When is the best time to workout when you’re intermittent fasting? Great question.
Science tells us that working out in the morning is best for fat burning and weight loss while working out later in the day, after you’ve had a meal or two, may provide an energy boost and enhance your workout. But, will that later workout burn as much fat as a morning workout?
Or, maybe you don’t even care about the fat burn, maybe you’re new to intermittent fasting and you just don’t know when you SHOULD workout and need a little guidance to help get you started. Well, I’m here to help.
In this post I’ll break down what science is saying about early morning fasted workouts, if that science held true for my early morning fasted workouts, and I’ll provide different workout options for those who just don’t know where in the heck to start.
Breaking it down.
If you’re reading this post, and you’re intermittent fasting, my guess is that you want to time your workouts to enable your body to be a more efficient fat-burning machine. I mean, as an intermittent faster, you’re already providing your body the opportunity to shift its fuel-burning process from a “sugar burner” (pulling fuel from your food stores) to an efficient “fat burner” (pulling your fuel from stored fat) and, so, in theory, by adding a well-timed workout to your routine you should only enhance that “fat-burning” opportunity, right? Perhaps.
Early Morning Fasted Workouts = More Fat Burn & Weight Loss?
Let’s take a look at the early morning approach in regards to fat burning and weight loss. According to science, this is the best time to work out if you want to burn more fat and optimize your weight loss. This science is based on the fact that you are working out on an empty stomach (in a fasted state). See below.
According to Anthony Hackney, a professor in the department of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, “Working out in the morning — especially on an empty stomach — is the best way to burn stored fat, making it ideal for weight loss. In the early morning hours, you have a hormonal profile that would predispose you to better metabolism of fat,” People naturally have elevated levels of cortisol and growth hormone in the morning—both of which are involved in metabolism—so you’ll “draw more of your energy from your fat reserves,” Hackney says. That can potentially help with weight loss. Research also suggests that morning exercisers may have less of an appetite throughout the day, which could also help protect them from putting on pounds. SOURCE
I’ve been an early morning exerciser since early 2018. Now, I wasn’t thinking about fat-burning when I first started my early morning workouts, oh no. In fact, I’ve been trying to be an early morning workout person for years, but could never get beyond day 1. I LOATHED early morning workouts, but when early mornings became the only time that I could find time to work out, I had to shift my focus and work to figure it out.
After a few weeks of 5:30 am wake-up times and 6:00 am workouts, I found my groove and my body quickly adapted. I’ve actually come to enjoy checking my workout off my to-do list. It’s kind of nice to have it behind me as I go about my day.
Early Morning Intensity.
As of writing this post, I am participating in a 4 ride per week Power Zone Challenge with the Power Zone Pack on my Peloton. These challenges have a healthy mix of endurance, power zone, and MAX rides in their 8-week challenges. That means that I complete a pretty healthy dose of different intensity workouts early in the morning in the fasted state. So that means, as science states, that I give myself a healthy dose of extra fat-burning potential 4-5 times a week.
So, does it make a difference?
Do I notice the extra burn?
As far as a noticeable difference in fat burn and weight loss in regards to an early morning workout, I don’t see much of a difference. I mean, I started my early morning workouts before I started intermittent fasting and I lost approximately zero pounds. I will mention that during that time I did drink a pre-workout supplement, and that did break my fast, so maybe that’s the difference? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I drank a pre-workout supplement in my early stages of intermittent fasting and I LOST weight. I believe that intermittent fasting was my catalyst for weight loss, and not working out in the morning.
Something might be happening?
All of that being said, sure, it’s possible that I’m burning more fat by working out early in the fasted state, but I don’t notice enough of a difference in my weight loss to really say “yeah! workout early in the morning for maximum fat burn.” I guess if I were a part of a scientific study and I was one of the participants hooked up to whatever machines they hook their participants up to, they could say “Hey! You just burned more fat working out fasted in the morning. You saved about 20 calories. Rejoice!”
But I’m not a part of any study so I really have no idea how much more fat I’m burning and if it’s aiding in my weight loss efforts. Am I benefitting from something? Probably, but I really can’t tell.
Working out early in the morning in the fasted state is more like adding a little extra icing on the cake to “round out” the cake. It’s not the ONLY reason I’m losing weight, but it has it’s benefits.
Find the BEST time to workout for YOU.
So, what if you’re not really looking for maximum fat burn (don’t lie, that’s why you’re here), but what if you just want to know more about HOW people living an intermittent fasting lifestyle workout while intermittent fasting?
Let’s look at a few scenarios that might work for you.
If you’re like I was and just want to get that workout in early in the morning, but you’re concerned about working out in a fasted state, I’m here to tell that you will be OK. With some time and prep, you can become an efficient fat burner and train your body to pull energy to fuel your workouts from your fat stores and not from a workout supplement. It just takes time for that to happen.
I realize that many in the supplement and the health industry will tell you that you MUST workout with some sort of pre-workout food or supplement. I get that and I used to fuel my workouts with all the must-haves and latest science myself. I mean, I used to sh*t myself during a run because of this advice, but their science told me that it’s 100% necessary, so I thought it was necessary. However, most of that science is backed by the same industries selling you the product. So, take what they say with a grain of salt. Science has changed and that science affects their bottom line.
So, as an intermittent faster what can you do to fuel your early morning workouts?
A different kind of fuel.
Truth be told, when I first started IF, I DID fuel my early morning workouts with a pre-workout supplement and still lost weight, but opted to remove that supplement when I switched over to a clean fast. Currently, like many intermittent fasters, I drink black coffee. And, truth be told (again), I saw no difference in my workout when I made the switch from the pre-workout supplement to just black coffee.
