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Fasted Cardio in the Morning – Better for Fat Loss?

woman running through city

Can early morning fasted cardio help you lose fat faster than other cardio methods? To better understand how it could be beneficial, we first need to understand why it would work.

Early Morning Fasted Cardio

The basic idea behind cardio on an empty stomach is that your body will be more likely to use its own fat stores for fuel instead of the food you just ate. This idea, however, is quite simplified and somewhat misleading. Fasted cardio will help you lose more fat during your cardio session, but the reasons for why it works are a bit more complex.

Does Fasted Cardio Work?

In short – yes, it does work. It works because:

  • (A) – It helps you to become more efficient at using fat for fuel
  • (B) – Because your hormones and metabolism are all in the perfect alignment for fatty acid mobilization

Fasted Cardio Helps Mobilize Fat

First thing in the morning, after you’ve been fasting all night, your body’s natural hormones have the perfect profile for fat loss. After a good night’s sleep, you’ve got all of the following working for you:

  • Low Insulin Levels - After not eating for the last 10+ hours, your insulin levels are very low. This is good because fat cannot be mobilized in the presence of high insulin levels. With low insulin levels, your body is better able to release and transport fat to be oxidized. Find out how to improve your insulin sensitivity for better fat loss.
  • Low Blood Sugar – Some people might think this is a bad thing, and it can be – if it ends up impairing your workout performance. However, if it doesn’t, low blood sugar forces your body to draw on fat reserves because there is not enough glucose to power your workout.
  • Higher Growth Hormone Levels – Your growth hormone (GH) levels will be higher while you are sleeping. All throughout the night your body is pulsing out GH. Come morning time, your levels will be lower, but they will be higher than at other times during the day. Growth hormone and insulin are antagonists. When one is high, the other is low. Since your insulin levels are low upon waking, your GH levels are higher. Growth hormone is highly catabolic to fat cells – ie breaks down fat stores.

Training Your Muscles to be Fat Burners

As was explained, fasted cardio is beneficial because of the state your metabolic environment is in. Those low blood sugar levels and low liver glycogen stores resulting from a night without eating forces your body to learn how to metabolize fat more efficiently. While anaerobic exercise uses glycogen/glucose for fuel, the point at which your body stops using fat and starts using glucose can be manipulated. Training on an empty stomach first thing in the morning is one of those ways.

Heart rate training is another good way. Find out how to do it here.

Should You Incorporate Fasted Cardio?

Whether or not you decide to use cardio on an empty stomach will depend on some individual circumstances. I would recommend fasted cardio to those that have normal to below normal body fat levels. Those are the people that are going to see the biggest benefit. If you’re above that body fat level, any amount of cardiovascular training at any time of the day would be best. The important thing is to make sure you are consistently doing it.

The other time I wouldn’t recommend fasted cardio is if your cardio sessions are suffering because of a lack of energy. If your intensity levels are lower because of fasted cardio, you’d be better off focusing on using nutrition to get that extra bit of fat loss. Are you a morning person? If so, then early morning cardio might be for you.

  • http://jensworldnow.com Jenny

    I like to do fasted cardio for fast results. Mornings are when your body has reduced glycogen (carb) levels meaning that you will burn fat faster. If you eat before exercising, your body’s glycogen stores will be full and you will have to burn through those before beginning fat burning..

    Thanks for the great information

  • shweta

    hello,
    i want to do exercise in the morning but as i work overnight(till 4am), its not possible for me. due to this i have gained lot of weights. can you suggest me what should i do..

    • Coach Calorie

      Make sure you find time to exercise. It doesn’t matter what time you do it, just make sure it gets done.

      • shweta

        thanks for replying, well can i split my exercise regime like can i go for running in the evening and normal exercise at noon. will that gonna work….

  • firesoforion

    Would it be advisable to do fasted cardio and intermittent fasting at the same time, or would that just be too much? What’s their relationship?

    • Coach Calorie

      I don’t see any problem with it. That’s exactly what I’m doing now, although I don’t do fasted cardio, I just do fasted weight training.

      Not sure what you mean by their relationship?

      Both intermittent fasting and fasted cardio share some similar ideas – staying in “fat burning mode” longer, keeping insulin low, and training your body to be a better fat burner.

      • firesoforion

        That answered the “relationship” question, thanks!

  • Kait

    Coach,

    I read this article before and i was really intrigued by it.

    I always meant to ask a couple questions.

    1) What’s better fasted Cardio or fasted weights? Or should you do them both? Normally when i go to the gym i’ll always do my weights first and than Cardio.

    2) What’s the best thing to eat after doing the fasting?? How long should you wait to eat? I remember doing this once before and i had a fruit smoothie at my gym (strawberry & pineapple, non-fat yogurt, coconut and protein powder) I had the smoothie about 10 minutes after my workout.

    Thanks Coach!

