Training fasted has become a frequently used approach due to its convenience for those with a busy work & family life. Although it’s extremely convenient and effective, it seems like there are still a lot of questions around this subject that I come across with my clients and others reaching out through social media.
First off… What is fasting?
Fasting - To not consume any food or drink.
This is usually something that’s used in a medical setting if you’re having a blood test or something along those lines. But this isn’t the way it’s used in the fitness world. It tends to mean no food or liquid calories, so water is very much part of fasting or even things a black coffee is acceptable. Realistically fasting can be set to how you wish, don’t over structure this or even over think it. I do prefer to say training first thing but that’s not how most people word it. I’ve known people to argue online about if they’re actually fasting if they take amino acids or protein pre workout. Of course by definition they’re not but does this really matter? No.
You have to reverse engineer what fasting is being used for (training first thing) when it comes to your journey and how you apply it. For majority, you’re just fasting because it suits your routine and ability to train effectively first thing because let’s be honest, very few of us will get up 2 hours earlier just to get a meal in before we train. That 2 hours of extra sleep is going to have a better impact on our training than some extra carbohydrates. Because we haven’t consumed any calories for a long time we are then in a fasted state.
So for this reason you can appreciate that hydrating yourself is extremely helpful and if you was to consume some protein before training it could also benefit your ability to have essential nutrients available (amino acids) but we have to consider the effects this could have on digestion for a majority of people. So find what suits you within this morning routine and see how you can optimise your training and performance but don’t over think it because you’re talking about very marginal improvements unless we are talking about being hydrated so if you don’t manage to read any further than this just take that point, HYDRATE!
So, why is training fasted useful?
Honestly this really is just down to the convenience of your daily routine and ability to train. I’ve worked with 100’s of clients and a big majority of them have tried training fasted, it’s very individualised but what I can say is that most of them enjoy it because it gets it out the way and allows them to focus on the rest of their day. People can look into the science of if it’s going to benefit you more or be optimal but this whole blog is about lifestyle and if you’re going to be focused on performing based around your circadian rhythm then maybe fasted training isn’t the best approach.
Training first thing can dramatically improve your ability to sustain a frequent training routine, working with many busy males who have stressful work/business life and also a family to be there for they can fall short with their training if they plan to do it directly after work. Fasted training gives them the ability to not only get their workouts in but also provide the focus in other areas of their life rather than structuring their whole day around their workout.
What should you expect from training fasted?
In my experience, there are 3 big factors that I’ve noticed about training fasted and things that I think can be extremely beneficial if you can build the structure correctly around it.
Consistency - This is a huge variable to not only achieving your goals but also building a lifestyle around it. You’re very unlikely to receive calls, emails or have any distractions when training first thing in the morning so this can allow you to have very consistent sessions with regards to your focus on the workout that you’re about to do.
Headspace - Having the time in the morning to just focus on the session can be quite therapeutic and something you can’t often get when you train later in the day. You often find when training later that you’re running through your day in your mind and this can be quite distracting. Although it can have its benefits by relieving stress it can also mean your workout gets effected due to the lack of focus.
Flexibility - Something that is much needed when it comes to introducing this into your lifestyle. Having the ability to switch between training in the morning to the evening can be a game changer for many. Knowing that the goal is to train in the morning can mean that if it doesn’t happen you have the option to move it to the evening if your day allows it can massively reduce the stress around your training. If you set the goal to only train in the evening then something comes up you’re stuck because the day has come to an end. I know this can work both ways but this is a good reason to consider training first thing.
Can you build muscle whilst training fasted?
Big shock, so many people assume that training fasted will massively limit your ability to build muscle but going off my experience this is far from the case. Could It have an impact on how much you grow? Possibly, but the key factors to muscle growth are consistently stimulating the muscle, nutrition to aid recovery and rest to help repair the muscle. All 3 of these are possible with training fasted.
Your performance could potentially be different but you still have the ability to progress, create a new stimulus, provide your body with the essential nutrients and rest for that all important recovery.
So just to put this to you, take this how you want but this has been my approach whilst training fasted (first thing) and allowed me to gain a decent amount of lean muscle and maintain my lowish body fat levels. (Also whilst cutting maintaining a lot of my lean muscle).
Your muscles have no idea how much weight you’re lifting, the cycle is quite literally training stimulus > damage muscle fibres > prepare muscle fibres (satellite cells fusing and attach to muscle fibres to increase muscle fibre cross-sectional area). Thus leading to gains.
So if you’re training fasted and you create a new stimulus (many ways to do this) and you’re effectively recovering with resting the muscle and the correct nutrition then how much muscle are you really losing out on? Just having this basic mental approach can significantly improve your ability to perform and build muscle.
Often people tell themselves that they can’t build muscle fasted and this massively effects their performance because quite frankly they just don’t even push themselves. Building muscle isn’t easy, it takes a consistent routine, good structure and a lot of focus whilst in the gym. I see so many people without these key understandings train in the evening so, I simply ask you the question…. Is training fasted really the reason you’re not gaining any muscle?
How do you get the most from training in the morning?
