Fasted cardio (doing cardio on an empty stomach) in hopes of optimizing fat as the fuel source, is a strategy that’s been around for decades. Only recently has enough data been compiled from various sources to really come to a conclusion on this topic. I cover the topic in this latest vid!

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53 Comments
  1. Adam Kitchen 8 years ago

    Will, is there actually anything in that cup, or was it just for show?
    Nice video. I would agree with your sentiments.

    • eric 8 years ago

      Let the man enjoy his brew in peace..it probably helps with the stage fright. Excellent article; bottom-lines a controversy existing for decades effectively.

      • Author
        Will Brink 8 years ago

        Eric, it does give me something to do with my hands. I like something in my hands when I do seminars, vids, etc. Now I have become known as that guy who has a coffee mug in his hand in his vids. It’s all good.

      • Adam Kitchen 8 years ago

        Eric, I was only kidding. I wasn’t trying to poke fun, lol. I like Will’s vids and find him articulate. I agree holding onto something can help with hand movement. Some people struggle with hand movement immensely and it distracts from the content of the video / speech.
        Anyway… Again, nice vid Will!

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      Adam, if it’s before noon (which is most common time for me to make vids) it’s coffee. If after noon, herbal tea. Yes, there’s always something in my cup during vids 🙂

  2. Ken P 8 years ago

    Thanks Will:
    I’ve been following you for some time (years); and I’m all ears when I hear that you’ve formulated an opinion on a fitness topic. Your common sense approach is both refreshing and reassuring. I always feel confident that you have adequately researched the subject matter before forming and expressing your opinion.
    You are one of the gem stones in the rock quarry of the fitness game!
    Best Regards — KP

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      Thanx Ken!

  3. Author
    Will Brink 8 years ago

    Jim, review to read on the topic is:
    Strength & Conditioning Journal:
    February 2011 – Volume 33 – Issue 1 – pp 23-25
    Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss?
    Schoenfeld, Brad MS, CSCS

  4. Rob L 8 years ago

    Will, with fasted cardio I experience more intensity and less pain & boredom. It feels like my body forgets to give a f••• about the pain. My stomach is flatter and I’m less hungry all day, which gives me the edge when it comes to controlling my nutrition.
    Now, it’s VERY good to know that the fat-burning claim is not true, and that more catabolism is present. But fasted cardio has psychological benefits that allow this athlete to achieve better results long term. “Waste of time,” is an odd editorial choice anyway – if anything, not having to eat before cardio SAVES time.

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      Rob, fasted or not, is not going to impact pain. How does food before hand impact boredom? That does not make any sense to me. If we know fasted cardio does not enhance weight loss, and it’s potentially catabolic, then in my view, any psychological benefits are outweighed by the physiological negatives. Two, the psychological benefits exist because many are under the impression they are gaining some physiological advantage by doing the fasted cardio, when they are not, so the psychological benefits is based on a false premise anyway. So yes, I would consider fasted cardio a waste of time as the downsides appear to outweigh the upsides.

      • Rob L 8 years ago

        I just found this blurb below. It seems in line with exactly what I’m perceiving. For a few hours after eating something, I have no interest in cardio and every second is torture, but if I skip breakfast, it’s a breeze. Anyone else out there experience this? Can you comment on this claim below?
        “Fasting stimulates the fight or flight system in the human body, allowing for the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline, increasing energy and focus, and decreasing fatigue. Eating causes an insulin surge (storage hormone) that activates the Parasympathetic Nervous system, which stimulates digestion and generally relaxes the body.”
        I’m sure you’ll agree that fasted cardio is better than no cardio, which is what most people do. Fasted cardio might be a way to help more people actually DO cardio. The perception is it’s hard, but it might actually be easier, that’s my point. Physiology aside, the CHOICE to train is personal, aesthetic, a qualitative value judgement. If wearing a propeller beany fires YOU up for lat pulldowns, then wear it, regardless of what the papers say.

        • Author
          Will Brink 8 years ago

          I’m not convinced fasted cardio is better then no cardio honestly. People can get better results in bodycomp other ways then using LISS cardio, but that’s another topic for another day. Tons of vids, articles, etc here that also look at that topic.

          • Rob L 8 years ago

            Um…IS THIS TRUE:
            “Fasting stimulates the fight or flight system in the human body, allowing for the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline, increasing energy and focus, and decreasing fatigue.”

        • Author
          Will Brink 8 years ago

          It’s one of those quasi truths Rob used by people who don’t know any better or are intentionally misleading people. Would take some serious biochem/phys discussion to cover fully, but the practical response is: studies have found consistently that people performed better on exercise tests when they had eaten something vs not. Thus, as mentioned in the vid, fasted cardio = reduced performance and intensity which can = less cals used. That’s the important “take home” to that particular claim.