    • Coach Calorie

      1 – There is no “better”. They each have their benefits depending on your goals. I do fasted weight training (I don’t do cardio) just because it fits my lifestyle better. I work out first thing in the morning, and just don’t time to eat and digest a meal beforehand. However, if you’re struggling with energy in the gym, I would consider a pre-workout meal.

      2 – I like to have protein/fat meals after cardio and protein/carb meals after weight training if I’m trying to lose weight.

      • Linda

        So after cardio you do a protein/fat meal like a protein shake with whey, what does your protein/carb meal look like after weight training? I guess I’m having a hard time with my meals after weight training.

  • http://facebook.com kimberley McDonald

    I have been doing the fasting cardio workouts in the morning, for about 6 days now and trying to do the drop 10 pounds in a month at the same time, so after my work out I am having a smoothie with the carbs (fruit and spinach) and the protein powder, and flax oil….then for my meals all day I have the protein and fat and veggies…I have already lost 4 pounds in the 5 days…but today I noticed on my 10 km run that my heart rate was way up (166) ( I was doing hills, but even walking them it took a long time to get my heart rate back down to 150 so I could start to jog again..I had no energy at all and felt dizzy and sick with the last 4 km to go…should I be eating something more at night before my fasting in the morning, or should I have a little something in the morning to help out..I have been alternating a bike one day for an hour and a run the other day for an hour..however today’s jog was longer being 6 miles and it took me way longer with all the walking I had to do.. What do you suggest I try..I am sure liking the fact I have already lost 4 pounds in 6 days :)…I am 48 female just getting back to working out after 6 years off . Goal is to lose 20 more pounds to get me to my 138 pound goal (I was as high as 220 1.5 years ago..I am 5’5..not sure what other info you need :) thanks in advance :)

    • Coach Calorie

      Congrats on the weight loss so far. You are doing quite a bit of running with so few carbs. The fasting training is fine, but you might want to try eating a few more carbs post-workout to replenish muscle glycogen. Seems like you are running low on fuel.

      • http://facebook.com kimberley McDonald

        Thanks very much for replying and I will try that tomorrow morning before my bike ride..do you have any good choices for me and amounts that I should incorporate into my post-work out plan ?
        Thanks
        Kimberley

        • Coach Calorie

          With the amount of activity you do, I’d probably add another 50 grams of carbohydrates to your post-workout meal and see how you feel. I’m not sure what’s in your smoothie already, but a frozen banana adds some nice flavor and texture. If you tolerate grains well, you could also do oatmeal/banana smoothie.

  • Ren

    I like to do a mix. Some days I’ll do fasted cardio, some days I’ll wait until after a small breakfast. It depends on how I’m feeling and what other exercise I have planned that day. Personally, I feel like I can give more after eating a little something and fasted cardio can sometimes leave me light headed. I try to just listen to how I’m feeling that day, sometimes I wake up and my body is just saying “FEED ME” and you should always listen to your body!

  • shweta

    can i split my exercise regime, like can i go for running in the evening/morning and normal exercise at noon. will that gonna work….

    • Coach Calorie

      You can, but I’d be very careful that you’re not overtraining. Two-a-days can be effective, but they can also cause a lot of wear both physically and mentally on the body. Why not just add your running right after your normal exercise.

  • Gail Owens

    I weight train/circuit training twice a week, plus I attend a circuits class, I also run 3 times a week. I have lost 112lb in 17 months. My question is it ok to run on an empty stomach?

    • Coach Calorie

      It’s not a problem unless you notice it being a problem (low energy, no progress, etc)

  • Gail Owens

    Sorry forgot to mention, I’ve been on a diet of no carbs, no dairy, no wheat for 16 weeks (personal trainer stuck me on). I’ve lost 4 pant (dress) sizes in the 16 weeks. All I eat at present is some fruit, vegetables, protein, nuts and seeds.

  • Ben Sparey

    Hi Coach,

    I have a lower limp injury caused by a bad accident which resulted in my knee only bending to around 80 degrees, I cannot run so struggle with my cardio.

    I know that nutrition is key with losing body fat and I eat relatively well, most of the time anyway ;) my problem is, I have put on a lot of unwanted bodyfat by not eating ‘clean’ during my bulking up phase, I’m now a lot bigger than I would like and am going to start doing fasting training two/three times a week, and on the days I am training weights I already do 10/15 HIT training followed by a fast paced uphill walk, would this help me achieve my goals? As I said, cardio is a problem due to my injuries, thanks for any advice/help :)

    Ben

    • Coach Calorie

      Without knowing your exact physical condition, it’s hard to give advice. However, generally speaking, while fasted cardio is beneficial for extra fat loss, it’s not necessary. You can achieve great body composition through weight training and a great diet. Keep the intensity high during your strength training, and you’ll get a cardiovascular workout in too. Don’t beat up your knee with cardio if you don’t have to.

