Fasted Training is it Right for You?
You may well have heard all sorts of different and contradictory views regarding fasted training; is it good or bad for you, does it help you to build up endurance or burn fat like never before to get those cheese-grater abs you’ve always dreamed of…? Well, we’re going to keep things simple, and explain what fasted training is, how it can be useful, and how it may in fact be detrimental. Sound good?
What is Fasted Training?
So, what is fasted training? It’s when you train in a carbohydrate-depleted state. It’s easiest to do these kinds of sessions first thing in the morning, because, unless you eat in your sleep, then night time is a period of fasting. If you really struggle to train on an empty stomach then a small, high-protein breakfast such as a couple of boiled or scrambled eggs works fine, just avoid any carbs!
When is Fasted Training Effective
When can fasted training work effectively I hear you cry?! Well, if you’re training for an endurance event, then this style of training could help you nicely. Long rides, runs, swims, whatever it may be, are, by definition, time consuming. Fasted training therefore, can provide you with some of the benefits of a long training session, at least in terms of endurance, in much less time. By training in a carb-depleted state, you are helping your body to adapt to a fat-burning metabolism. This helps to prepare your body for endurance events, because in these events you burn through your carbohydrate and protein stores after a period of time, and are then forced to try and convert fat into energy; a much harder task!
So, if you start your training already in a carb-depleted state, then you can reach these fat burning metabolising adaptations in much less time. 60-90 minutes is enough, so you could fairly easily squeeze in a session like this before work, or even as part of your commute to work! Handy hey?
These 60-90 minute sessions should be simple, steady, endurance sessions in which you aim to stay below 70% of your maximum heart rate, about 3-4 effort level on a scale of 1-10 (but trust us, when you’re hungry it feels like a lot more effort than that!). And make sure to re-fuel after your fasted session, but no, we’re sorry to say that just because you’ve done a fasted training session, it isn’t an excuse for a feast!
Well then, fasted training sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And yes, it can be very effective indeed. However, if you’re training more for aesthetics rather than endurance, you may want to think carefully. Yes, fasted training does indeed increase fat burning, although there can be a number of drawbacks to it.
Firstly, carb-depleted training can degrade muscle mass for energy, so you lose some muscle at the same time as losing fat. What a cruel, muscle-thieving mistress fasted training can be… Secondly, high intensity training is a great way to burn fat, but it’s not recommended to do it on an empty stomach as you simply won’t be able to put enough effort into the intervals to make it worth your while. So, it’s much more effective to eat beforehand, fuel yourself up, and put maximum effort into an effective, high-intensity training session. Not only does this burn a lot of calories during the training itself, but a tough high intensity session can keep your metabolism higher for the rest of the day. As we know, losing fat comes from an overall calorie deficit, not just from how many calories were burned during a training session.
Along the same lines is a third drawback; when you train on an empty stomach, your body can view the combination of exercise, coupled with a lack of food, as a ‘threat’, and reduce total body expenditure. Therefore, your metabolic rate slows, more than it would if you had eaten pre-workout in the first place!
So, fasted training clearly has its pros and cons. It may be more suited to some of us than to others, depending on how our bodies react to training on an empty stomach, but also depending on the actual objective of our training in the first place. It can be a great tool to help with endurance training if you’re short on time, but if you’re aiming for the Men’s Health cover-model-look, then perhaps higher intensity training sessions on a full stomach (not actually full, just slightly full in comparison to fasted training!) might be the way to go…food for thought!