          • Rob L 8 years ago

            Thanks!

        • Luiz 8 years ago

          Yes I too experience that. I can’t run or lift weights before 3 hours from a meal. I think I have a very slow digestion, so I feel bad when I do it. In my first runs, I felt a little faint, but now, I can run for 45min easily fasted and feel great (with only a espresso in the stomach to boost).
          I lost 9 pounds of pure fat in the last 2 months. I gained 1/2″ in the thy circumference, but I have to say I`m a beginner.
          The content of the video is not a surprise for me, but I really feel fine running in fast.
          Anyway, I`ll try to get something very light before running, like whey, just to check how I feel and perform.
          Keep up with the good work.

  5. Michael R. Baggett 8 years ago

    Empty stomach morning aerobics is like drastically reducing carbs, if you do either for an extended period of weeks on end you will cut into muscle gains. It’s all about balance. Don’t do it everyday.
    Michael R. Baggett

  6. Bruce 8 years ago

    Hi Will, super interesting video. I am just about to start a cutting cycle and I was thinking to implement fasted cardio until you came out with this video! However, I have a few things I want to clarify with you.
    Question 1
    Is doing cardio post weight training or some separate time of the day (after eating) better? It would seem that since energy levels will be lower post weight training and therefore burn less calories, then cardio during some other time of the day would be better isn’t it?
    Question 2
    Is it better to eat carbs pre-cardio or not? If you eat carbs, you will have more energy and therefore burn more calories. Lets say I eat 5-6 meals a day and my cardio is done at night where I usually don’t eat carbs anymore after the first 3 meals (unless its pre and post workout). Would it be better if I eat a meal containing carbs before I cardio at night (maybe 2nd last meal of the day) or I would be better not to.
    All my calories/ratio are planned but I am just curious whether eating carbs pre-cardio will affect anything or not.
    Thanks a lot 🙂

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      Bruce, that gets into issues of programming, goals, total cals, and other variables. Basic rule of thumb however is, cardio is best done (a) on a separate day (b) separate time of day (C) after resistance training, in that order. In truth, no cardio is needed per se, potentially cuts into recoup from resistance training if done to excess, but it does burn some additional cals and assist with recoup if not over done.

      • Bruce 8 years ago

        Thanks for the reply Will.
        You said no cardio is needed. Say every other variable is perfect or close to perfect (diet/training/sleep etc), is it ever possible to get ripped/shredded (contest shape or close to that) without any cardio ever? I’m not sure if I heard any competitor don’t do any form of cardio (but that is just my LIMITED KNOWLEDGE).
        In my opinion, I think that some good amount of cardio will be needed to get ripped but that is just me (even though was never ripped, but I am trying to be rip now by doing cardio 5 times a week and starting at 9-10% bodyfat).

  7. Edith Halasik 8 years ago

    I can’t even phatom doing cardio on either full stomach or late in the afternoon when the body has already endured daily stress and fatigue. Yes, your glucose levels are low after hours of fasting, and yes the energy your body will derive from will be that from muscles. Unless…you put some proteins in your system, and I mean some whey. It does not have to be a full blown meal, but a scoop or two of whey. This way the cardio you do in the am will not deplete you of your precious muscles. And yes, you’d burn more calories that way than at any other time in the day or after a meal.

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      “And yes, you’d burn more calories that way than at any other time in the day or after a meal.”
      That statement would be incorrect Edith. Having some whey and doing cardio, as mentioned in the vid, might be a viable strategy, but again studies find people have better performance when they have eaten (no one is suggesting eating a big meal and jumping into aerobics 10 minutes later…) which means more cals used.

  8. David 8 years ago

    I’m glad I listened to your video. I’ve never done fasting cardio, not a morning gym person, but I would’ve probably considered it in the near future. That saves me time and muscle!
    Thanks Will. You’re always on the ball!

  9. Drew Davidson 8 years ago

    Some clarity on this issue at last-well done.
    Regards
    Drew

  10. scentrino 8 years ago

    The true answer to this age old question is (all men are not created equally) The best way to determine your optimal fat burning method is to experiment. Your body and mirror will give you the answer.

