You’ve heard it before. Running on an empty stomach accelerates fat loss. The logic behind it? Glycogen depletion, A.K.A. carbohydrates.
Every time you eat a piece of pizza or a meticulously measured 3/4 cup of rice, the body stores it as glucose in the liver and muscles to use later for energy. When there is no glycogen available, the body will reach for its secondary energy source—stored fat and muscle protein.
But before every Tom, Dick and Harriett goes running to a treadmill on an empty stomach, let’s take a closer look at the second half of that statement: “MUSCLE PROTEIN,” A.K.A. your gains. Your curves. Your lovely lady lumps.
That’s right ladies. Your body becomes catabolic—meaning your body will break down your hard-earned muscle for energy.
Ever been on a crash diet and lost a bunch of weight in a hurry, but didn’t get any tighter? Of course you didn’t! Your body burned up your lean muscle mass along with a little stored fat.
So what’s a fit girl in search of a sexy six-pack to do? How do you shed stubborn pounds without sacrificing your hard earned muscle? The answer lies in the type of nutrients you are consuming before cardio as well as the type of cardio you are performing.
As recently as 2005, it was a common consensus that consuming high amounts of carbohydrates before cardio was ideal. You’re probably familiar with endurance athletes “carb-loading” before a big race.
A smart lady named Dr. Hansen and her colleagues shocked attendees at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference when she presented her findings urging carbohydrates are better consumed post-workout to utilize fat loss and should be limited before cardio.
Read on to find out what you should consume before your cardio session.
You need to consume adequate protein before cardio to avoid losing muscle tissue. One easy option? Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). Come again? BCAAs are the building blocks of protein. They come in a powder form and can be easily mixed in your water. While many supplements may not be necessary if you’re eating right and training hard, BCAAs are perfect for consuming before and intra-workout.
That brings us to another important point.
Carbohydrate-depleted, steady-state cardio is a useful tool for making those last few stubborn pounds budge. Many bodybuilders will use it in the final few weeks leading up to a competition. You may or may not be surprised to know the body is most efficient at burning fat at lower intensities.
On the flip-side, when you work out at 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate, your body’s primary form of fuel is carbohydrates—up to 85 percent! So what’s the catch? Why would anyone want to perform high intensity intervals over steady-state cardio for fat loss?
Steady-state cardio can be boring and tedious. Plus the calorie burn will subside soon after you get off the hamster wheel, and we all know fat loss is all about caloric expenditure.
On the other hand, training at a high intensity burns excess calories for up to 24 hours after exercise even if you sit on your butt and do nothing. The phenomenon is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Better yet, you only need to perform 15 to 30 minutes of intervals for them to be effective.
Intervals are difficult, if not impossible in a fasted state, so don’t even try it. Even a well-fueled athlete will be gassed after 30 minutes of exercising at this intensity.
The takeaway? Fasted or even carb-depleted steady-state cardio is grossly overrated. Just take a look at the difference in body composition between a marathon runner and a sprinter. Focus your energy on weightlifting and high-intensity cardio to get that bodacious body you’re after.