Does Cardio in the Morning for Weight Loss Work Better?

Want to burn more fat? Morning cardio before breakfast may be a better way to exercise for weight loss. Discover how fasted cardio can melt the pounds away.

Fasted cardio does what you’re trying to accomplish with your dieting: utilizes and burns fat cells for the energy needed to workout.

In fact, it’s hard to find a better way to get rid of fat and lose weight than doing cardio in the morning after fasting during the night.

When Does Your Body Use Fat for Energy?

For the most part, your body depends on fats and carbohydrates for energy. Fat cells are the last to be used when there are carbs present – and carbs are the first to deplete when fasting.

When you get up in the mornings your stomach will have no food in it for energy, but your body will hold on to the fat cells as long as possible.

As you start your cardio routine on an empty stomach, energy comes from glycogen stored in the liver and muscles before it turns to the fat cells.

However, the glycogen is limited and as soon as it is gone your body starts converting fat cells to energy for exercising.

How Long Do Glycogen Stores Last When Doing Cardio?

How long it takes to deplete Glycogen stores depends on you as an individual, the type and the intensity of your exercise.

Here’s a general way to predict how long it takes to use up glycogen stores:

  • A normal days routine without carbs could take as long as 24 hours.
  • Exercising at low to moderate intensity like a slow-paced marathon could take up to 2 hours.
  • A good brisk walk of 45 minutes to an hour could get you burning fat in as little as 15 minutes. Moderately intense cardio is the most productive method to burn calories from fat stores.
  • Turning up intensity levels can get you burning fat much faster, but may not be the best alternative. If the exercise is too intense you could start using proteins for energy. 
  • Doing all your cardio exercises fasted trains your body to go to the fat cells first. Therefore the more you practice the faster your body starts burning fat for energy.

How Long to Fast Before Cardio in the Mornings

Stomachs are generally empty in as little as 6 hours after the last meal so most of us fall into the category of fasting before we get up in the mornings. However, as you can see from the list below, the longer you fast prior to your workout, the better the results.

  • A 6 hour fast is ok for most people to see results
  • 10-12 hours is better
  • Intermittent fasting (eating dinner at 7 and skipping breakfast) is even better

Why is Cardio Always Good for Weight Loss?

  • Burns a lot of calories
  • Keeps your metabolism elevated for hours
  • High metabolism means more calorie burn for hours after a workout
  • Increases your lung potential and capacity which is extremely important for weight loss. (You might be surprised to learn farther down this article why strong lungs are a must for losing weight.)

Wondering if you can do to much cardio? How Often Should I Do Cardio to Lose Weight answers that question and more.

Why Cardio in the Morning is Better?

Any regular cardio workout is good, but fasted cardio in the morning is even better. Here’s why: Your stomach is empty and there’s nothing in there to convert to energy.

To prevent you from being comatose when you get up, your body uses stored glycogen to power you on to your next meal.

However, bodies don’t store a lot of glycogen for emergency use so it’s depleted quickly. When the stored glycogen is gone your body can turn to fat for energy needed to work out.

What is glycogen?

In the simplest terms, we eat foods with carbohydrates which turns in to glucose, or blood sugar. Next, the glucose gets stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen until it converts to fat.

Important facts about stored glycogen:

  • Most of the stored glycogen goes to your brain and nervous system. Only about 25% winds up stored and available for energy. 
  • There is a limit to how much glycogen your body can store before it starts converting it to fat cells.
  • It’s hard to burn fat while exercising until your stomach is empty and have depleted all available glycogen stores.

What Happens When the Glycogen is Gone?

When you call on muscles for energy without the usual resources (carbs, proteins, fats), your blood sugar levels start to drop. It’s at this point that the liver and muscles begin releasing the stored glycogen for energy and keeping blood sugar levels balanced.

Remember, your body can only store a limited supply of glycogen. When it is depleted three things will happen:

  • You get tired
  • You start slowing down
  • Your body starts to call on fat cells for energy

Important note about fasting and doing cardio:

The more you practice cardio before you eat the better the results. The reason is that you are literally training your body to go to the fats first for energy to exercise. Some people try intermittent fasting with exercise for a short time, quit, and bemoan the idea as false.

Instead, stay on your diet continuing your morning cardio routine for two weeks and then start looking at your weight going down – a lot.

This technique literally teaches your body to burn fat first for energy.

woman doing fasted cardio in the early morning
Cardio in the morning is already fasted cardio

How to Fast and do Cardio?

As an example, a great fasted cardio exercise without equipment is a 45-minute walk at a pace that’s brisk, but still able to hold a conversation.

You don’t want to be gasping for breath, but feel like you’ve had a workout when you finish. The pace must be faster than you would normally walk through the mall but not speed walking or jogging.

In other words, you don’t want your walking exercise to be merely lollygagging for 30 minutes as you gossip with friends.

If it’s exercise for losing weight, improving health, or staying fit, it will always raise your heart rate; or it’s not exercise.

Of course, you can get the same results with any cardio exercise machine.

