Should You Exercise on an Empty Stomach to Lose Weight?

Do you exercise on an empty stomach believing it will lead to accelerated weight loss?

Let’s think about this for a moment…

The theory suggests that blood sugar levels are low when you wake (which is completely true), and by exercising in this state the body supposedly targets more fat burning.

But, is this entirely necessary for weight loss?

The truth is, you can lose weight by exercising intensely, and eating a healthy diet, without the need for ‘fasted cardio’ exercise.

Observe the pros…

Let’s think about athletes for a minute…

Many athletes, such as basketball or hockey players are very lean, aren’t they?

But, do you find them fasting in the mornings and exercising on an empty stomach? No way! They know that for an effective workout, and to keep up with everyone else, they need to eat foods that will sustain them.

Now, granted most of us are far from being elite athletes! But, I think we can learn from them.

Craig Ballantyne from Personal said this:

“You don’t have to hop on the treadmill at 4:30am every morning. Let’s allow common sense to dictate when and how you exercise. If you want to work out first thing in the morning, by all means, go ahead and do it. There’s nothing magical about this time – although it is often the only time many of day many people have to themselves.

We need to think “outside of the hour” of exercise and realize that calorie burning and fat burning goes on for twentyfour hours. Forget about the theories and look at the bigger picture.

It doesn’t matter when you exercise – as long as you exercise intensely and consistently. Focus on relatively high-intensity workouts to increase your metabolism for as many hours after exercise as possible. That is best done with interval training and resistance training.”

My exercise preference is also interval training, and from experience I know how tough it is to do an intense workout or any kind of exercise on an empty stomach – it’s nearly impossible for me!

Disadvantages of exercising on empty stomach…

If you exercise on an empty stomach you’re more likely to get a shorter and less effective workout, due to:

  • Unnecessary fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration

As a result, you burn less calories because you can’t keep going as long as you should have been able to.

It’s also thought that exercising on an empty stomach leads to eating more following the workout, which is counter productive in the end.

Benefits of eating before you workout:

  • Helps energise your workout
  • Prevents low blood sugars, which can make you feel dizzy, nauseous, and lethargic
  • You can exercise more intensely
  • Your workout will be more enjoyable overall
  • Can boost your recovery time

So, what should you eat before exercise?

In his report, Eating for Peak Performance, Dr Derek Schramm states,

“Low-glycaemic index foods, such as rice, pasta, and bananas, should be consumed before exercise because they are absorbed into the blood stream at a lower rate, which will help sustain energy.

In studying the relationship between carbohydrate and fat metabolism during exercise, exercise physiologists have found that during the first 15 minutes of exercise, carbohydrates help to prime skeletal muscle for efficient fat burning. Thus, eating small amounts of low-glycaemic foods before exercise can help a dieting exerciser to lose fat.”

The best pre workout snacks are light and easy on the stomach, with around 100-200 calories in total.

Good examples include fruit (particularly bananas), plain yoghurt, small bowl of oatmeal, healthy granola bars, or fresh fruit smoothies.

Ultimately, it is entirely up to you whether you do your morning workout on an empty stomach, or not.

But, if you have to cut your exercise routine short because your energy levels are so low, I’d suggest a small snack beforehand, so you can get the most out of your exercise time.

Exercising for weight loss: Plan of Action:

  • Don’t worry about the time of day – just go with what fits your schedule
  • Do cardio training three days each week
  • Do strength training three days each week
  • Train in hard, short bursts
  • Eat regular meals and snacks containing carbs, protein, fruit and veggies
  • If exercising in the morning, have a light snack such as a banana, followed by a healthy breakfast later in the morning

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Blake November 20, 2008 at 1:53 am

I know that if I don’t eat anything before I workout my workout suffers. I try to eat at least a banana before my workouts. If I need more I eat more. Great info, as always!

Blake’s last blog post..Chew on This


tanya November 19, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Like you, there have been times when I’ve exercised on an empty stomach and I know I do as intense a workout, or even as long without feeling dizzy and fatigued. I always eat a little something before I work out (and people always tell me it’s wrong), but I know my body and know what happens if I don’t have fuel when I work otu.

tanya’s last blog post..Workout Song of the Day: U Don’t Know Me


Melanie November 20, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Hey Tanya,

I know what you mean about people telling you it’s wrong, but I think you make an excellent point…you know your own body, so if it works for you to eat something then go for it!!

Hey Blake,

I always eat a banana too, I can’t really stomach anything else first thing, but it seems to keep me going. I simply feel totally ‘flat’ if I don’t have something to eat.


Vastu Consultant From India December 19, 2008 at 4:38 pm

I like to go for lemonade or apple in the morning before going to gym.
Even my instructors say that one shouldn’t work out empty stomach. This will turn to weakness in nearby future..


Melanie December 22, 2008 at 9:23 am

Hey VC,
Do you mean a lemonade drink? I wouldn’t have said that was the healthiest option, but an apple is good!


Ayoub April 3, 2010 at 8:33 pm

People who do physical exercises in early morning should get some calories before training, those who don’t do exercises, get breakfast before going to work if not they would get fatigued quickly, and i don’t see anybody skipping breakfast, we’re not Gods.


Muscle By Science May 4, 2011 at 11:48 am

Nice article. You might also want to add that doing cardio on a an empty stomach is very catabolic and can lead to muscle loss.


Bill February 20, 2012 at 11:25 pm

The thought of food makes me ill in the morning until a couple of hours have passed. I do and intense workout every morning, upper body one day and lower the next for about an hour or so. I don’t notice an loss of energy but afterward I’m famished. I still keep the amount I east in check though. Thanks for the info though.


Melanie March 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Yes, breakfast is tough for some people. I’m the opposite, I need to eat something first thing, although I wasn’t always like that, I think it’s become a habit for me over the years.


Archana January 8, 2013 at 6:04 am

If I want to exercise in the afternoon before how many hours of starting the exercise am I supposed to take my lunch?


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