It's time again to tackle one of your many burning questions with our Ask Coach Lance series! Forget about scouring the internet for hours only to end up more confused. Bring it to us and Coach Lance will find you a solid solution.
Our BOOMer question this month relates to fasted workouts. Are they really beneficial or is it best to eat something prior to getting your sweat on?
Our BOOMer asks:
Are fasted morning workouts more beneficial? Any tips for those of us who feel sick if we eat early in the morning but struggle with the workout if fasted?
Take it away Coach Lance!
Thank you for the question! This one is right up my alley so if you will indulge me a little it’s time to nerd out a little and get into some science!
So taken on their own and not as a part of larger strategy, like intermittent fasting for example, the current evidence suggests that there are no discernible body composition or fat loss benefits to working out in a fasted state. This study from 2014 found that a fasted workout group and a non-fasted workout group with controls for both total daily calorie intake and training protocols resulted in no discernible difference in body composition. This meta-analysis study from 2017 (a review of an aggregate of previous studies) yielded similar findings. There is some evidence that the amount of fat oxidized (burned) during fasted workouts is increased, which makes sense as there is a depletion of alternate energy sources, but there is no significant evidence that this impacts overall body composition over an extended period.
Okay, that seems confusing, right? If it appears that we burn more fat when working out fasted why does that not seem to translate to a significant difference in body composition compared to working out in a fed state? While I could not find a study on this particular topic (get on it researchers) I would theorize that this is most likely because our bodies tend to be masters at finding homeostasis. In an effort to “balance out” energy expenditure we likely adjust our resting metabolic rate throughout the day when we work out fasted to offset the additional fat that is burned during the workout. Which means the only evidenced based, reliable way to reduce body fat is by reducing overall calorie consumption to create a net negative energy balance. I know…bummer!
That being said in your question you addressed what I would consider the primary benefit of working out fasted, especially for those of us that work out early in the morning, which is that our digestive system is not necessarily primed and ready to go first thing. This results in some of us, myself included, that do not feel good if we try and choke down some oatmeal or crush a pre-workout shake on our way to the gym before the sun is up. While it is true that it is unlikely we will be able to perform quite as well working out fasted as we would in a fed state, in my opinion, that is not worth feeling queasy during a workout.
To address your second question, how do we combat that and keep our energy high so we can crush our workout? A strategy that I employ and recommend to all my clients who work out fasted is to mix up some BCAAs with water in a shaker cup, sip on them throughout the workout, and finish them off directly following the workout. I find that this significantly improves energy and that the BCAAs are easy enough to digest that they don’t bother my stomach. Winning (Note that this is essentially the only instance in which I typically recommend BCAA supplementation as they are largely unnecessary if not working out fasted.)! In terms of a specific BCAA option I dig Scivation Xtend BCAAs since they mix up well, taste pretty good, and have a variety of flavor options.
If there are any follow up questions please drop those in the comments and I will be happy to address them as best I can!
Thanks Coach! I hope this clears the air for all you BOOMers who needed to know. Until next time...see you in the Boom Room!
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Coach Loni also runs the LFT blog, bringing you informative, uplifting and motivating articles and videos to help you achieve your goals and live your best life.