Firstly you should hydrate first thing, being dehydrated can significantly decrease your performance in the gym and also will impact your ability to build muscle so this should be your first goal in your morning routine before training. To be honest it should really be the first thing you do every morning.
Once you’ve hydrated then it could be a good idea to add some caffeine into the mix, this can be a great way to improve your performance and also give you that little kick to wake you up. I wouldn’t recommend reaching for your pre workout blend though, unless you’re actually taking the care to measure how much you have and not just go all in. It’s important to assess your tolerance first thing in the morning, if you take too much it can cause a crash after your sessions and then lead to an uphill battle throughout the day to feel yourself again. Although the BUZZ is unreal and you feel unstoppable, it’s definitely something you should try to manage.
Personally I keep it simple with a black coffee and sometimes add in a supplement called Thermopure (1 tablet out of the 3 recommended so around 65mg of additional caffeine) to give me an extra kick but also to assess my tolerance correctly. This way I’m able to manage my caffeine intake in the morning and throughout the day to suit how my energy levels are. Here’s an example of my previous approach when training or doing cardio for my photoshoot. As the week goes on my caffeine was increased due to fatigue build up that was pretty consistent each week.
My caffeine intake when training fasted for my photoshoot
Monday - Black coffee (Resistance training 5:30am)
Tuesday - Black coffee (Cardio 5:30am)
Wednesday - Black coffee + 65mg caffeine (Resistance training 5:30am)
Thursday - Black coffee + 65mg caffeine (cardio 5:30am)
Friday - Black coffee + 65mg-130mg caffeine (Resistance training 5:30am)
Saturday - Black coffee + 65mg caffeine (Resistance training 7am)
Sunday - Black coffee (Cardio 7am)
The Thermopure supplement I use is from Myprotein and you can find it here
Notice how I didn’t just go all out from the start or even continue to progress my caffeine intake due to ability to sleep and rest more. My mentality with caffeine is what goes up must come down and for me the crash can massively impact my day. My aim is to maximise my mood, focus and performance throughout the day. Caffeine is an incredible supplement but use it sparingly and you will maximise its potential and your daily energy levels.
Now you’ve got this in place you might ask, what about protein intake?
This is something I’ve played around with a lot myself and I realised was that I had to be quite careful about what I consumed pre workout due to digestion and it’s effect on training. Personally I used a product from Myprotein called ‘Clear Whey’ this is a whey isolate that’s almost like a fruit juice. Very easy to consume and I would actually sip on this before and during my workouts. This just provided me with that peace of mind that I’ve got those essential amino acids in the system (hopefully). You can find clear whey here
The magic time that you’re so anabolic that if you don’t consume the exact amount of protein and carbs you’re not going to fast track your progress. (Sarcasm)
Don’t over think this period, just because you’ve not eaten anything for 8-10 hours it doesn’t mean your body is going to soak up every bit of nutrients you put in and you should get a 1000 calorie shake or meal in you.
Allow your body to come out of that fight and flight mode into the rest and digest state (sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems). This is so important for you to pay attention to, mostly because the effect it can have on your digestive system throughout the day and can lead to you feeling lethargic for a while after training. Trust me I’ve been there. It’s very hard to eat a meal when you’re still highly stimulated from your workout and in that fight or flight state. One thing I do is track my heart rate, once it’s back down to near my rested heart rate for a while then I’m in a good place. (Usually takes around 45-90 minutes for me).
If you wish to have a protein shake post workout (I usually do, so I won’t judge), then use something that’s easy to digest and sip on it. Do not guzzle a shake directly after your sessions and this could probably come in useful at any point you decide to have a protein shake.
Then have your meal planned 60-90 minutes after training. This could quite possibly be the most important part, not the timing or the food you’re having but actually having it planned and prepared. This point your body will lead you down that garden path of feeling hungry and craving something. Without having your meal there and ready to consume you could end up massively over eating or not giving your body the importance nutrients that it needs.
Now you’ve had this meal you can just go about your day as normal and feel the benefits of not having to focus planning your whole day around your workout. You just have to plan a small section of your day (the morning) and enjoy the improved mood that you start the day with because of achieving something before most people have even decided to get out of bed.
Remember this doesn’t have to be a fixed thing within your life, if this is something you use now and then because your routine suits then do so. Don’t allow training to take over your life due to trying to find the optimal time based off your circadian rhythm because for most of us this isn’t actually how we can plan our days. We are not paid to train or high level athletes, this has to become a way of life and using different tools to navigate through different phases of your life can be a huge part of you staying consistent.
I work with a lot of males who have high stress jobs, run their own businesses, short on time due to busy work schedule and have to work around families. There are many ways to approach training, it’s not one size fits all and everything can have a place when the time is right. The most important factor is to stay consistent, give yourself some time in the day to work on yourself and keep you in a good mental & physical place.
I will dive into how I set up my evening routine, nutrition, morning routine and all the juicy bits in another blog post so stay tuned.
I hope this has helped you in some way and this is based of experience, real life situations and events that I’ve been through myself and helped clients with. You will notice that none of this has any science backed information with links and that is due to this being based from that experience. I hope you find this information useful and if you have any questions or anything you’d like to add please feel free to do so below!
Thanks for reading,
Ricky Brodie - The Lean Lifestyle