If you're putting in the hard work down at the gym or in your local spin class, then it makes sense that you'd want to optimise your results. If you're contributing blood, sweat and tears, you want to make sure that your body is reciprocating by giving you the results you're striving for. The thing is, our bodies (especially women's bodies) are very, very good at holding onto fat. An average woman has around 18 to 20% body fat compared with an average man who has around 10 to 15%. This is down to the possibility we may carry a child at some point and we will need the fat in reserve. When it comes to evolution, in times of scarcity, having enough fat to allow you to give birth and provide for a child is crucial. This means, despite exercising really darn hard, it can take a while for the stubborn fat (around the thighs and lower belly) to go. Luckily, there is a trick you can try that is guaranteed to (safely) speed up your results. Known as fasted training, it can turn you into a lean, mean, fat-burning machine. To get fasted training right, there are some simple rules you need to follow. Keep scrolling to find out how to train fasted to optimise your fat-burning potential.
How does fasted training work?
Fasted training is just as it sounds, exercising on an empty stomach. Research has shown that if there is a rise in insulin in our system when exercising (caused by eating beforehand) then fat breakdown is inhibited. Of course, fasted training should only be undertaken if the aim of your workout is to lose fat. If you're training for a 10k (or some other event) then you need to fuel your body appropriately.
Now fasted training isn't some kind of magic. It can certainly help boost fat burn, but it does come down to the simple concept of calories in and calories out. You can't train fasted, burn fat, then eat everything in sight for the rest of the day and still expect to see accelerated results. You still need to watch what you eat (I find the best way is by counting macronutrients, more on that here). But it can certainly help speed up results when combined with a balanced diet.
Interestingly, one study found that blood flow around the abdomen was increased by 50% when in a fasted state helping to mobilise the fat from that area. Since that's where most women's stubborn fat lingers that's no bad thing.
Ideally, you need to be properly fasted and since we tend to eat regularly during the day, the longest period without food is when you're sleeping, so a morning is the best time to train fasted. If you do want to train fasted in the evening, you are going to have to have a light lunch then go all afternoon and early evening without eating until after you train and, for some, that just feels too long. You need to find what works best for you.
What exercise should I do in a fasted state?
The best exercise for fat burn is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and since fasted training boosts fat burn it makes sense to train fasted for a HIIT session for best results. But you can do any exercise fasted, from boxing and running to yoga and barre. You can even do weightlifting fasted, if that's your kind of workout. The only caveat to this would be endurance exercise, the aim is to carry out a short, sharp session, no longer than an hour otherwise your body will just start using precious muscle for fuel.
Training fasted can be mentally and physically tough, you're often not able to hit the numbers, whether it's speed, reps or weights than you can when you're exercising after eating and you have the fuel in your body for your workout. But, there is a way to rev up your performance and your results and still be in a fasted state. Keep scrolling to find out how…
The Pre-Workout Secret
Regardless of whether you struggle exercising on an empty stomach or not, you should drink a pre-workout supplement before training fasted. Pre-workouts are generally zero-calorie powders that you mix with water. They often contain caffeine to give you a bit of a mental lift and they always contain branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), these amino acids, especially leucine, are key to ensuring that while you're training fasted your muscles are protected. Essentially you want to make sure that your body is drawing on fat for energy to fuel your workout and not your lean muscle. I drink Legion Pulse (£41) before a fasted session (it's the best pre-workout I have found) and I add a spoonful of Bulk Powders Leucine (£16) for good measure. I find drinking this combo helps prevent any fasted training hunger pangs (or worse, nausea).
Leucine on its own tastes vile, so the Pulse acts as a tasty vehicle to get that all-important leucine in. It also contains caffeine and theanine to promote alertness, citrulline malate to improve endurance and performance, as well as beta-alanine to help ward off fatigue (from lack of food). For anyone who finds they can't exercise on an empty stomach, a pre-workout like Pulse could be the answer. After your workout you need to refuel, so you'll want something that has a good amount of carbs to spike your insulin (which has been found to prevent muscle breakdown) and protein to help maximise your body's own protein synthesis. Ideally, you should aim to eat something within an hour of your session. A lot of gyms offer protein shakes, just remember not to go crazy, treat yourself, sure, but you don't want to replace all the calories you just burnt off.
Opening Image: Mango