  11. Raymond 8 years ago

    Thanks for the video, I totally agree just burn the calories.
    Funny thing people need to rely on others to tell them what to do…. just go for a run ‘fasted’ for a month or longer than ‘not fasted’ and decide what works …. discover it yourself … but for what it is worth here is what I found … nope it doesn’t make a difference, its better to keep it lower intensity if you are fasting, I prefer to do cardio fasted it makes me feel better … bottom line…Thanks again for info.
    Raymond

  12. Ken Jensen 8 years ago

    Years ago, I used to do this (waking, lifting empty) but lost interest as I got older. I noticed no difference in fat levels. But, to be fair, my eating has not been as closely monitored as many of you out there probably do. However, I was faithful to this plan for almost a decade.
    When I switiched to eating normally and just making sure a window existed between last meal and lift time, so as not to cause gastric distress, my bodyfat didn’t change any. I’ve remained with that plan, out of necessity and comfort, for many years hence.
    I feel safe knowing Will is correct. He always has the goods, ad nauseum, to back what he says. You can’t argue with him unless you too, are equally prepared with a separate set of documentation refuting his, and I don’t see many stepping up to that plate. He makes no idle comments. That’s why I constantly recommend his site to others in my gym.
    But I also feel that people can get good results in certain areas in ways that defy the research or seeming logic. We’re all unique with many variables in our day that won’t be duplicated by all. Some of us get freakish results often in ways that make no sense.
    Other parts of my health life have proven that and I used some of Will’s info to make it happen, way back when. His findings, and the research to prove them, backed what I was feeling intuitively and concluding with a much more limited background in science and nutrtion.
    I knew I was on to something and just did it. Later, I found Will and his solid science confirmed my anecdotal findings. Pretty cool.

  13. Lj 8 years ago

    Great glad to see you put this out.

  14. Lj 8 years ago

    Thank you, helped me in a debate. I win!!!!

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      Glad to have helped! 🙂

  15. Ryan Curtis 8 years ago

    Great info. Thanks for what you do.

  16. chuck 8 years ago

    Thanks I have wondered about this for several years!

  17. Jenny Middleton 8 years ago

    Thank you. This was excellent.

  18. Doug Stein 8 years ago

    Well I dont agree with this video but opinions are like a-holes,everyone has one.I did the Tom Venuto burn the fat,feed the muscle program and went from 20% to 14% bodyfat and gained a couple lbs of lean muscle mass in the 2010 summer challenge.It seemed as i did the fasted cardio i felt better,got me going and i never had a excuse of something else coming up.I came across your stuff from a article by Tom Venuto and bought it.Amazing how so many supposed experts disagree on things.Best thing for people to do is research and try it.Ive tried running a hour after i ate on the treadmill and i didnt see a difference.Little heavy feeling but not uncomfortable.Im going back to fasted.

    • Bruce 8 years ago

      If it works for you then thats what matters. But there are a lot of variables so assuming everything else is the same and you’re getting better results from fasted cardio then keep it up 🙂

  19. mike heidinger 8 years ago

    I watched the video it was great . I am not in disagreement about the HITT it is far superior to fasted when burning calories. My point is that if you are at a low enough percentage of heart rate the muscle you loose will be minimal at best . At that percentage fat will fuel the excersise

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      And as said, fasted, a % will be coming from nitrogen loss, and as said, the entire fat burning zone thing, debunked a while back… It’s about cals, not % of fat used in the end. If someone walked 5 mins in a fasted state at low % of max heart rate would they lose muscle? Probably not, but they would also use minimal cals, so it would be essentially of no value to their goals.
      Thus, if we are talking about aerobics (regardless of intensity levels…) done long enough and or intense enough to actually benefit them; doing so fasted does not appear to be the optimal strategy according the the most recent studies.
      Now, I have personally trained more people in the “real world” then 99% of the readers here, and fasted cardio was a great way to lose muscle mass, and I never saw enhanced fat loss with it. I advised clients to get at least one meal (small amount of oatmeal and a few scoops of whey) and then exercise son as they felt ready, and effects were generally improved as they had more energy to exercise, etc, all of which I pointed out above and in vid.
      Feedback I have gotten over the years from natural bbers was the fasted cardio did help them shed some fat, but it also made them skinny and they lost far too much LBM to justify it, and they felt like junk, and going back to non fasted cardio resulted in improved bodycomp.
      I hope that helps cover the overall issue 🙂

  20. mike heidinger 8 years ago

    I have experience with a lot of natural bb that i train and fasted low percentage heart rate cardio is what we use to get them shredded and ahrd and not one of the has complained about losing muscle. What you have to really understand is its not the fasted cardio that eats up muscle its about not taking in enough quality calories. i guess i will just agree to disagree wit you on this one. i dont think the claim is accurate because everyone is very different . i know people who use HITT and loose muscle because they do not eat good quality calories. 1 approach does not work for everyone

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      Nothing I can add Mike I have not already said in my above responses, so I’ll leave at that. Good luck 🙂

  21. Medix821 8 years ago

    Wow way too wordy. I stuck with it to get the answer but you should try to be more concise and direct your diatribe to a specific group – those interested in fat loss – then address those interested in building muscle. You have good info but rambled too much in this particular video. Sorry.

