T Nation

Training on Empty for Cutting


Does anyone have conclusive proof that training on empty causes you to cut fat faster than training with a full tank?

Personally, I do not know of any conclusive evidence one way or the other. The best advice I've found says "try it out and see if it works for you."

I have tried training while eating six small meals a day and training while using the Warrior Diet (eating only one big meal a day).

I can't tell the difference and I use EDT so I measure time, weight and reps pretty carefully. If there WAS a difference, I think I would have been able to tell.

I have heard that many bodybuilders swear by the principle of not eating until after they work out but what exactly is that based on?


I've never heard of anyone weightlifting without eating. That just sounds retarded. You weightlift to build muscle, why do it to put yourself in a negative energy balance.

my head hurts now.


your talking cardio for fat loss right? coz if not i agree with elusive , who trains on an empty stomach.

My head hurts more



Plus, there is little "conclusive proof" when it comes to diets and training theories. Even when there are research studies, these are not considered conclusive proof.


Where have you heard this?


Even those Pro BBers who will tell you they only eat protein before their morning cardio ("to preserve muscle", or some other BS like "no carbs for fuel, so you have to burn fat"), I don't buy into it for a couple of very simple reasons...

1- Your body has been fasting all night. It is essentially eating away at it's muscles the longer you go without giving it some nourishment.... wouldn't adding additional stress from the fasted cardio create more of a catabolic effect, and in essence, cause the opposite of what you're trying to achieve? (Namely, preserving muscle and losing fat. Muscle burns up calories every day, so don't lose it dummy!)

2- I forget where I read it recently, but it was a pretty good argument that the idea that what you've eaten relatively close, before your training session (whether weights or cardio) has no actual bearing on where your fuel source comes from, and as such would be in direct contradiction to what you read in Flex or MuscleRag INternational. Hence, if you're doing cardio in the morning, the fuel will be based on your dinner the night before, and all eating some protein beforehand will do, is redirect blood away from the working muscles and into your gut (remember Mommy telling you not to swim after eating?)

(If I'm totally wrong, feel free to cite away, but these arguments, especially the first one I listed, make a lot of sense)



I read somewhere, I think in the T-Cell, someones theory about fasted cardio. I think it was dedicated's theory, but it went something like this:

You start with nothing in your stomach, completely fasted. If you eat (drink) oil (fats), then you work out and thus your body requires energy, your body will utilize the fat you ingested as fuel. If you were to do this long enough, it would "condition" your body to burn fat as fuel pretty efficiently.

I know one of the replies was something like "This is either overly simplified or sheer genius." lol



You can check out the Cardio Roundtable article found here: http://www.T-Nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_interviews/the_fasted_cardio_roundtable

It's basically something you have to decide for yourself, as I doubt you'll find "hard evidence" on this one. For me, it doesn't make much sense because the risks seem to outweigh the rewards. You figure that you may lose a couple of calories extra by fasting (because you're spending more than you're consuming) but that might only turn out to be 1 or 2 pounds in a few months. The higher risk is that if you don't know what you're doing, you risk losing a good bit of muscle mass.


I believe the OP is talking about weightlifting, not cardio.


I agree with your second point.

There is no way you can digest and burn the preworkout meal soon enough to have it used as fuel. Besides, the physical demands of activity will will determine which source your body will go to, and you already have glycogen and fat stores.

The point of eating before working out would be to keep insulin high so that whatever nutrients you intake during workout or even PWO will go where they need to go.

This is why I think taking half a serving of Surge Recovery pre-workout, then a second half + whey PWO is probably a good strategy.

Or, if you've had a good insulin spiking meal pre-workout, Surge Recovery or the resultant insulin rush from it is probably not necessary, but at least get in some protein (whey/casein) so you can capitalize off the pre-workout meal's insulin response.


I think it was tiribulus who stated that, and I agree with the logic.

You are priming your body to handle a certain type of fuel (in this case, fat). I also think the mechanism to store fat and breakdown fat are the same, just as metabolism being high is beneficial for body recomposition (not just burning fat or building muscle, but both functions). So, to initiate this mechanism for fat 'handling' is beneficial to the goal of fat loss.


