The Downsides Of Working Out On An Empty Stomach

After eating a big, delicious meal, working out is likely the last thing on your mind. The term "food coma" exists for a reason, and the sluggish feeling we get after chowing down can lead many to think that a pre-workout meal is a bad idea. 


Indeed, fasted cardio was once quite the fitness trend, with Healthline noting a few benefits of working out on an empty stomach. The theory goes, if you don't have food stores to burn off as energy, your body will burn more fat as you work out. While some studies have found evidence backing this claim, results seem to vary wildly. As you might expect, your gender, preferred mode of exercise, and body type can all come into play. 

And while you might experience some benefits from practices like fasted cardio, you're more likely to run into some of the downsides. Here are some factors you'll want to consider while planning your pre-grind snacks.

Your body relies on food for energy

Whether you're working out to build muscle or to lose weight, food has to be part of the equation. Though working out without a meal may seem like fewer calories in general, your food is the fuel that powers a productive workout. As you're building healthy habits, the last thing you want to do is associate food with the enemy and hunger with strength. 


In a conversation with Yahoo! Life, nutritionist Abby Chan said she "definitely [does] not recommend" exercise on an empty stomach. "Your body will always do better in a fed state, no matter what," she shared. 

When you think about it, it makes sense! Chan noted that fans of longer workouts need the energy, power, and stamina that come from food. "If you're not in a fed state, most likely your muscles are gonna feel more fatigued," she said. "If you don't have the energy to work out or recover, then you're not going to be able to show up day in and day out."

Building muscle is a challenge without food

Not only will your muscles be tired from a lack of food, but they might also have trouble growing. You might know about eating protein after a workout to grow and repair muscle mass, but having that same fuel throughout your workout is equally important. Remember how some fasted cardio practitioners hope that their bodies will break down fat instead of food? Unfortunately, your body can also break down stores of protein when fresh food isn't in your system. According to Healthline, this brings challenges for building your muscles and repairing the micro-tears that bring soreness. 


Even worse, Insider reports that a hungry body can start to break down muscle itself in an attempt to get more energy. While this might appear to be weight loss, you're losing the strength that you worked so hard to build. The outlet's expert shared that you should actually aim for a calorie surplus if you're hoping to get stronger.

Hunger while exercising brings disruptive side effects

We've already covered how an inadequate amount of energy might lead you to cut your workout short. On top of that, however, a lack of food in your stomach could cause the time you do spend working out to feel pretty miserable. You may have heard that the key to weight loss is exercise and a calorie deficit ... but if you cut out too many calories, exercise will be impossible. 


Health notes that having too few calories in your system while working out can cause symptoms like dizziness and lightheadedness. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous! Losing consciousness while using exercise equipment or lifting weights can cause serious injury, taking you out of the gym and setting you back on your health goals. 

Whether it's as simple as eggs, yogurt, or avocado toast, your body will thank you for including food as a vital part of your workout warm-up.

Extreme hunger after a workout is a recipe for disaster

If you complete a workout on an empty stomach, you'll likely feel as if you've earned a big meal. While it's true that you'll want to get some food in your body, needing to eat immediately after a workout can undo a lot of your progress. Time notes that you should try to wait 60 to 90 minutes before eating after exercise. Because working out intensifies your metabolic processes, allowing your body to continue burning fat before you consume more food can help maximize the impacts of your workout.


That hour-long wait is going to feel a lot longer if you've already been fasting. And, continuing to deny yourself food for extended periods of time can make your body feel pretty desperate. Men's Journal notes that if you wrap up your exercise feeling completely drained of energy, you're more likely to end up overeating later. Your best bet is to develop a normal, guilt-free eating routine.

Your workout plan should be customized to your goals

Above all, it's important to remember that every body comes with unique workout needs. No two people will have identical health goals, so it stands to reason that your workout routine and pre-workout snacks may look different from your gym buddy's. Your age, health history, and favorite exercises can lend insight into what your diet should be. 


Time notes that adults over 50 need to be especially cautious working out on an empty stomach. Muscle naturally wears down as we age, so ensuring that your protein stores are in good shape is crucial. Meanwhile, those with health conditions such as diabetes and low blood pressure are advised by Winchester Hospital to always stick to a consistent diet, even when working out. 

Your best bet when pursuing a healthier lifestyle, or exploring trends like intermittent fasting, is to consult with your doctor. With your health history in hand, they can help you craft a perfect plan that will keep you motivated and satisfied while working out.