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Is It Good To Workout On An Empty Stomach?

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 23 April 2014
Hits: 4765

We quite often see this with clients at 6am who have not eaten breakfast. Many see this as a great strategy to help them lose a bit of weight or body fat. With all the confusion that exists with what nutrition and exercise it is easy to see how people think they are doing the right thing when in fact they are self-sabotaging themselves. So the short answer to the question is very simple. NO. It is not good, in fact working out on an empty stomach will have the reverse effect on your body and slow your metabolism down and end up making you fat instead of lean and toned! Think of this like driving a car around a circuit as fast as you can, but driving with "no fuel in the tank". The car will be using dirt and all sorts of inferior fuel to drive fast, which will mean you will not be driving as fast as you could of if you had of filled the tank before setting off. The body is very much the same. So why do people still adopt this method?

It All Starts With Breakfast

Out of all the meals to get right, breakfast is by far the most important. Yet for many it is the one that is by far the worst and this is where habits in skipping meals begins. People have become so accustomed to eating high energy carbohydrates loaded with sugar such as cereals, toast, pancakes, croissants with the traditional cooked breakfast becoming a thing of the past. Even worse the cooked breakfast such as bacon and eggs has been given a bad rap because of the “High” Saturated Fat content that we have been told will make you fat and give you high cholesterol.

Did you know prior to World War 2 breakfast cereals were only eaten by people as a digestive aid to get things moving which was prescribed by a doctor! Clever marketing and misleading advice has since led to the demise of the cooked breakfast and more specifically Eggs and how they have got a bad rap for all the wrong reasons. A study shows that eating two eggs for breakfast as part of a reduced-calorie diet, helps over-weight adults lose more weight and feel more energetic than those who eat a toast breakfast of equal calories. If people skip breakfast, it tends to throw them into a blood sugar crisis and elevates cortisol levels right from the very start of the day!

I don’t know about you, but I like starting my day in a nice and easy way. This is one of our 16 Things You Must Do if you want to be healthy.

What Happens When You Exercise On An Empty Stomach?

You may have heard that exercising on an empty stomach will help burn more fat, and it is all about counting calories. To some degree there is some truth to that in the short term, but in the long term this is for most people a recipe for disaster and frustration.

The body activates the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline when it encounters exercise and hunger.

And because you are hungry and also exercising at the same time, you activate the stress hormones in a BIG way. Due to the lack of carbohydrates available because you have skipped a meal you now force the body to use fat and to some degree protein for energy. This sounds like a good plan to lose weight, however exercising intensely when you're hungry also means your blood sugar is low which could lead to dizziness and what we commonly see poor performance. And to top it all off exercising while hungry usually leads to overeating afterwards. So you now you complete a poor workout, feel dizzy and a bit sick and then to feel better overeat at the end and sabotage all of your efforts anyway! But what if you are one of the people who just can’t handle any food in their gut before a workout? This is usually because you have taught your body to adopt this method and it has adapted very well to this by slowing you down at this time of the day. To change this will take time and also small baby steps. So you might start with just half a banana and scoop of yoghurt before evolving to a more satisfying meal.

By the way counting calories is a waste of time, it is imbalanced hormones that are the real reason people do not lose weight. Get a copy of our detailed nutrition report that shows you why and what to do about it.

Our Preferred Pre-Exercise Meal to Stimulate Metabolism and Build Muscle

This is really up to each person to find what works for them. We know that fasting prior to exercise can reduce your performance but how much should you eat to speed up metabolism without eating too much that have a full gut and feel sluggish and sick? 

A recent study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise found that consuming 20 grams of whey protein 30 minutes before resistance training can boost your body's metabolism for as much as 24 hours after your workout. It appears as though the amino acids found in high quality whey protein activate certain cellular mechanisms, which in turn promote muscle protein synthesis, boost thyroid function, and also protect against declining testosterone levels after exercise.

In practical terms, consuming 20 grams of whey protein before exercise and another serving afterward is the most effective way of increasing both fat burning and muscle build-up at the same time. However you need to be careful of the quality of the protein powder you use. We only use an organic whey protein powder from grass fed cows. There are so many poor versions of protein powder on the market that are loaded with all sorts of preservatives and additives that are contradictory to good nutrition and health. Click Here to read a great article to read about Protein Powders.

I myself regularly do strength training three to four times a week and will typically consume a small meal 15 minutes before that consists of carbohydrates and protein, then eat again 30 minutes after ensuring this meal has a really good source of protein such as whey or eggs. Lastly I will then eat one more small meal within the 3rd hour of when the training started. This will provide the fuel for muscle growth. This is not as necessary for non-strength training exercises, such as running, cycling and swimming. 

You just need to explore what works for you by experimenting.


The main point to get out of this is article is that you need food to fuel your training before you start, to promote muscle gain, better energy concentration and also to kick start your metabolism. Skipping meals, especially breakfast and trying to do a workout on an empty stomach is fraught with danger! You are setting yourself up for failure and no extra training sessions will do anything for you until you clean up your food. You need to EAT MORE OFTEN to lose weight and add muscle.

If you would like to know more about our Nutrition and Personal Training programs fill in the form below to schedule a free consultation.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.


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