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      Can’t please everyone all the time, nor do I try. I say what I feel needs to be said, using science, my experience, knowledge of human biology, etc, as I see fit to cover a topic as I think needs to be covered…Your opinion of the vid is welcomed, but I recommend a more respectful friendly way of saying it in the future. Thanx.

      • Steve 8 years ago

        I am a little Tardy to the party here, but am hoping you can answer a question.
        Due to time contraints, I have to workout in the mornings. I get up at 04:30 in order to get my workouts in, and always workout in a fasted state whether it be cardio or resistance training. I see above that you recommended to at least get a little oatmeal and whey, but would a protein shake using milk and whey be sufficient? I feel I would be able to start my workouts sooner after a shake, than after a solid meal. As I am not in this to lose muscle mass I could convince myself to get up even earlier if I had to, but would prefer to maximise my sleeping time.
        On resistance days, is it also better to have a meal before hand?
        Great site and great information! Thank you.

    • Ben 8 years ago

      That’s just the way Will rolls, he give you all the facts. 99% of us like that in him. If you don’t, go liston to someone else.

      • Author
        Will Brink 8 years ago

        Nicely said Ben 🙂
        I do my best, and have for a long time now, to supply the objective science based info, and try to make it accessible to non scientists and scientists alike. What people choose to do with that info (use it, ignore, etc) is up to them. I just supply the facts as they exist, and or, make it clear where something is my opinion vs. supported-or not- by the data that exists.

  22. Ken 8 years ago

    Awesome information, thanks for clearing this up I always wondered about fasting that long then working out!.

  23. Erv 8 years ago

    Thanks Will!!
    Enjoyed your video. Especially the part about the nitrogen deficit.. wow!
    I’ve exercised doing the long jogs at 6am training and alternatively I’ve done after lunch jogs which involved one big hill on the way back. Intensity levels were kept at a reasonable level for the after lunch jogs.. never had any cramps and energy levels were super good after the shower.
    There’s a possibility that before breakfast training runs will train the body to store greater reserves before going analbolic(after a while.) I Like what you said that over time the fat system adjusts..
    By the way, won the race I was training for with the early morning runs.. with a two hundred yard sprint at the end that carried me past the leader in the last thirty yards…
    LIke you said.. it’s complicated..How much muscle can you digest for example before breakfast. And for the the body builder who’s bulked up a little too much on one side maybe the pre-breakfast workout can help balance his shape..
    Here’s a question: in anabolic exercise.. if I understand what you said, do you digest muscle from all over your body or more from the areas exercised.. or more from the areas that were inactive. ???

  24. Emanuel 8 years ago

    Good to get a confirmation on the subject. The part on the possible muscle loss was also interesting. Thanks.

  25. Paul 8 years ago

    Interesting & fairly informative, BUT, like most American stuff, too long winded!!! Cut out the crap & GET TO THE POINT! Apart from that – ur a good guy Will.

  26. Ravy777 8 years ago

    Great vid, timely and informative. I’ll have a yogurt before my cardio in the am. Thanks again!!!!!

  27. Karim 8 years ago

    Will,
    Just an FYI:
    In one of the stubborn fat solution protocols by Lyle McDonald, Lyle recommends doing cardio on an empty stomach because it will allow you to burn fat from stubborn areas that was mobilized during the first part of the protocol. He then recommends not to eat for an hour after the exercise for the same reason that now that you have mobilized fat from stubborn areas into the blood stream you can burn it off. Now, he does mention that your body fat has to be at a level where all you have left to lose is stubborn fat.

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  29. Ken P 8 years ago

    … great “skinny” Will.
    Thanks for the clarification!

  30. Andy 7 years ago

    Hey will, first comment here, stumbled across this post thought it was a good one.
    Specifically i would like to ask, if you are waking up and doing low intensity cardio for 30 or 40 minutes each day, how much muscle wasting do you think will be done? Its my understanding that low intensity will expend more calories from fat and relatively few from muscle. Is this wrong? My cardio consists of walking at about 3-4 miles an hour for this duration each morning.
    I have done low intensity fasted cardio for years and have not experienced much muscle wasting. On top of that, i feel like if i do high intensity cardio at any point whilst i am weight training as normal, i feel like i over train and i am stimulating my CNS too much which leads to negative results, especially when i am in a calorie deficit. Can you say anything to convince me that i am wrong? And also, do you think it might be more beneficial to just do the same low intensity cardio in a non fasted state?
    Thanks for your time Will, love this site. You provide a lot of great info.

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