Does working out on an empty stomach really burn more fat? A simple question with a seemingly simple answer.On face value, one would conclude that yes, it probably does. If a car is running on empty (no food in the stomach) and is therefore left only with its reserve supply (food stored in the body) it will obviously turn that source and ultimately burn what is otherwise available. While this analogy may serve as a backdrop for a sure conclusion, It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Your Body Is A Complex Machine
Firstly, your body does not just metabolize fat. There are 2 other macronutrients to consider, Carbohydrates and Proteins, all of which are fuel for the metabolic process whose rate of metabolism differs. Having observed this fact, it’s worth mentioning that on the rungs of macronutrient metabolism, fat sits at the bottom, being the last in line to be considered for metabolism. Carbs are first out the gate.
The chemical makeup of carbohydrates means that they are far easier to break down into their constituent glycogen molecules, which are quickly metabolized to provide ATP, the body’s energy currency. Next, we would assume, or rather hope, that fat comes in second, however, the body would sooner metabolize protein before fat, simply because amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are easier on the process than fatty acids, the building blocks of fat.
So, the myth has been busted it seems, training on an empty stomach does not burn more fat. Not quite, after all, it is complicated.
Hormone Turf Wars
Let’s look at how nutrients are regulated in the body for the sake of metabolism. This is achieved through hormones. One major hormone to consider is insulin. Insulin is responsible for regulating the sugar/carb levels in our blood. The more sugar we have, the more insulin is pumped into our bloodstream to keep our levels from tanking over. One other major property of insulin is that it promotes the storage of fat rather than its metabolism.
On the other side we have the human growth hormone, or HGH. this hormone is antagonistic towards insulin, meaning more of one leads to less of the other. HGH promotes muscle growth and recovery and most importantly, the metabolism of fat rather than its storage, so essentially, you want to have more HGH and less insulin to improve fat burning, and you will likely have it in abundance upon waking up, if you managed to have an early and relatively low-carb dinner before bed.
When we wake up every morning, our body’s carbohydrate supply is all but depleted. This leads to a decrease in insulin and an increase in HGH, thus our fat burning potential spikes, and while protein is easier to metabolize, HGH promotes protein synthesis and muscle growth, leaving that base covered.
So, the myth is confirmed? Training on empty burns more fat? Yes and no.
You Need To Work Out How To Work Out
Now that we’ve looked at what we put in, we need to look at how we work out. Working out is one thing, but how we work out can greatly influence the outcome of how our body processes nutrients and goes about its metabolic function, especially concerning fat burning.
Let’s look at a few workout methods and see how they fair on the fat burning scale.
Yoga and Pilates
Yoga and Pilates are great workouts for increasing both your mental state and physical condition, unfortunately, these should only be considered supplementary to a good strength-based workout. They help in promoting improved flexibility, and proprioception (coordination and balance), but when it comes to burning fat, these two training methods leave a lot to be desired…
Steady State Cardio
Steady state cardio is just that, cardio, plain and simple. It’s great for burning loads of calories, but easily eats into your lean build and leaves you without much progress on the fat burning front. Steady state cardio is good for the heart but will not engage your fat stores and their high energy yield, opting instead to go for protein. This is an evolutionary function that the body uses to store as much reserve energy as possible since steady state cardio triggers the flight mechanism of your body’s survival instinct.
Strength training targets the skeletal muscles for a direct effect, promoting muscle growth and increasing both your metabolism, calorie burn, thus leading to an increased fat burning process. When you combine strength training with a reasonable amount of cardio, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) will increase, making the burning of fat, more efficient. Because lifting weight is known to trigger muscle growth, the more muscle you have, the more your body metabolizes macronutrients out of pure necessity, putting your fat stores in line for a quicker, more effective burn. And another added benefit of lifting weights is that it increases libido in men quite quickly. Strength training therefore sits high up on the scale of to-dos for fat burning.
Tabata and HIIT
Tabata and HIIT are revolutionary methods in today’s fitness landscape. Incorporating the benefits of both cardio and strength into one compact, time efficient package. By combining periods of intense cardio and muscular activity with brief periods of rest, the result is an unmatched spiking of the metabolic rate that promotes a long-extended post workout calorie burn, helping you drop fat long after without even breaking a sweat.
What To Take away
The real main takeaway when one investigates this is that training on an empty stomach can definitely increase fat burning potential, but having an empty stomach is but one factor in a complex array of variables.
Training on an empty stomach, or “fasted training” as it is commonly known, has its benefits, but also its drawbacks, depending on which one of the innumerable studies you focus on, all of which only take a finite and often small group of variables into account, one variable most studies fail to consider, is the inescapable uniqueness of each human body and their equally unique needs.