Does Fasted Cardio Lead to Greater Weight Loss?

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What Is Fasted Cardio?

Fasted cardio is when you exercise on an empty stomach, which is known as a "fasted" state, usually in the morning before your first meal. The theory is that working out on an empty stomach or after a prolonged period of fasting can lead to greater fat loss. While there are fitness professionals who adhere to this theory, it is still a hotly debated topic in the fitness world and lacks scientific evidence.

The efficacy of the fasted cardio theory remains contested, and ultimately, the decision of whether or not to exercise on an empty stomach is up to you. If you decide to embrace the theory of fasted cardio, there are drawbacks to be aware of. Here's a look at some of the research that has been done to test the ideas behind fasted cardio.

How to Do Fasted Cardio

Most people who engage in fasted cardio do their work out first thing in the morning, before eating breakfast. A 30-45 minute , moderate-intensity workout is recommended, if you can endure for that long. Shorter workouts also contribute to the recommended amount of exercise per week, which is currently 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Eat After A Fasted Workout

After your workout, you should eat a balance of protein and carbohydrates within an hour or so of completing your workout. Some options include:

  • Eggs and whole wheat toast
  • Oatmeal and yogurt
  • Chicken and rice
  • Salmon with quinoa

Does Fasting Burn Fat?

Bill Phillips, bodybuilder and author of "Body-for-LIFE," has been credited with introducing the fasted cardio theory in 1999. In his book, he suggests that the human body maximizes fat-burning while exercising in a fasted state. The book was a success, and his concept of fasted cardio has remained popular ever since.

According to Phillips, fasting overnight reduces blood sugar, insulin levels, and glycogen stores. Typically, our bodies rely on these glycogen stores, which come from carbohydrates in our diet, for energy. However, if you exercise in a fasted state (i.e., with reduced glycogen), the theory is that your body then relies on body fat for energy to fuel your workout.

Are Fasting Workouts Effective?

While some fitness industry professionals follow the fasted cardio method and note that it has some fat-burning benefits, scientific research has not fully supported the theory's effectiveness.

A 2017 scientific review by researchers in Australia looked into five separate studies and a total of 96 participants to measure the effectiveness of exercising after an overnight fast. In their research, the review authors determined that working out post-fast had very little—if any—effect on body mass.

Fasting may make it challenging to complete a workout, whereas eating could help you complete your exercise plan. A 2018 review from the University of Limerick in Ireland looked into 46 previously published studies and found that when study participants ate before a cardio session, they were able to work out for longer periods of time. Working out after eating led to longer aerobic workouts, showing that while fasted cardio may have other benefits, it does not typically lead to longer workouts.

It's important to remember that exercise offers benefits whether it is done in a fasted state or after eating. The fasted cardio theory argues that if you can exercise on an empty stomach, you may be able to leverage greater fat-burning effects. Overall, weight loss and reduction of body mass is likely a result of an overall calorie deficit, whether exercise is completed on an empty stomach or not.

Benefits of Fasted Cardio

While scientific studies have found limited support for the theory behind fasted cardio, other research has found that athletes who fast have experienced measurable fat loss.

One study looked specifically into the effects of a fasted state on resistance training. The researchers studied 12 female NCAA Division I athletes, each of whom completed two workouts. One resistance workout session happened after a 10-hour fast, while another happened after a fat- and carb-loaded meal. Following the two workouts, the researchers found that the fasted session allowed the body to use more fat as energy than carbohydrates.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age. 

Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes.

Although this study looked at weight training instead of cardio, it provides further insight into the effect of fasting on exercise and body composition.

For those athletes who aren't early risers, overnight fasting and fasting prior to a morning workout may also save you time after waking up. With a no-meal-before-workout schedule, you don't need to wake up early to build time for eating before a session. Instead, enjoy those extra few moments of sleep.

Risks of Fasted Cardio

While body fat reduction may be a benefit of fasted cardio, it's important to note some of the potential drawbacks of this nutrition and fitness approach.

