Is Fasted Cardio The Answer?

I see a ton of people on social bragging about fasted cardio. You would think that the cardio kings are passing out medals of honor for these people getting up before they eat to get on a treadmill. It has become a real popular fat loss strategy.

The thinking around fasted cardio sort of looks legit when you hear it broken down from someone. But I want to tell you the truth and the science.

Most people think an overnight fast brings about a reduction in circulating blood sugar levels, reducing the amount of carbohydrates stored in the body. Your body is supposed to be forced to used fat for fuel rather than carbs to fuel your workout.

Seems like an ideal way to help with fat loss, right? Unfortunately, logic doesn’t translate into practice. There is a lot wrong with this logic. I'm going to give you 3 reasons why fasted cardio isn't what it has been glorified to be.

Fasted cardio blunts the special part of exercise that most researchers call the "afterburn". EPOC stands for excess post exercise oxygen consumption. EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function (called homeostasis). It also explains how your body can continue to burn calories long after you’ve finished your workout.

Eating before exercise has been shown to increase the magnitude of EPOC. And guess where majority of calories expended in the post-exercise period come from? Your fat stores. This means that more EPOC equates to more fat being burned. This clearly shows why you should eat before you do cardio.

#2 Available Energy
Doing a cardio session after not eating for 8 - 12 hours is rough. If you have never experienced it, take my word for it that you will hit a wall pretty quickly. To perform well at high exercise intensities, your body needs a ready source of glycogen. When those stores are depleted you can't sustain training intensity. And when you hit that all you can bet that fewer calories will be burned both during and after exercise, blunting total fat loss.

#3 The Big Picture
Your metabolism doesn't operate in a vacuum. It would be nice for our body to burn fat like a machine but it doesn't happen that way. This is actually the most important point of all. A huge mistake made during exercise is worrying about the number of fat calories burned during an exercise session. Because you can't assume that lost body fat as a result. The body continually adjusts its use of fat and carbohydrate for fuel depending on a variety of factors.

As a general rule, if you burn more carbohydrates during an exercise session, you’ll ultimately burn more fat in the post-workout period and vice versa.

Who cares whether you burn a few extra fat calories in the course of a workout if an hour later the ratio shifts to a greater carbohydrate oxidation? In the end, the only thing that matters is total fat loss. From a practical standpoint, fat burning should be evaluated over the course of days and weeks. Not on an hour to hour basis.

There is little reason to perform cardio on an empty stomach if your goal is to maximize fat loss. At best, the effects on body composition won’t be any better than had you trained in a fed state. The worst scenario is you’ll lose muscle and perhaps even reduce total fat loss.

So eat something before you go to the gym, go for a walk, or a jog. You will reap the benefits.

What Is High-Intensity Interval Training?

There is always a battle in the fitness community between high intensity exercise an steady state aerobic exercise. I don't know why some experts like to operate on one side of the fence or the other but it is common to hear that one form of cardio is better than the other. But the truth is you need both of them. There is room for both of them in your training programs.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is when you alternate between high and low intensity exercises or between high intensity exercise and a short period of rest. For example, a short sprint up a flight of stairs followed by a walk back down is interval training. Or a sprint on a treadmill followed by stepping to the side and resting for a short period.

High-intensity aerobic interval training (HIIT) is a popular strategy for improving cardiorespiratory fitness and health, as well as reducing body fat levels. High-intensity intervals are typically performed above the lactate threshold. You know that crazy burn feeling you get when you are gasping for air after running up a big flight of stairs? The science of that feeling is called lactate threshold. This high-intensity bout is then followed by a low-intensity recovery period that allows the body to buffer and clear lactic acid from the blood, thereby allowing the individual enough time to recover and perform another high-intensity interval.

Most every high intensity physical activity is a state of “crisis” in the body. It endangers oxygen supply to tissues, increases body temperature, reduces body fluids and fuel stores, and causes tissue damage.

HIIT has been shown to improve cardiovascular function and stimulate greater weight loss compared with traditional steady state aerobic training. I believe there should be a great amount of caution exercised when using it if you are a beginner. It is very important that you should establish some type of aerobic foundation before you attempt to try HIIT protocols.

I will cover what an aerobic base is in detail on a later post but I want to give you some context now as well. The more work you perform aerobically, the more efficient you are. Aerobic training produces muscular adaptations that improve oxygen transport to the muscles, reduces the rate of lactate formation, and improves the rate of lactate removal and increases energy production and utilization. These adaptations occur slowly over time.

As a result of that adaptation, you will become more efficient at HIIT training programs. HIIT can be a time efficient means to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and reduce body fat levels over and above what is possible through steady-state aerobic training. But if HIIT is done to much it can be associated with an increased potential for overtraining, especially when combined with regimented resistance training.

It is essential to understand that balance is important. It is great to integrate HIIT training in your program but do it in spurts and not as your training program as a whole.


