Do fasted morning workouts actually burn more fat?

You've probably heard some people say that morning workouts on an empty stomach are one of the best ways to lose fat.  I've talked about this topic in the past and why that method might totally backfire for some people, even though it might work for others.  It can be a confusing topic...

-Should you workout in the morning in a fasted state?

-Should you workout in the morning after eating something to have more energy?

-Or should you workout later in the day for the best results?

-What about for different goals... fat loss vs muscle, for example?

I'm going to let one of my colleagues, Nick Nilsson, jump in and answer this confusing topic, because he's done a lot of research on the topic and real world experimentation on himself and his clients.  Nick lays out the solution below that's best for YOU, because everybody is different...

Are morning workouts on an empty stomach the best workout for fat loss? Not so fast.
by Nick Nilsson

I have to say, this is one of the most frequently-asked questions that I get on my site. And my approach is all about common sense and weighing the pros and cons.

While it IS true that it has been shown that training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach does increase fat burning (the commonly quoted stat is 300% greater), the problem is, you also increase the potential for burning up muscle at the same time.

The reason fat loss is increased at that time of day is due to blood sugar. Because your blood sugar is at it's very lowest (after fasting all night), the theory is training at this time will force your body to rely more on bodyfat than on blood sugar to fuel activity.

This is true, but the problem is protein (as is found in muscles) can be converted into glucose to fuel activity as well. So the question then becomes, is the extra fat burning you get worth the potential loss of muscle protein?

Think you've got it figured out? There's even more to consider...

Another thing we have to consider is Growth Hormone. When you train on low-blood sugar conditions, your body releases increased amounts of GH. It sees these conditions as an emergency and responds with GH.

This hormone has protective effects on muscle and improves the use of fat for energy. GH is not secreted in response to low-intensity activity - it's only significantly released by high intensity activity.

So, in theory, training with high intensity on an empty stomach first thing in the morning can result in increased GH secretion, which means greater fat loss and reduced loss of muscle mass. This directly contradicts the theory of training burning up your muscle tissue if you don't eat.

Confused yet? Here's another monkey wrench...

Your cortisol levels are generally higher in the morning, simply because you've been fasting during the whole time you've been sleeping. Cortisol burns up muscle tissue and promotes fat storage.

And one last one, it's tough to train with intensity first thing in the morning! For best fat loss results, I always encourage high intensity interval training. If you're not a morning person (and I'm NOT!), it'll be tough to do cardio with enough intensity to take full advantage of the GH release.


My common-sense solution reads like a peace treaty... basically, if your primary goal is fat loss and you aren't too worried about losing a little muscle, go with empty stomach, moderate-to-high-intensity cardio training first thing in the morning. You will probably see increased fat loss, though you may lose a little muscle from it. Train with weights, and it probably won't be much muscle loss at all.

If your goal is fat loss while preserving muscle as much as possible, take a small protein shake right after you wake up (a low-carb protein shake so you don't increase blood sugar too much). THEN go do your cardio training. The protein will help spare your muscle tissue while not raising your blood sugar significantly enough to cause a problem.

Last thing...if you can't do your cardio with intensity first thing in the morning, do it later in the day. That's my solution.

Because truly, the absolute best time to do cardio is when you're energetic enough and alert enough to give it your best effort. THAT is when you'll really see results. Doesn't really matter what time of day that is.

When you get right down to it, getting the most from your training, whether it be cardio or weights, is not about worry about the details that won't make a difference in the long run. It's about digging in with intensity
and consistency.

Now, if you're interested in a fat-loss program that has a primary goal of preserving muscle mass while dropping fat, I'd definitely recommend trying out my Metabolic Surge Rapid Fat Loss program.

It's a great program...I'm actually on my third round of it in a row myself. It incorporates strategic combinations of weight training, cardio and nutritional manipulation to force your body into fat-burning and muscle-building states on demand. It really puts you in control of your results.

Good luck!

Nick Nilsson
The "Mad Scientist of Exercise"

Thanks to Nick for that explanation, and I totally agree.  I personally never liked morning cardio, and didn't feel energetic trying to workout on an empty stomach.  I also usually find myself feeling stronger so I can train with more intensity in the late afternoon.  And I found that when I experimented with empty stomach morning cardio, I tended to noticeably lose muscle, so it just didn't work for me.

Nick is honestly one of the smartest and creative trainers in the business... that's why he's earned the nickname, "the mad scientist".  Check out Nick's advanced program on this page below if you want a proven method to lose fat VERY fast:

Unique 36-day protocol to STRIP off 10-15 lbs of pure body fat (while keeping lean muscle)

Here's some of the techniques that Nick will take you through:

* Fat-Loss Circuit Training
* Lactic-Acid Training
* Time/Volume Training™
* Antagonistic Superset Training
* Cluster Training
* Triple Drop Set and Triple Add Set Training

=> Nick's 36-day protocol to get super lean

Have fun with it!

Mike Geary
Certified Nutrition Specialist
Certified Personal Trainer