Health & Wellness

Is fasted training actually good for me?

Dr. Marc Bubbs

Spring is in the air, and as the days get warmer, you’re probably more motivated to hit the road for a run, ride or prepare for a summer 10K, half-marathon or marathon. Once you’ve signed up for your event, you’re committed. It’s time to dust off your training program and running shoes in order to prepare. Most people run for charity and to improve their health. However, many people fail to lose any weight while training for their marathon, cycling event or fun run. Sadly, this also limits the benefit for improving health and longevity.

How can you fuel your training this summer to not only get fitter, but lighter and leaner as well?

There are a number of different strategies. One in particular is highly effective (and convenient) for recreational runners during specific training runs. It’s called fasted training, which includes fasted cardio. Fasted training is simple and just as straightforward as it sounds. You wake up in the morning, have a drink of water, coffee or tea and off you go for your run. No pre-workout breakfast, shake or sports drink.

How can it help improve fitness and body composition?

When doing aerobic-based endurance sessions, which should make up about 80% of your training when preparing for activities like marathons, you are exercising at 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. The primary fuel at this pace is your own body-fat. If you consume a higher carb breakfast, you will burn the carbohydrates for fuel rather than your own ‘fuel reserves’ in body-fat stores. Note: The rules are a little different for elite runners focused strictly on performance. This makes fasting a terrific strategy to ensure you train your body to improve its ability to burn your own adipose tissue for fuel. In addition, you liver glycogen stores will be low since you have just slept all night. This is the carbohydrate stored in your liver that keeps your blood sugar levels stable while you sleep. It can increase your body's ability to burn fat as a fuel source. Here are a few things to remember when performing ‘fasted training’;
  • You can drink coffee or tea (black or with cream), or water
  • Keep your heart rate in the aerobic heart rate zone, approximately 65-75% of your maximum heart rate
  • If you don’t measure your heart rate, simply rate your ‘effort’ on a scale of 1-10 and don’t exceed an estimated measure of ‘7.5’.

What should you eat after your fasted training session?

Aim for a protein and fat-based breakfast with minimal complex carbohydrates from starches. For example, two or three eggs with avocado and a cup of raspberries or a bowl of plain yogurt with blackberries and walnuts. You can also add in a coffee with Enhanced Collagen to help support bone and joint health. Then, you can then resume you’re normal eating pattern for lunch and dinner.

Should All My Runs Be Fasted?

Most training plans for recreational runners will have a few planned days of intervals to kick up the intensity of training and get you huffing and puffing. These sessions rely predominantly on carbohydrate stores in your muscle for fuel. For these sessions, having a small amount of carbohydrates before can improve your performance, giving you more ‘bang for your buck’. Before interval or sprint-type sessions, it’s best to include some type of complex carbohydrate in your meal 2-3 hours before you train. A small portion of brown rice, sweet or white potatoes, or pasta can be highly beneficial to your ability to keep up with the pace. Of course, there are a few important things to remember. The more unfit you are, or the more weight you have to lose, the less ‘fuel’ from carbohydrates you’ll need for these sessions. Similarly, very few people require any ‘sport drink’ during training as what you eat before and after exercise is sufficient to recover. Only the real elite runners need lots of fuel on board because they’re moving at an incredibly fast pace! Fasted training

Additional Benefits of Weight Loss for Running

Unfortunately, many people get injured training up for a half or full-marathon. When you run, the force exerted is approximately 7 to 8 times your body weight, coming down on your feet after each stride. If you’re overweight, losing weight will dramatically reduce the pounding on your feet, knees and lower back. It is also strongly associated with reducing your risk of pre-diabetes and diabetes (type-2), metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer. Sadly, the injury rate in marathon prep is high because people don’t take enough time to prepare. A terrific strategy as you start your training program is to include more hiking, up and down hills. This will prepare the muscles and ligaments in your knees, hips and ankles to cope with a running program without the pounding on the joints. In summary, if you’re getting ready to run a 10K, half-marathon, marathon or charity cycling event, or simply want to lose weight and improve your health, adding in ‘fasted training’ 2 to 5 days per week is a great strategy. Remember to add more carbs on higher intensity interval days and you’ll be well on your way to hitting a new personal best this summer and staying injury-free.   Happy training! Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS