A question I get asked ALL the time is: “Will I burn more fat if I exercise first thing in the morning on an empty stomach?”
Recently, a client told me that her doctor told her this was the best way to exercise. I say this with respect, but how many people has your doctor trained? Is your doctor a certified sports nutritionist? How many hours of exercise physiology and nutrition has your doctor taken?
As with everything that I talk about, nothing is “good” or “bad”. However, it is important to understand the physiology that occurs when you exercise on empty.
What happens when your car runs out of gas? It won’t function, right? And what happens when your car runs out of oil? You risk ruining the engine. I believe that exercising in the morning on an empty stomach is akin to running out of oil. While you MAY burn a percentage more fat this way, you are setting yourself up for metabolic issues that are FAR uglier than the fat on your tummy. Ultimately, you are putting your engine under extreme stress and asking it to function without gas or oil.
Here’s why: After a night’s fast from carbohydrates, your engine has zero fuel. In order to survive, your brain MUST have a certain amount of carbohydrate/sugar to function. And your brain will always win out for any floating sugar. When you begin to exercise, your muscles will be requesting fuel (sugar/carbs) as well. But your brain will win out. Therefore, your muscles are forced to seek fuel elsewhere OR, sacrifice function. Therefore, in an attempt to conserve fuel, your muscles will run slower causing you to feel as if you have lead legs. Your muscles will still need fuel though. So they will tap into your liver, and their own tissue, to generate this much needed fuel. Simply, you will most likely feel like crap, AND your muscles are canabolizing themselves when you exercise on empty.
So what? Well, consider this: when your car runs out of oil, the engine begins to break down and cause other problems. The same scenario plays out in your body causing symptoms that appear usually after lunch. Most often, those who exercise in the morning on an empty stomach will have much stronger food cravings and severe energy slumps in the afternoon. If you are someone who already battles the 4:00 madness, I would strongly suggest that you eat something before a morning workout.
While research does show that exercising on an empty stomach first thing in the morning does burn more fat, that doesn’t mean that it is the best way to achieve your goals. For most normal people, your goals require long term action – say, to lose 10-15 lbs. In the long run, you will find success more easily if you give your body what it needs to run properly.
I am one of those “fitness folks” who’s life is dedicated to the gym and to the form and function of my body. For us, sometimes we need to pull out tools in the short term for us to reach our goal. For photo shoots, and for times that we need to look super lean, this kind of exercise is used – but usually in the short term. Therefore, when you see someone like Jackie Warner or Jamie Eason – who is super duper lean – it’s important to understand that they may use this tool on a regular basis to ensure that they look fantastic for a photo shoot. But they are also better equipped to deal with the side effects of this kind of exercise. If you are not one of us fitness folks, the pain may not be worth the little extra bit of fat that you burn. Thanks to social media and the internet it’s very easy to find out what tools the fitness pro’s use to achieve their lean body- and this method works for them! But if you are not Jamie Eason, you might want to consider what method is best for you.
I’m pretty lean – and sometimes I get very lean. And I NEVER exercise on empty.
Please share your thoughts!