For many of you who are in a serious fat loss phase, aerobic exercise, or more commonly known simply as “cardio”, can be a very effective tool to help you get shredded. With all the daily responsibilities you already have, getting up early in the morning, to do empty stomach (or “fasted”) cardio can be quite challenging. You love doing cardio, but you ask, “Why can’t I wake up later, and just fit in my cardio session later in the day?” You wonder, “Is it absolutely necessary for me to do fasted cardio to achieve the chiseled physique I want?”
The answer is ‘yes’, and ‘no’.
Please let me explain.
What Does Science Say?
Several research studies have shown that empty stomach, or fasted cardio, done in the morning does utilize more fat than if that same cardio session, of similar intensity and duration, was completed after a meal. When you are in a fasted state, insulin levels are low. And when insulin levels are low, fat oxidation (“fat burning”) happens at an accelerated rate. Furthermore, low to moderate intensity steady state cardio does utilize fat oxidation as the primary fuel source. So, if done in a fasted state, in this case early in the morning, you will have a powerful 1-2 punch for effective fat loss!
What that said, despite confirming that early morning fasted cardio does burn more fat than cardio done later in the day, this does not mean that more total calories are used if intensity and duration were the same. This is where things get interesting because other research has shown that the most important factor for fat loss is not when cardio is done. Instead, for fat loss to occur, your total energy expenditures for the day (weight training, cardio, non-exercise activity thermogenesis) must exceed your total daily caloric intake. So it really doesn’t matter when you get your cardio done. The most important thing is that you actually get your cardio done. Sounds simple, right? Well not for everyone.
Real Life Application
As with much scientific findings, what is found to be true in the “lab” quite often can be difficult to execute in “real world” application. I realize there are some genetic freaks that can get shredded on little or no cardio, and there are always going to be exceptions, but generally speaking most of you will need to schedule your gym time around your work, appointments, your kid’s school, and activities.
After coaching so many athletes over the years, I have found for most people leaving their cardio for the end of the day can quite often lead to running out of time and the session being missed. There’s already stress in the day running between errands for you and your family, but having enough energy left at the end of the day to get in a good workout can become a limiting factor as well. So, my empirical evidence that I have observed over my 15 years of coaching clearly indicates that leaving cardio until the end of the day dramatically increases the likelihood of your cardio session being missed. So what is the solution?
Put Yourself First!
I acknowledge the fact that you are going to be burning the same amount of calories if you get your cardio session completed in the morning versus later in the day, but you will be enhancing fat oxidation and leaving your cherished carbs to be used for your weight training workouts where they are needed most. You are also starting your day off right by taking care of yourself first!
I also believe there is also a big psychological benefit from getting your cardio done first thing in the morning. There is something to be said to starting your day off with an immediate sense of accomplishment and a rush of endorphins. It not only gives you a big smile on your face, but it also lets you know that you’re going to have a freakin’ awesome day!