What you need to know about fasted cardio
Some people swear by their fasted cardio regime (think: working out without eating beforehand), but is this right for everybody? First, you have to understand what is occurring in your body when you workout on an empty stomach. Carbohydrates turn into glucose, more commonly known as sugar, in the bloodstream. Glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose, “runs out” when you sleep. When you wake up, skip breakfast, and hit the gym, your body is low in carbohydrates so instead it burns fat for energy.
A benefit of fasted cardio is that you burn more body fat during a workout. Also, your body gets used to being in a fat-burning mode, especially if you limit your carb intake throughout the rest of the day. If you don’t have carbs in your body, it has no choice but to burn fat for energy.
Today, an abundance of carbs are readily available in our food supply. Carbs are everywhere. We consume much more than we need to—which is why some of us have become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance leads to chronic illnesses (and contributes to the continuing rise of obesity, diabetes, and other nutrition related diseases). Insulin is a hormone released when you consume carbs. It lowers your blood sugar levels and helps you absorb nutrients. Skipping breakfast can help reduce that sensitivity to insulin because without constant food, insulin is not released in your body and therefore your more unlikely to become immune to it.
So, if you won’t try to make up for the calories you didn’t eat for breakfast later on in the day and can successfully get through your workout—then this is for you! It may take a few times of fasted cardio to get used to it, so if you don’t have any underlying health conditions where this could put you in danger, such as diabetes, then go for it! Always remember to listen to your body and do what works for you.
Now, let’s cover all things related to pre and post workout nutrition. First things first, if you have heard from your favorite fitness gurus that you need carbs, and only carbs, before your workouts, such as a piece of fruit, oatmeal, or a granola bar, throw that idea out the window. I have thoroughly studied this concept in and out using evidenced-based science and I am here to tell you that this information we’ve all heard is outdated and has scientifically been proven wrong. Instead, make sure what you eat is a balance of real food carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. The protein and healthy fats are crucial because it will slow down the absorption of carbohydrates (carbs turn directly into sugar in your body) – meaning you won’t have a sugar crash that’ll leave you feeling exhausted 15 minutes into your workout.
In order to prevent energy loss during your workouts, you must consume energy boosting, nutrient dense foods. Don’t get caught up in the ratio of protein, fat, and carbs. Instead, understand portion sizes.
I will go over the appropriate portion sizes for protein, fat, and carbs for meals. Protein portion sizes should be 3-5 oz, 2-3 eggs, and ½ cup cheese. Fat portion sizes should be at least 10g per servings such as 1 tablespoon of butter or oil, 2 tablespoons nut butter, 16 nuts, and 2 tablespoons of seeds. In regards to carbs, for non-starchy veggies, such as spinach, tomatoes, kale, mushrooms, and onions, you should have 1-3 cups per serving (more if you’d like, they’re full of nutrients and low in calories!). For starchy carbs, such as potatoes, oats, quinoa, chickpeas, and most fruit, stick to ½ cup per serving.
Now, let’s make it simple: snacks should be about half the serving sizes I just mentioned. Don’t get too nit-picky with counting calories and paying attention to macronutrient ratios. Be sure to eat from whole food sources and keep your blood sugar stable to keep your body in the fat burning mode!! Tweaking recommendations to your liking, and to your benefit, are encouraged. Find what works best for you! As long as you are seeing the results you want, including all macronutrients in your diet, and eating quality foods—you will see excellent results.
The following pre-workout snacks will not only keep you energized throughout your workout, but will also aid in muscle recovery and lean muscle growth. Understand that timing is just as important as the food choice in keeping you energized throughout your workout. You should eat 30-60 minutes prior to your workout to allow the food to digest.
Check out the following tasty options:
Avocado toast with cottage cheese + tomatoes (or any other vegetable)
Food For Life Flax bread is an excellent option. Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber are packed in this little snack that requires no cooking!
Homemade roasted walnuts or almonds
Roast walnuts or almonds in the oven or on a pan in coconut oil for a heart-healthy, high protein snack. Add any spices for extra flavor such as cinnamon or curry!
Creamy green smoothie
Include in your smoothie 1 cup of kefir or full-fat Greek yogurt, ½ avocado, handful of kale, ½-1 tablespoon maple syrup to taste, and a few ice cubes. This smoothie is loaded with healthy fats, protein, fiber, and vitamins. If you think an avocado is bizarre to put in your smoothie, give it a shot, and see how creamy and smooth your shake is!
Thin brown rice cake with almond butter + banana
Super portable, this snack is simple and energy-boosting. Add almond butter (or good quality peanut butter) to a brown rice cake or two. Finish it off with sliced bananas and cinnamon.
Quick 2-ingredient banana pancakes
Mash 1 banana in a bowl, add 2 eggs, whisk together, cook in coconut oil or grass-fed butter and there you have it! A delicious, balanced quick snack.
Egg, avo + berries
1 hard boiled egg, ½ an avocado, and a handful of berries is all you need to fuel your cardio workout.
This is really the only “granola” bar I approve of. It has a nice balance of protein, fat, and carbs, it is made with real foods, and the best part is the ingredients are listed on the front of the package so you know they’re proud of their product! Best part is, they truly are tasty.
What about post-cardio nutrition?
After your workout, wait about 30-45 minutes to eat to continue your fat-burning wave! However, don’t wait too long because you can slow down your metabolism and your blood sugar levels can drop.
A great after workout choice is to choose a protein with a veggie carb. For example, a spinach salad with grilled chicken or a piece of salmon with mixed veggies. Remember, save your protein shakes for days that you do weight training. After lifting weights, it is important to have a meal directly after. You want this meal to be absorbed rapidly because you have depleted your glycogen levels and need to raise your blood sugar levels back up. Also, you want to bring in amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and other nutrients to aid in repairing the muscle fibers you broke down.