NOTE: There are different schools of thought in the intermittent fasting world when it comes to fueling your workouts. Most opt for a completely fasted workout while others will “dirty” their fast and opt for a pre-workout supplement. That choice is yours and yours alone. Like I mentioned above, I took a pre-workout supplement in my early days of intermittent fasting and I still lost weight, but I dropped that supplement in an effort to break a weight loss plateau. I suggest, if you really need that supplement, to start your morning workouts with that supplement and slowly replace it with a cleaner option (black coffee or black tea).
So, what if it’s not the time of day that worries you but the length of time that you have to remain in a fasted state after you finish your workout? I mean, I remain in the fasted state for about 6 hours after my morning workout. What if you don’t want to wait THAT long before you can open your eating window?
Early afternoon workouts: Right before your eating window opens.
If waiting 6+ hours until you can eat after a good hard workout doesn’t interest you at all, then maybe working out right before your eating window opens is a good option for you!
Many IFers like to complete their workouts right before their eating window opens. This allows them to open their window and fuel their body with food right after their workout is complete.
Again, I know the experts say that you MUST fuel your body with food after a workout, but I don’t 100% buy it. I, and may other intermittent fasters, do not eat right after a hard workout and we’re just fine. I guess, if you’re really trying to gain weight and build an incredible amount of muscle mass, it would be beneficial, but for the purposes of weight loss, I don’t think it’s incredibly necessary. But, if it’s something that you LIKE to do and WANT to do, then DO IT! I did it!
This was my preferred method before making the switch to morning workouts. When I first started intermittent fasting, I had a really hard time finding my workout grove. I also thought that I would STARVE if I didn’t eat right after a workout. For a time, I would bring my running clothes to work and go for a run right before I opened my eating window. And I LOVED it! However, those runs were not very consistent so I eventually opted for the morning workout.
There is no WRONG way. While there are many intermittent fasters who workout in the fasted state early in the morning, there are JUST as many intermittent fasters who workout right before their eating window opens. And, each person has their own personal reason for the choices that they make. You do YOU!
After your eating window has opened.
Look, some people have ZERO interest in working out in the fasted state. Lots of people like to fuel their workouts and then eat a little something when they’re done, and there is NOTHING wrong with that.
The best part about this method is that, as an IFer, once your eating window opens, you can eat what you want! Those pre and post-workout supplements are 100% completely allowed because…YOUR WINDOW IS OPEN! YAY! By waiting until your eating window opens, you allow yourself to continue on as you had before you started IF. There is no need to change anything about your workout!
So, if your eating window opens at 1:00 pm and closes at 7:00 pm, you could schedule your workout, let’s say, from 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm (or something like that). This will allow you to take your pre AND post-workout supplement and STILL stick to your intermittent fasting schedule.
And, AND, another beautiful part of intermittent fasting its flexibility.
Say, you want to workout early in the morning, but you really don’t want to workout in the fasted state. No problem! You can simply adjust your eating window to an early morning eating window so you can incorporate that pre and post-workout supplement. For me, that would mean that I would open my eating window at 5:30 am, and since I’m on an 18/6 fasting schedule, I would close my eating window at 11:30 am. Since my window is open, I can eat and drink whatever I’d like! I mean, I don’t do that, that’s just an example, but you certainly could!
Be a Weekend Warrior!
If you have little time to workout during the week, but really want to get in some good workouts, take advantage of the free time that you have on the weekends! My workout schedule has me working out 3-5 times a week. If I can get two workouts in during the week, and two really good workouts in over the weekend, I consider that a HUGE success.
Even if I only get one workout in during the week, I know that I have more time to commit to my workouts over the weekend and commit a little more time to those workouts than I do during the week.
This is also a great option for those who absolutely need to eat something before or after their workouts. Take a look at your schedule for the weekend, see if there are adjustments to be made to that schedule, and make those changes! IF is a lifestyle, and if you want to make this work, make adjustments that will work for you!
Honestly, there are some people who don’t adhere to their fasting schedule over the weekend. I personally have to fast on the weekends or they turn into a free for all, but if you have the willpower to get you through without wrecking all your hard work during the week, go for it!
Too much is ALWAYS too much!
This is my disclaimer to those of you who want to go a little too far.
Too much is too much is too much it too much.
If you’re feeling lightheaded or sick while you’re working out while intermittent fasting, then STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING!
I get it, I do. You want all the results in none of the time. But, if you feel sick or lightheaded when you start working out fasted, then you need to SLOW DOWN. This isn’t a sprint! Chill out!
So, when is the best time to workout while intermittent fasting?
Personally, I think anytime you can get in a workout is the best time to workout! Sure, there may be more benefit to working out in the morning or in a completely fasted state, but the reality is that “difference” probably won’t make THAT much of a difference anyway. Just working out and raising that heart rate has way more benefit than not working out at all.
In all cases, you do you. Don’t beat yourself up about this. Finding what works for you will take time, and guess what, it will most likely change! Life changes. What works today may not be what works for you a year from now. Be flexible, experiment and you will find what works best for you sooner than you think.
- I talked a bit about black coffee here today (or, as some of the Stuck Ass Down group members call it “Blech Coffee”), but it does have its benefits. Check out my 5 Benefits of Drinking Black Coffee and 5 Tips to Help You Drink & Enjoy Black Coffee posts. They may change your mind about black coffee.
- Have you hit a weight loss plateau? Maybe it’s homeostasis. Read up on that and set-point weight in my Homeostasis & Set-Point Weight: How to break your weight loss plateau post.
Disclaimer: The information in this email is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the stuckassdown blog.
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