Working out on an empty stomach: What you need to know!

Working out while fasted has a lot of proven benefits. No, it’s not necessary.. but a lot of people prefer to do their cardio and / or strength training without food in their stomach. This has some negative side-effects that should be understood in order to properly incorporate fasted workouts into your routine.

The Catabolic Effect

1) Your workouts break down muscle (even cardio), and as your body sets out to repair the muscles that were broken down, it requires protein to do so. Your body can get the protein either from food in your stomach, or it can get the protein it needs from existing, healthy muscle. But it WILL get it.
When the body gets protein by robbing its own, healthy muscle, this is known at the “catabolic effect”.
2) If you work out (cardio or strength) with no protein in your stomach, your body will go catabolic pretty quick.. Within 10 or 15 minutes of beginning your workout.
3) At the conclusion of your workout, it gets even worse.. With no protein immediately available, the catabolic effect increases (because now the energy you were spending on your workout is allocated full time to repair and recovery).
Protein Solves the Problem.
Making sure you have protein in your stomach before, during, and after your workouts is the answer. Ideally this is LIQUID protein so its more easily digested. (A protein shake, for example).

Insulin Reactions Turbo-Charge the Protein Absorption

You can increase the effectiveness of the liquid protein by consuming it IN CONJUNCTION with a high-glycemic food (something with sugar). This is because eating high-glycemic foods will cause an insulin reaction, which in turn will put your cells into storage mode…

If you eat protein during an insulin reaction, the protein gets injected into your cells more easily. (If you eat fat during an insulin reaction, the fat gets injected into your cells more easily, too, which is why high-glycemic foods are always seen as “bad”).

I see guys at the gym eating sour-patch-kids (to cause the insulin reaction) and drinking protein shakes at the same time. Good solution, I suppose.

But there’s a better way… especially for those of us who don’t want to constantly pound protein while we work out….

Using a BCAA Supplement may be the better overall approach

BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acid) supplements give your body the essential amino-acids that it requires to prevent it from going catabolic. Use a liquid supplement (something in powder form you can mix with your drink… have some before your workout… sip it during your workout.. and if you decide not to eat any food when your workout is done, have another dose after your workout). This will effectively solve the problem without using food.

I have several approaches I use:

If I don’t want to eat before, during, or after my workout:  I do a BCAA before my workout, and I use a BCAA drink during my workouts. As soon as my workout is finished, I have another BCAA supplement.

If I want something to eat after I work out:  I do a BCAA before my workout, and I use a BCAA drink during my workouts. As soon as my workout is finished, I grab a bowl of McDonalds oatmeal on my way home, (60g carbs and a guaranteed glycemic reaction from the apples and such that are in it), and I drink a protein shake along with it.

For longer-duration workouts: If my workout will exceed 90 minutes, I do a BCAA before my workout, and I use a BCAA drink during my workouts. At about the one-hour mark, I use a runner gel pack (26g carbs, 6g sugar) to replenish glycogen and boost energy.  The packs I use (Gu Roctane) also include a decent BCAA formula.

Using a BCAA isn’t required. But if you’re going to get the maximum benefit from your cardio and strength training, making sure you’ve got either a BCAA or some form of protein readily available is the best way to make sure your body has exactly what it needs!