Should You Be Doing Cardio?

The popularity of cardio goes up and down. It really just depends on what the latest fitness trend is. During the 80s and 90s and the era of Jane Fonda workouts and Tae Bo, aerobics were in and weightlifting was out. The tables have turned now. Now it’s all about being strong, not skinny. Having bigger arms, better legs, more definition, and a great set of abs is definitely “in.”

We know resistance training is an essential tool for building muscle and improving metabolism. Plus, who wouldn’t mind looking great for summer vacation?

So, is cardio a complete waste of time? Couldn’t you just invest that time into doing more lunges, bench presses, squats, and crunches?

Cardio is not the enemy. Fitness trends will always change and vary in popularity. But it’s important to remember that all types of exercises have their benefits. Just like your nutritional regimen, variety will always be best.

You should have some cardio in your workout regimen. Everyone needs some light, moderate and high intensity cardio during the week. In fact, cardio itself offers quite a few benefits for your body that exceed that which weight training can provide alone.

Like every other muscle in your body, the more you work your heart, the stronger it becomes. Endurance increases with exercises that improve the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to muscles. The more you engage in this type of exercise, the more blood your heart is able to pump per beat and in turn, your heart rate (even at resting) will decrease. This will make both exercise as well as everyday activities much easier.

Studies have shown that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory have greater volume in people who do regular exercise when compared to those who don’t.

Numerous studies have suggested that increasing physical activity can reduce the risk of multiple chronic diseases and health conditions including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and neurological diseases.

Aerobic exercise or cardio is still king when it comes to driving weight loss. The more we move, the more calories we burn, hence the more potential body fat we can lose.

Remember, the best exercise routine is one that you can adhere to. One of the keys to adherence is to make sure you are having fun and enjoying the exercise you are partaking in. So make sure that your routine is constantly changing and challenging you to improve your fitness level. If you’re someone who only likes weightlifting, try working in some bike riding, brisk walking, or a quick jog a couple of times a week. If you’re someone who runs the same track every day, try hitting some circuit training at the gym or even trying a few body weight exercises in your living room.

Variety is key in exercise selection, and nutrition. With a good amount of variety you might find yourself much more excited about your workouts. The possibilities are endless, so mix it up.

Too Much Cardio

I'm pretty sure I will write about this topic until I am blue in the face but that is okay. Everyone needs to understand this.

Traditional cardio sucks for fat loss. That's right. You doing hours and hours of cardio will not help you change and maintain the physique that you aspire to have.

All my cardio lovers probably gave me an eye roll. And that is okay. By the end of this you will have a better understanding of where I am coming from.

Elevating your resting metabolic rate is vitally important into your body transformation. Manipulating hormones that promote the release of fat is also a priority. Strength training has a much more powerful effect on these processes than aerobic training.

The wrong message is still preached. I know this because when I enter a gym I see two things. Every piece of cardio equipment taken up and only a fourth of the weight room occupied.
We were not meant for absurd amounts of aerobic cardio. All the running, elliptical machines and stair steppers for endless amounts of time is pointless. Long sessions or too frequent sessions of cardio can lead to high levels of cortisol production. Cortisol can force the body to break down its own muscle tissue. When this happens your body will break down your own muscle tissue and use it as fuel. It also leads to increased fat accumulation, especially around the midsection.

Muscle loss due to excessive aerobics cardio effects your resting metabolic rate. It also inhibits natural hormone production.

So let's say you took the basic approach of cutting your calories and increasing your activity through cardio. This sets off an alarm in the body where the body sacrifices muscle tissue to maintain balance. Your body will lessen energy demands and store or hoard body fat as a survival response. During this time you will feel tired, groggy and hungry all the time. Once you reach this physiological state it becomes almost impossible to lose any more fat. You can cut calories and add all the cardio you want and the results will be minimal, if any. What you end up with is horrible cravings, ridiculous amounts of time on cardio machines, and a distorted body image. Weight regain plus some happens when a normal healthy caloric intake and exercise regimen is resumed. This generally results in a vicious cycle of huge swings in body weight and appearance. Sometimes the damage to the metabolism and hormones becomes so great over time that it's irreversible without medical intervention.

Do you need to do cardio?

Yes, but not the kind that is being preached. There are moments where steady state low intensity cardio is beneficial. But all those moments lead to you beginning or progressing in a sound strength training program. Cardio can help you build an aerobic base so you recover from strength training and recover between sets when you are lifting weights.

You do not need all the fancy machines on the cardio side of your gym to aid in your transformation. All the aerobic activity you need is walking. Yes, I said walking. That means when time permits, walk. Whether that means walking outdoors more, window shopping at the mall or longer grocery store trips. Walking will give you all the aerobic activity you need without all the harmful side effects of too much steady state low intensity cardio.