  • Chelsea

    I also heard that you can weight lift and then do your cardio after for the same effect. It just depends on the time you have to be able to do that…. Like today I wont get to to the gym tonight, so I ate my breakfast am now waiting for an hour and then Ill be off in the gym for 2 hours……

  • zeb

    Hey there! I am planning on doing fasted morning cardio while doing intermittent fasting. I’m assuming it would be vital to take BCAA’s because I am trying to retain as much muscle mass as possible. Is that correct??

    • Coach Calorie

      Some people do that, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary. You should still have plenty of muscle glycogen to complete a workout if you’re eating carbs.

  • Brooke

    There’s word spreading that fasted cardio can also cause significant lean muscle loss. Could you shed any light on this?

    • Coach Calorie

      I believe those fears are overblown. While your liver glycogen might be depleted after a night’s sleep, your muscle glycogen won’t be. Since muscle glycogen is what your muscles use for high intensity exercise, it’s highly unlikely your body will start breaking down protein for glucose when it already has plenty to use from glycogen.

  • James

    I am doing early moring workout for 40 minutes after drinking 500 ml of water. Is it good for health , if i am fasting 6 hours fasting after the workout ( I will drink water 2 cup of tea during fasting after the work out)

    • Coach Calorie

      I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s good or bad, but is there any reason in particular you aren’t eating? Are you intermittent fasting?

  • Dana

    Hi Coach,
    Forgive me is someone already asked this but what would you recommend best to eat following the fasted cardio, or just begin with the regular daily diet? Breakfast normally being an egg or two with ‘green’ smoothie.
    Also is there any suggested time to wait after doing the fasted cardio before eating or is it ok to eat right after?
    Thanks! I can’t wait to begin this and see what results I can get :)

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Dana, generally speaking, it’s not going to make much of a difference. Your body sees nutrition over a period of days and weeks, not minutes and hours. However, you can tweak things here or there to maximize results. After cardio, if your goal is purely fat loss, a fat/protein/veggie meal will help prolong the fat burning process and keep growth hormone levels high. Eating right after is just fine…

  • Angela

    Just had my first baby 3 months ago. I had 25 extra pounds to lose after I had my son. I’ve been on the Insanity challenge for 2 months and lost 13 of those pounds so far. I also started incorporting my weight training to target certain muscles that I don’t target with my videos. Now that my challenge is done I was looking to switch things up a bit and try the fasted cadio. Can you suggest how long I should do the cardio for and roughly where my heart rate should be. Thanks so much in advance for your time :).

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Angela, I’m not a fan of “slow’ steady-state cardio. I like to make intervals out of everything. Push yourself. My sessions tend to last 30 minutes, but that workout is usually 1min on and 1 min off of sprint/walk.

  • Harry

    I have been on a bulking phase for a few months now and I have noticed a few extra pounds around the middle (which was totally expected). Would doing morning fasted low intensity cardio for about 30 mins 3 times a week help me burn my extra fat WITHOUT hindering my gains?

  • Jamal

    1st off; I LOVE THIS SITE! I’m just realizing that I’ve spent the past 3 hours here!

    Question: Due to 12 hour work days, I’ve recently been forced to alter my workout schedule. I’m currently doing 30 min of fasted cardio in the morning before work, and resistance training after work. You recommend protein/fats after cardio, and protein/carbs after weight lifting. I’ve also read in another of your articles that carbs should not be included in the day’s last meal. What would you recommend eating post weight lifting, when this meal will be 90-120 min before bed?

  • hayley

    Hi Coach,
    I hear so many different theories I don’t know what to do! My goal is fat loss. Is it better to do cardio and weights on seperate days,alternating each day? I hear fasted cardio is best so on these days no food,cardio sesh. For weights I hear eat carbs/protein pre/post workout. ShouI sfinish a weights session with 30mins cardio too? Some say you willburn more fat by doing more cardio that weight training,others say better to do weight training everyday?! I can’t keep up with what is the best reccommendation?! Please could you share your views?! :)

    Thannks

  • Alicia Bradley

    So if someone has a bodyfat % of 56% should they do fasted cardio?

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    For someone at 56% body fat, I would recommend increasing your activity levels any way you can. Fasted or not, it doesn’t matter. Focus on moving more at any time you can consistently do it.

  • Jules

    Hi, I have heard that fasted cardio increase cortisol level… What do you think?
    Plus, I am training for a specific event, that is a 4 minutes anaerobic circuit. Would you recommend to train on an empty stomach, so I would be more efficient ”the day of” if I eat before the event?

  • Alicia Bradley

    What are the best morning hours to do fasted cardio?

  • Kelsy

    Is having only black coffee before fasted cardio okay or would it be better to go without the coffee??

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Time is man made. The point is to do it fasted – regardless of when you sleep.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Coffee could help you mobilize fatty acids.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    I’d need to see studies about the cortisol. Training on an empty stomach can be an effective way to force your body to use fat for fuel. However, if your event is anaerobic in nature, I can’t see it helping much. Just eat in a way that best improves your performance.