Fasting Cardio – Yea or Nay?

As most of you know by now, I’m employed at a local gym (an awesome one, in fact, Gold’s Gym Shrewsbury) and spend my time surrounded by people who are in the fitness industry and are fairly serious about their health.  One of the biggest “buzzes” I’ve heard a lot about in the past year is “Empty Cardio”.  Basically this means performing cardiovascular activity on an empty stomach immediately upon waking up.  I’d heard about it so often from so many trainers and trainees that I just assumed it was a good idea. 

For me to consider doing this seemed virtually impossible; this girl needs her coffee and certainly a little nourishment before even considering activity.  However, I have come to find that it isn’t impossible and can really act as a jumpstart to my day (not just in my overall energy, as you’ll see in a bit). 

I’m generally not one to believe in things before seeing the “why” associated with something, but I was guilty of jumping into this empty cardio thing without investigation.  I’m not religious about it and probably never will be as a wife and mom who makes breakfast and lunch for the hubby little one.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that I’m a woman who isn’t a huge fan of any numbers on a clock prior to those starting with a 7.  (A girl can dream about sleeping in, can’t she?)  But, much to my surprise, I just listened to what I was hearing without researching the idea.  Not like me, but that’s why I fixed it.  Here’s what I found about what is called Fasting Cardio.

The two main reasons people do this are 1) for fat loss and 2) to get their metabolism jump started for the day.  These were assumptions of mine, but, again, I wasn’t sure if it was a fact.  So, is this a good thing? 

Fat loss, increased metabolism, one would think yes.  And, for most, that may be the answer to both questions.  For some, however, depending on body composition, doing this type of cardio can start to impact muscle mass.  Instead of burning fat, if you already lower body fat, you’d start burning off muscle, which isn’t a good thing.  So, if you’re body fat is of concern and fat loss is a goal the verdict is:  Good idea.  If you’re leaner and don’t want to risk loss of lean muscle, don’t do it!

Beyond those two things, here are some other things to consider: 

1)  If you’re not eating before doing cardio, your intensity level will be limited.  Keeping a moderate level of intensity may be achievable, but due to your lack of fuel you may be limited.  In this case, a lack of carbs before your workout causes your body to run on glucose alone, often times resulting in limitations.  If you want to work at a higher level of intensity (like sprinting or using the Tabata profile), this type of cardio may not be for you.

2)  What does your diet look like?  If you are currently living a no carb/low carb lifestyle or if you carb cycle, this type of cardio may not be in your best interest.  Carbs give you the fuel to fight fatigue.  Limiting carbs may lead to early fatigue.  A tip related to this:  If you want to enjoy a moderate cardio workout and are concerned about hanging onto that lean muscle you’ve worked so hard to build, make sure you are taking in enough protein before your workout. 

So, there we have it.  Hopefully my research can you help you in your fitness journey.  Now, remember, I’m not a physician or a personal trainer, nor do I play either on TV.  I’m just a person who’s very interested in fitness – not just working out, but understanding the what’s and why’s.  I write this blog to share my findings, but don’t claim to be an expert. 

Have you practiced “empty cardio”?  Have you seen any benefits or experienced any of the drawbacks?  Do share!

Carri Nelsen of Gold’s Gym in Shrewsbury.

Got questions for Carri?  E-mail them to

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