who should and who shouldn’t perform cardio in the morning on an empty stomach?

Based on my six years of experience as a professional trainer and nutrition coach; and in the professional option of fitness & nutrition expert Dr. John Berardi, morning cardio performed on an empty stomach is incredibly effective for fat loss in certain situations but should be avoided at all costs in others.

Use the following chart to determine if morning cardio on an empty stomach is right for you:

Is morning cardio on an empty stomach for you?

YES

NO

You’re an ectomorph (naturally skinny; interested in gaining and maintaining muscle mass)

X

You’re a mesomorphic strength/power athlete (naturally muscular and lean; can’t afford to lose any muscle mass)

X

You’re an endomorphic strength/power athlete (gain fat and muscle easily; can’t afford to lose any muscle mass)

X

You’re a mesomorphic bodybuilder/exerciser (naturally muscular and lean; not worried about losing a little muscle mass)

X

You’re an endomorphic bodybuilder/exerciser (gain fat and muscle easily; not worried about losing a little muscle mass)

X

As you may have picked up from looking at the chart, we run the risk of breaking down our precious muscle mass along with our body fat when we perform cardio in a fasted state, first thing in the morning. Cardio is a catabolic (muscle breakdown) activity whereas resistance training is an anabolic (muscle building) activity. And first thing in the morning, we awake in a catabolic state from the negative nitrogen balance created from not eating any food (specifically protein) for a long period of time (over four hours). Unlike carbs and fats, protein does not get stored in the body.

Consuming a few grams of fast-acting protein in the form of egg whites or whey protein isolate; or taking a serving of branch chain amino acids (BCAA) 15-30 minutes beforehand may prevent this unwanted muscle breakdown. It may also give you the energy boost you need to perform cardio at a higher intensity or for a longer period of time. But there’s a downside. The presence of insulin in the body, released by the pancreas when the protein is digested, may signal the body to burn slightly less body fat during and immediately after your cardio session. It’s up to you and your trainer to determine which approach is best for you in order for you to reach your goals in the shortest amount of time.

Now if a smaller, leaner body is NOT your goal, cardio sessions should be performed at a very low intensity later in the day such as after your weight training sessions or in some cases not at all. Remember to keep this perspective:

There are so many sets of goals out there. And for each goal there has to be a comprehensive nutrition and exercise approach that targets that goal with the right set of strategies. Any discussion of “protein” alone to get a great body is just stupid. And discussion of “fasted cardio” alone to get a great body is just stupid. Any discussion of “carbs” alone to get a great body is just stupid. Any discussion of “heavy lifting” alone to get a great body is just stupid. It’s how all these things fit together that makes or breaks your progress! -Dr. John Berardi (Precision Nutrition)

To book a one-on-one fitness & nutrition consultation with myself in person or over skype, please contact me at annika@duquettestrength.com.

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About Annika Voelpel

* former director of health & fitness programs at the sutton place hotel * former head therapist of duquette strength clinic * entering 10th year as a professional trainer * registered kinesiologist and active-rehabilitation specialist * level 1 track & field, gymnastics, dance, and aquatics coach * certified in the postural reprogramming system (PRS) * certified pilates instructor and acupressure massage practitioner * sports nutrition and healthy-cooking expert * seminar speaker and former presenter at the global youth assembly * former national level gymnast and competitive dancer * former varsity track and field competitor * experienced fitness model
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2 Responses to who should and who shouldn’t perform cardio in the morning on an empty stomach?

  1. Gary Rooprai: Very informative, this makes a lot of sense. Two questions:

    1.) By “in the morning”, do you mean specifically right after sleep or could it be any time you haven’t eaten for a number of hours?

    2.) What about resistance training in the morning on an empty stomach? Same shit?

  2. Annika Hodgson: Thanks Gary. In this post, I’m specifically referring to right after sleep. When we sleep, our blood concentrations of the storage hormone insulin go down so our bodies go from a “storing mode” to a “fat-oxidizing” (fat-burning) mode. Also when we sleep, 99% of the energy we expend comes from fatty acids (mobilized body fat) because sleep is an extremely low intensity activity and because of a natural human growth hormone (hGH) burst which occurs 30 minutes or so after we enter the deep sleep phase. Since hGH increases fatty acid mobilization, we have the potential of burning up to three times as much body fat in the morning or immediately after an extended period of sleep.

    If you want to resistance/weight train in the morning and fat loss is one of your primary goals, consume at least a small amount of protein or 5 grams of branch chain amino acids 15-30 minutes beforehand to prevent stress from being put on your adrenal glands. When the adrenal glands are stressed, they release the stress hormone cortisol. Our bodies burn muscle and store fat when cortisol is present in the body so resistance training on an empty stomach wouldn’t be the best approach to getting leaner. The intensity of your training session would most likely suffer as well because the body becomes weak and lethargic when it’s starved of energy (food).

    Reference: Fat loss Symposium, Dublin, April 2006, Charles Poliquin.

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