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What is Fasted Cardio, and what cardio is best for me?

  • Knight 

Fat loss is a challenging concept for most people to grasp. The majority of individuals find that if they focus purely on cardio, they will lose weight, but they will not tone. Fasted cardio has been my go-to method for losing fat while maintaining muscle. Before one can understand the construct of fasted cardio, one must first understand what a fasted state means.

Fed vs. Fasted

When we eat, our bodies digest the food and break it down into its simplest form glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids (blog post coming soon). The small intestines will absorb these by-products and transfer them to our cells utilizing the hormone insulin. This will cause a spike in your insulin levels while the nutrients travel through the body to the appropriate cells. This is known as a “fed” state.

When the body has finished transporting the nutrients to the appropriate cells, insulin levels return to a baseline level. This is known as a “fasted” state. The size of the meal and how easily digestible (shake/smoothie lovers are winning here) the meal will affect how long it takes to return to a fasted state.

Different Types of Cardio

Cardio is simple enough to understand, but there are different cardio levels. Low intensity, moderate intensity, and high intensity. They all have their benefits and drawbacks. Low-intensity cardio (walking on a treadmill at an incline for 60 minutes) has been shown to burn more calories during the workout but not post-workout. Moderate-intensity cardio (Faster paced runs) has been shown to burn more calories than low-intensity exercises during the workout AND post-workout. High-intensity has been shown to burn fewer calories during the workout but the most calories post-workout. Moderate intensity to High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is my favorite form of cardio. It is short, fun, and the benefits continue well after the workout is finished.

Benefits of HIIT

  1. Elevated metabolic rate for the next 24 hours.
  2. Improves insulin sensitivity, which allows for better digestion of micronutrients.
  3. It allows the muscles to burn fat more efficiently.
  4. Increases the production of the human growth hormone, which aids in fat loss.

The real benefits of fasted cardio (in combination with moderate cardio training or HIIT) are the post-workout benefits described above. Take advantage of these favorable insulin and hormone levels and ensure that your nutrition is on point. Consume a high protein, high carb meal post-workout. Replenish your glycogen levels, knowing that your body will continue to burn oxidized fat for the next 24 hours.
It is easier to get fasted cardio done in the morning when you first wake up because you are already in a fasted state. Take advantage of this window and get the day started with some cardio, and then come back later in a fed state and knock out your weights and resistance training.

The biggest drawback of cardio (especially HIIT or moderate-intensity cardio) is that the body can not oxidize fat quick enough to use it for energy. So that means the body will turn to the glycogen stores in the muscles for energy. I suggest drinking branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) before and during the workout to prevent this from happening. The following methods are recommended as well:

  1. Eat a high protein diet.
  2. Stay with a consistent weight and resistance training regiment.
  3. Adjust caloric deficit to 15-25%.

Fasted cardio is a great construct that has been shown to stimulate lasting change. This method is especially effective for lean individuals with some stubborn fat areas that need extra work to flatten out. Take advantage of your fasted state in the mornings, start the day off at a deficit, and reap the benefits for the next 24 hours.

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