Should You Work Out on an Empty Stomach?

Should You Work Out on an Empty Stomach

by Melody R

in Fitness & Workouts


Many fitness experts say working out on an empty stomach helps you lose weight and build muscles, while others say it is not advisable to do so and it could even harm your health. Should you work out on an empty stomach or should you eat something before hitting the gym?

This debate has been going on for so long already and the answers vary. For many experts today, the answers are both yes and no. It is just a matter of personal preference.

What it means to work out on an empty stomach

Working out on an empty stomach means exercising first thing in the morning without eating breakfast. It means you are in a fasted state. It also means working out around 3 hours after a meal.

Many feel good about not eating breakfast before working out because they do not feel bloated. On the contrary, others feel they cannot go on exercising for long without having enough energy to fuel their exercise.

Here are points made by different experts and researchers that will help you decide whether you should work out on an empty stomach or not.

Why it’s advantageous to work out on an empty stomach

The main reason why working out on an empty stomach is beneficial is that it uses other sources in your body to fuel up your exercise. When you are in a fasted state, your body is left with fats to use up. This promotes to faster weight loss compared to eating something before exercising.

Here’s how it happens:

When you eat, your body takes in carbohydrates that cause an increase in your blood sugar. This signals your pancreas to release insulin, a hormone that uses up sugar for your energy. When you do not eat anything before exercising, this means that your insulin is low and your body does not have enough sugar to use up for energy. This is when your body turns to use other sources to burn – your fats.

Related studies

Some research has been done to support the claim that eating on an empty stomach helps you lose weight faster. One was from a study conducted by Northumbia University, wherein twelve men who had cardio workout on a fasted state burned 20 percent more fat than participants who ate before exercising.

Another study was from University of Glasgow by Dr. Jason Gill and Nor Farah. Their research concluded that the 10 obese participants in their test lost more weight when they brisk-walked for 1 hour before eating breakfast. This was compared to the days when they exercised after eating breakfast and when they did not exercise at all.

Why it’s not advisable to work out on an empty stomach

Many experts also believe that it is important to eat something before working out.  If you do not consume anything before exercising, your body may not have enough energy to get you through your exercise routine. You will not be able to perform at your best without proper nourishment.

If you continue exercising with empty stomach for too long, your body tissues could degenerate, including your muscles, and your general health may be affected. Jay Cardiello, a fitness expert certified by NSCA and ISSA, also says that if you’re on empty, you could go into major breakdown phase, which would take a bit long to recover.

Related studies

While there are studies that show how exercising on an empty stomach promotes faster weight loss, some studies also prove otherwise. Some studies also show that there is actually no difference whether you exercise before or after breakfast.

One study implied that taking in carbs before exercising actually lets you burn more calories even after work out is over compared to working out on an empty stomach.

Another study that included twenty women, 10 of which fasted and 10 had meal-replacement shake before exercising, showed the same amount of weight loss. Both groups of women did a steady-state cardio exercise on a treadmill for 60 minutes, three times a week for four weeks.

Having read both claims, the question is now left for you to answer.

Should you work out on an empty stomach

The answer actually depends on you.  If you are not comfortable eating a meal before working out, you may exercise on a fasted state as long as you do not go too long on your work out. Also, look out for possible signs of side effects, such as dizziness and nausea.

According to Eurie Elkaim of Rodale Wellness, you can do high intensity training that lasts for 5 to 10 minutes that exerts the right amount of energy you have in your fasted state. High intensity training is also said to be twice more effective in helping you lose weight than slow and steady-state cardio exercises. This is because it still burns calories and fats during the rest of the day even after exercise.

On the contrary, if you cannot do exercise without consuming anything, but you want to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being full during exercise, you may drink something or eat a light snack that will give you the right amount of energy to go through your workout.

Pre-workout snacks you can eat

Having a light meal before exercising will give you the benefit of getting fueled up for your exercise without adding too much calories on your diet and without giving you that bloated feeling.  Here are some light snacks you can consider with easy digesting carbs.

  • One piece of medium banana;
  • A slice of toasted wheat bread;
  • A cup of fruit cocktail;
  • Half of bagel;
  • A pack of plain instant corn grits;
  • Apple slices and peanut butter;
  • Oatmeal and some slices of fruits;
  • Energy bar;
  • Greek yogurt with granola;
  • Home-made smoothie with 1 fresh fruit, plain yogurt, and some unsweetened almond milk; and
  • Trail mix made up of nuts and dried fruits, without chocolate and candy pieces.

You may drink protein shake or protein smoothie, but drinking water would be your best choice if you want to lose weight fast, since water does not contain calories.

The important thing about losing weight is that you exercise to burn calories and fats.  And whether you work out on an empty stomach or not, what you need to consider is the total amount of food that you eat all day and the nutrients you get.  You need to check on your diet and reduce your calories to make your weight loss program more effective.


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