers haven’t been able to agree on the effects of fasted exercise.
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