The main things to remember:

  • To lose weight you must consume fewer calories than use.
  • Without consuming less calories than you burn you can’t exercise enough to lose weight.
  • If your exercise gets too intense for too long, your body turns to burning protein for energy which will cause you to lose muscle instead of fat.

How Does Your Body Burn Fat?

Fat cells have a definite reason to exist. They are for storing energy and they take their job seriously.

Back in the day when we foraged for food and couldn’t plan on 3 healthy meals a day, anytime we ate more than we needed at the moment, the excess food was stored as fat. Because of that, fat cells don’t like to turn loose and be used for energy until an emergency situation arises.

And they don’t merely evaporate into thin air when they’ve served their purpose. So what does happen to the physical fat in our body when we “lose weight”?

Well, a little over 10% of the fat is disposed of in urine, sweat, and feces. Guess where the other 90% of lost fat goes?

Almost 90% of the fat you lose leaves your body through your lungs!

This is a key piece of the dieting puzzle.

Fat cells combine with oxygen cells producing carbon dioxide which you exhale from your lungs.

That’s why exercise is vital for any weight loss program or efforts.

This is an interesting article from Live Science: How Fat is Lost.

Why Cardio Exercises Are Best for Weight Loss?

When you get a handle on the fact that you are exhaling excess weight as carbon dioxide, the next logical question would be “how can I exhale more carbon dioxide”?

Aerobic exercise requires huge amounts of oxygen and with each inhalation comes the exhalation of carbon dioxide. With so much oxygen required for moderate-intensity cardio sessions, you turn your body into a fat-burning machine.

As you increase your fitness level with regular exercise, you will increase your ability to use oxygen as your heart gets stronger. Which in turn means you up to your endurance levels, have longer and more productive workouts, and burn more calories.

To get the full benefits of cardio you’ll need to get your heart rate up to at least 65-75% of your maximum heart rate.

Wondering what your maximum heart rate is? Check out this Target Heart Rate Calculator.

HIIT Cardio and Fasting

You should be careful about doing high intensity workouts for weight loss (HIIT) in a fasted state unless you are already in good physical shape.

Your body can resort to burning muscle instead of fat when the workout is vigorous. It’s because of this, that many fitness experts say that exercise in a fasted state affects performance and eats muscles.

As the weight comes off and you get lighter, you will get fitter and will slowly be able to replace the longer fasted cardio sessions with high intensity cardio sessions that are shorter in duration.

High intensity cardio sessions will leave your body burning fat for 8 to 12 hours after the workouts are over. So, despite them being shorter in duration, you’ll burn more fat overall.

If you do decide to use fasted HIIT cardio, be certain to eat a healthy meal of proteins and carbs within 1/2 hour of finishing your workout.

What are the Benefits of Fasted Cardio in the Morning?

  • The primary benefit of fasted cardio is burning fat for energy during the workout for weight loss.
  • Reduces and helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels
  • Could help you burn the most stubborn fat that hasn’t wanted to give up.
  • There is research suggesting that the body is more ready than normal to absorb nutrients after fasted cardio. Be sure to feed yourself a good combo of carbs, fats, proteins right after your workout.
  • Working out on an empty stomach always beats working out on a full stomach.
  • Exercising first thing in the morning assures you that nothing will interfere with your workout time later on in the day.
  • If you haven’t been exercising in the mornings, you will be surprised at how clear your mind is later on. Your mood will be better and have more energy all day.
  • Improves endurance levels.

What to Eat After a Fasted Workout?

  • Proteins are the building blocks of muscle tissue. You could have used some protein for energy during your workout that needs replacing along with the fact that proteins help repair muscles. So be sure to include foods like chicken, nuts, dairy, lean meat.
  • You’ve depleted your glycogen stores so eat healthy carbs for energy replacement and fast recovery. Eat complex carbs rather simple carbs with no food value such as sugar, sodas, and anything made with white flour. A few complex carbs to eat after a workout are chickpeas, old fashion oats, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, black beans, 100% whole wheat bread, and pasta.

What are the Best Cardio Exercises for Morning?

Running is not a good choice when fasting because it will start using proteins instead of fats. Choose an exercise that you allows you to keep the intensity low and steady like:

  • Walking
  • Rowing
  • Bicycling indoors or outdoors
  • Elliptical machines
  • Stair climbers
  • Kettlebell swings

How Often Should I Do Fasted Cardio?

When I’m dieting off extra pounds I do cardio 3 – 5 times a week and eat a good meal of protein, fat, and carbs within 30 minutes of finishing to regain my energy and prevent unnecessary muscle loss.

Wrapping It Up

Is fasted cardio in the morning a magic tonic for losing weight? Absolutely not!

But, losing weight without exercise is too slow and too difficult, so why not use fasted cardio as part of your workout routine.

It usually takes a couple of weeks of morning workouts to get your body clued in on what you are doing. But once you start seeing the results in weight loss, increased energy levels and focus you will be hooked on fasted cardio in the morning.

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