In the morning I run with nothing but coffee and heavy cream in my stomach because I couldn't actually handle anything more than that that early or while running.

But I have a stupid hard time planning my meals for my afternoon/evening workouts though. I tend to go from full to starving in 2.5 seconds and start out well fed but am too hungry too soon.


I actually get horrible acid reflux when I lift if I've had anything more than a handful to eat before working out, or if it eat really close to workout time.

It's enough to distract me during a set.


I honestly doubt it matters, provided adequate nutrition during the rest of your day.

But I always eat something before lifting. not always on cardio.


Just my opinion and what works for me when cutting, but I take in some complex carb source and substantial amount of protein 45 mins before work out, do 15 mins of interval cardio, 45 mins weight session, shoot a protein and creatine shake straight after, wait an hour and have a super low carb dinner, by that I mean meat and veg but no potato, so basically no carbs after 4pm and your evening meals just high protein.


I totally can't train when I'm on empty. Although sometimes if it's a time issue,.. let's say I ate something at about 2:30/3:00 (usually a cup of cottage cheese and cashews), then I want to get to the gym at 4/4:30,.. well, it's obviously not 2 hours later (when I would normally want my next feeding), but by the time I get home, I'll be starving... so I eat a big spoon of Natty PB, which I find makes me feel a little more 'full' than if I just drank a whey shake or something (although I will sometimes have both).

I am under no illusion that my body will 'burn off' this food during my session, my only goal is to keep up my food cadence so I am not going for extended periods without nutrition, as well as keep my stomach from growling all over the place when I'm trying to lift.



I've been eating peanut butter too but if it's too close to working out it doesn't sit very well. I haven't quite figured out the best way for me yet.


I work out early in the morning, and have found that breakfast that close to working out actually hurts the intensity of my workouts. I don't like working out with a full stomach.

I do have a protein shake and take HOT-ROX during my workout, and that seems to help.



Do you get acid reflux or an upset stomach?


Well, I was talking about any form of training - cardio, strength or anything in between. Advocates include people like Ori Hofmekler (WAARIOR DIET) although in later editions of his book, he advocates more food during the "undereating phase" and discusses pre-workout meals at length.

I think that primarily, most people think of "training on empty" when discussing cardio. Here for example is an excerpt from Tom Venuto's excellent BURN THE FAT FEED THE MUSCLE:

Early morning fasted cardio: A simple method to increase the fat burning effects of your cardio by up to 300%
Any time of day that suits your schedule is a good time for cardio. The important thing is that you just do it. However, many bodybuilders and fitness models believe that
early morning fasted cardio burns more body fat. Although this is still controversial, the evidence is strong and there are many reasons to consider doing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. The argument in favor of fasted early morning cardio goes something like this:

  1. After an overnight 8-12 hour fast, your body's stores of glycogen are depleted and you burn more fat when glycogen is low.
  2. Eating causes a release of insulin. Insulin interferes with the mobilization of body fat. Less insulin is present in the morning; so more body fat is burned when cardio is done in the morning.
  3. There is less carbohydrate (glucose) in the bloodstream when you wake up after an overnight fast. With less glucose available, you burn more fat.
  4. If you eat immediately before a workout, you have to burn off what you just ate first before tapping into stored body fat (and insulin is elevated after a meal.)

He goes on to list other reasons.

Personally, I don't see much difference as some of you seem to, between "cardio training" and "strength training" on empty.

I would argue that a hill sprint would tak the body as much as a set of Barbell Curls so if cardio on empty is OK, then strength training on empty should also be OK.

I think it is important to focus on the fact that we're talking about CUTTING FAT. Training on empty is not something you would try if you were trying to gain muscle. Obviously, you'd be trying to eat plenty of macronutrients to do that.

I believe the answer lies in an understanding of the body's major energy systems. Unfortunately, I don't understand that very well but I will try to fix that ignorance in the coming weeks.

Many thanks