When you know you are going to work out in a fasted state, it is possible to compensate by eating more at other times. One study showed that participants who knew they would work out without eating in the morning consumed more calories the evening before.

Fasted Workout Safety Precautions

Speak to a healthcare provider if you have any conditions that might lead to dizziness or lightheadedness in a fasted state, or before starting any new workout regimen. If you feel unwell during a fasted workout, stop and eat a balanced meal. Followup with a healthcare provider if needed.

Other studies have shown that fasting generally can lead to protein loss and , ultimately, muscle loss. These findings show that if you're trying to build muscle mass, fasted cardio may not be the optimal choice.

Similarly, fasted cardio may not lead to longer workouts. If endurance workouts—marathon training, for example—are your goal, fasted cardio may not be the best option. A study shows that consuming food pre-workout can naturally lead to a longer endurance aerobic session. On the other hand, working out in a fasted state can result in a shorter workout.

Finally, another study measured the workout efficiency of 20 male cyclists who performed fasted workouts and fed workouts. After both sessions, the study authors found that fasted workouts negatively impact workout intensity and volume. Such research suggests that working out on an empty stomach can adversely impact how intensely you perform a workout.

A Word From Verywell

The choice to practice fasted cardio is a personal decision. Performing exercise consistently, regardless of whether or not you eat before, provides clear health benefits, which can include healthy, sustainable weight loss. If you have never done a workout before eating breakfast, it's best to start slow. Give your body a chance to adapt to any changes in your exercise and eating plan, and find ways to be active that work best for you and your lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is fasted cardio good for weight loss?

    Any increase in exercise can help support weight loss. Some wonder if more weight can be lost if cardio is performed on an empty stomach. There is very little scientific research to support this theory. Fasted cardio may result in a shorter workout or overcompensating with caloric intake at other times of day.

  • How long should fasted cardio be?

    Studies have shown that it is more difficult to do a longer cardio workout in a fasted state. If you choose to workout on an empty stomach, be careful not to overdo it. A 30- to 45-minute cardio session is a reasonable goal. You may need to work up to this length if you are beginning a new exercise regimen.

  • Is 20 minutes of fasted cardio enough?

    Doing 20 minutes of fasted cardio will certainly give you the benefits of any exercise. Whether you will gain additional benefit from a workout because you have fasted beforehand is unclear. However any amount of activity will lead to increased fitness, whether you have fasted or not.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Top 10 things to know about the second edition of the physical activity guidelines for Americans.

  2. Hackett D, Hagstrom AD. Effect of overnight fasted exercise on weight loss and body composition: A systematic review and meta-analysisJ Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2017;2(4):43. doi:10.3390/jfmk2040043

  3. Aird TP, Davies RW, Carson BP. Effects of fasted vs fed-state exercise on performance and post-exercise metabolism: A systematic review and meta-analysisScand J Med Sci Sports. 2018;28(5):1476-1493. doi:10.1111/sms.13054

  4. Frawley K, Greenwald G, Rogers RR, Petrella JK, Marshall MR. Effects of prior fasting on fat oxidation during resistance exerciseInt J Exerc Sci. 2018;11(2):827-833. PMID:29997729

  5. Barutcu A, Briasco E, Moon J, et al. Planned morning aerobic exercise in a fasted state increases energy intake in the preceding 24 h. Eur J Nutr. 2021;60(6):3387-3396. doi:10.1007/s00394-021-02501-7

  6. Laurens C, Grundler F, Damiot A, et al. Is muscle and protein loss relevant in long-term fasting in healthy men? A prospective trial on physiological adaptations. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2021;12(6):1690-1703. doi:10.1002/jcsm.12766

  7. Terada T, Eshghi SRT, Liubaoerjijin Y, et al. Overnight fasting compromises exercise intensity and volume during sprint interval training but improves high-intensity aerobic enduranceJ Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2019;59(3):357-365. doi:10.23736/S0022-4707.18.08281-6

Additional Reading

By Darla Leal
Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle.