Adding fasted cardio to intermittent fasting: Does it burn twice the calories?

If you leave for work at 7 am, to get to the gym and back, showered, ready for work would put you at a wake up time of 5 am (unless you take an hour to get ready). It’s a hard question for the night before: do I wake up early to work out or do I get that extra hour of sleep?

Going off of my previous post here, my biggest concern to starting IF was fitting exercise into my workdays. I aim to be at work around 7:45 am and am scheduled to leave work around 4 pm. But with patients coming in late and complex kiddos putting us behind, I can leave work as late as 6. This puts me in a tough pickle. My 8-hour eating period is from 11-7, but if I leave work late (which occurs more often than not), I can definitely get home when the clock strikes 7.

Before intermittent fasting, I was a huge afternoon workoutter. I would relieve all my work-related stress and worries at the gym right after work.

But I knew this was not sustainable. One day, one week then one month passed by where I used “not having time” as an excuse to not work out, and I just wasn’t feeling my best. As much as I loved working out after work and IF in general, I had to figure out a different plan if I wanted to continue with intermittent fasting as a working woman.

This led me to think about fasted cardio.

When one of my colleagues mentioned how she went to Orange Theory Fitness at 5 am and another ran four miles before sunrise, I looked at them like they had four holes in their head. Obviously, something was wrong with them – how could you wake up that early and have so much energy?

Well, knowing something had to change, I tried it one day. I set my alarm to 5 while in bed by 10 the night before. I woke up to the dreadful iPhone ring, may have snoozed it around four times and then dragged myself to put on my favorite workout gear and tracker that I laid out the night before.

No, I did not wash my face or brush my teeth. Gross, I know but it was a miracle I even put clothes on.

Lucky for me, the gym is located in my apartment so the walk wasn’t hard. Getting on the treadmill and starting the run was, however, a different story. I did some mediocre stretches and just got going right away.

For the first 10 minutes I kept thinking:

“There’s no way this is going to work for me.”

But then, 30 minutes, 45 minutes and an hour passed by of low intensity steady state cardio (commonly known as LISS), and I was really feeling in it. I didn’t run or jog but just fast walked and still broke a sweat! I took a victory selfie (the picture above in my messy bathroom) and then set a goal to try it a couple more times later that week (to make sure I wasn’t crazy).

And let me be honest, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Fasted cardio – no matter if you are on an intermittent fasting plan or not – is very very rewarding. Instead of scrolling through your phone first thing in the morning, I encourage you to get yourself to the gym or outside if the weather permits. There is so much research on fasted cardio and it is a popular topic still being studied today, but to put it simply, fasted cardio can burn more fat and has plenty of mental benefits:

  • It clears the mind before the day ahead.
  • The physical and mental endorphin rush will help with reduce cortisol and bring a much more positive outlook on the day.

Just for reference: your stomach is empty when you do fasted cardio but not all cardio on an empty stomach qualifies as fasted cardio!

To answer the initial question of whether fasted cardio and intermittent fasting can burn twice the calories, the answer is yes and no. And I say that because fasting cardio can mean different things to different people. Some people like a 20 minute walk, some people go on a 10 minute swim – you can certainly burn more calories doing fasted cardio (versus if you were a couch potato prior).

But the big takeaway here is: there is no hard way to measure the calories and I actually urge you to NOT count calories. Do it because you feel good doing it and you see benefits from it.

Don’t know where to start? Here are 4 tips to get started on fasted cardio while intermittent fasting:

  1. Keep cardio low intensity in the morning. Do NOT push your exercise or duration too high, or you will feel light headed and dizzy and even maintaining such a routine will become a struggle. Walk, bike, go on the elliptical but at a pace where it can be maintained for at least 20 minutes.
  2. If you want high intensity, go AFTER you’ve eaten. You’ll have more fuel to burn, and the closer you schedule any moderate to intense sessions to your last meal, the better.
  3. After working out, break your fast with a high protein meal or snack. Rx bars are actually a great option and are perfect for a on-the-go snack!
  4. Hydrate! This is probably the simplest of tips but no one, I mean NO ONE, drinks enough during the day. Working in urology, I can attest to this myself that none of the urologists do. Keep your hydration fun as well. I highly recommend this water bottle to keep you motivated to drink more throughout the day!

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach! Comment below with any of your experiences or questions!

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