Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Skinny on Fasted Cardio and Training Depleted

It's common practice for athletes and individuals looking to achieve optimal fat burning, be it for a fitness competition, professional sports or just personal achievement to do "fasted cardio" or cardio training before breakfast on an empty stomach. The theory is that training on an empty stomach will allow you to tap into fat stores more quickly and optimize fat burning. There is much debate surrounding this technique and unfortunately little specific research to back it up. Some research has suggested that fasted cardio may cause loss of muscle due to catabolism because the muscles are working in a depleted state. Without nutrients to repair the damage caused from exercise the muscle begins to break down and is used for energy.

On the other hand sometimes a slight loss of muscle is worth it to reach your desired goal, especially if that goal is weight related (such as in professional fighting). In the case of bodybuilding and fitness competition however, muscle loss is something to be avoided as much as possible.

To approach this theory we have to look at the science behind it in the first place. A few questions we have to ask are: What is the overall state your body is in after sleeping? How does being depleted affect your muscles? Are there ways to take advantage of this depleted state without losing muscle? What steps should you take to recover after training depleted? What other considerations should we take into account?

First we'll look at the state your body is in after sleeping. Our body uses glycogen in our muscles, brain and organs for energy. Although it takes approximately 24-48 hours to be completely depleted of glycogen and reach a state of ketosis, depletion can occur after 4-8 hours. This means that when you wake up you are generally using a combination of fat stores and muscle breakdown (catabolism) for energy. Being in a glycogen depleted state causes acidity in our body which can put excess stress on our lymph nodes and immune system while potentially damaging the cells and muscles, making injury more likely and nutrient absorption less effective. On the other hand it also increases our "flight or fight" state and influences fat burning by using the fat stores for energy.

Note: Carbs are stored in the body in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is 1 part carbohydrate and 2.8 (3) parts water.  

So what does this mean? If we can bring our body into an alkaline state, reducing the acidity while keeping it depleted we can take advantage of the fat burning mode we're in while reducing the risk of injury and damage to the immune system and body overall. To achieve this we can do one or both of the following:
  • Drink a glass of water immediately upon waking with a few pinches of sea salt and trace mineral drops. This will help replenish electrolytes and bring our body into an alkaline state. 
  • Drink 500ml of water with 1/2-1tsp of organic non-alluminum baking soda prior to training. This is another technique that will make the body alkaline and will also reduce lactic acid build up while training, minimizing injury and muscle soreness while influencing recovery.
Next we look at what causes catabolism, or muscle breakdown. As mentioned above, muscle breakdown occurs from the body being in a glycogen depleted state forcing it to use fat and muscle for energy. When we exercise we are tearing small muscle fibers which is necessary for growth. The product of this is lactic acid and muscle breakdown if not treated properly through nutrition. There are a couple of techniques that may reduce this process from happening.

The first method to preventing muscle breakdown while training is to use a BCAA supplement with a pinch of sea salt, such as Nutrabolics' Anabolic State to feed the muscle it's vital amino acids to influence repair and recovery. Although BCAA's are delivered more effectively when paired with a carbohydrate (an insulin spike will speed the delivery to the muscles) there is still benefit to having them without one. Using this BCAA supplement will push repair any breakdown that is occurring and reduce the chance of injury. The sea salt is beneficial in keeping your body alkaline and balancing electrolytes.

This next suggestion is a bit trickier. Typically when someone is participating in fasted training it is very soon after waking. It's best to minimize the time your body is in a depleted state so training soon after waking is the first suggestion. However, if there is a time frame of 45 minutes to an hour before you're working out it could be beneficial to have a 1/2 - 1 serving of whey protein powder mixed with water. The theory behind this is that in a depleted state your body will absorb nutrients much quicker and whey protein has a faster gastric emptying time (the time it takes to leave your stomach) than protein from foods. This means that if you take in 1/2 - 1 serving of whey protein up to an hour before training you can minimize the risk of catabolism by providing your body with amino acids through breakdown of the protein. This method is best if tested to ensure that indigestion does not occur as is possible when ingesting protein too soon before training. It is also believed that artificial sweeteners, such as those often found in whey protein can cause small spikes in insulin, which may assist in protein absorption without affecting glycogen levels. The best time to drink the shake would be 5-10 minutes after drinking your sea salt, water and trace minerals mixture. Taking BCAA's during the workout could still be beneficial even with this protein breakfast.

After you've trained depleted your body is in an extreme state of hunger. Now it's time to replenish your glycogen and get your body in a state of repair. Despite using a BCAA supplement or whey protein prior to training your body is still going to be in a catabolic state after exercise. There are two steps you can take to ensure the maximum amount of recovery and glycogen replenishment while still influencing fat burning.

The first step you can take is another mixture of 1/2-1tsp of organic baking soda. This will immediately bring your body back in an alkaline state and reduce muscle soreness while also bringing your body to a better state of nutrient absorption. You should take your baking soda immediately after exercise with 500ml of water then wait 5-10 minutes before having your post-workout shake.

Your post-workout shake should consist of 30-45g of whey protein with 60-90g carbohydrates within 30 minutes of completing exercise (a serving of creatine as well as 500mg - 1g of vitamin C may also be beneficial in speeding up muscle recovery). The best carbohydrates to use post-workout are vitargo, waxy maize, maltodextrin or dextrose. Some research suggests it's best to use a combination of waxy maize and dextrose/matodextrin to get the best results. After a workout your goal is to spike your insulin to increase the rate of nutrient absorption (such as amino acids from protein) while also replenishing your glycogen stores. Waxy maize is great for replenishing glycogen stores but not so great for spiking your insulin, while dextrose is the opposite. Using a combination of the two in a 3-1 waxy-dextrose ratio can give you the results you're looking for. Using a product such as vitargo can give you both results through one supplement but it can be costly. It is also suggested to wait 45-60 minutes after your post-workout shake before eating your first meal.

These techniques can also be applied to other types of training such as light weights with high repetition, HIIT or sports training as long as caution is used. Your body is much more sensitive to injury and muscle tearing in this state and if care is not taken you can become badly injured. It would be best to try these techniques with a gradual increase in intensity before participating in heavy exercise.

Supplement Tip: Taking 2-4g of L-Carnitine 30 minutes prior to training depleted may also increase fat burning. L-Carnitine forces fatty acids to the mitochondria in your cells to be used as energy. It may also assist in feeling more energetic while training. L-Carnitine is also found to increase stamina and strength when used as a pre-workout supplement. 

For more information on effective nutrition for sports and fitness email or visit 

Ricky Goodall is a certified Sports Nutritionist and professional MMA fighter out of Halifax, NS. He is also the owner of Collision Sports, a health supplement store that specializes in combat sports, fitness and nutrition coaching. 

Follow Ricky on Twitter at @RickyGoodall and @CollisionSprts and Facebook here

1 comment:

  1. This is super interesting. I've found fasted workouts with "bulletproof coffee" ( shortly after waking work really well for me. That way I can skip breakfast on busy mornings, still have my coffee, and make it through a really hard workout where I don't have to worry about losing my breakfast!

    And I always add a few dashes of Real Salt sea salt and the same company's trace mineral drops to my water every morning.

    Great post. You should post images with your posts so I can pin your posts. :)