Does Fasted Cardio Enhance Fat Loss?
Find out what the research shows fasted cardio can and can’t do for you.
Despite what your social media feed might suggest, there are only a handful of key, scientifically supported actions, that truly move the needle on fat loss.
No, you don’t have to follow some ultra restrictive diet. You don’t have to starve yourself either. You don’t even have to entirely cut out those indulgences you love.
On this page I’ll walk you through some of the most powerful fat loss techniques and how we applied them to help a few of our clients achieve excellent results. Let’s get into it!
That’s Sam in the picture above. When we first started working together, she had lost some weight on her own, but stalled out and was struggling to make additional progress. As you can see in the picture though, she definitely got back on track!
So, how’d we do it?
There are many actions you can take to trigger fat loss, but for most people, nutrition provides the greatest opportunity. In fact, in a meta-analysis of 66 studies, researchers found that exercise alone had little to no benefit for fat loss.
If you aren’t used to looking at study results, the highlighted numbers above are a statistical measure known as effect size. It’s a tool scientists use to compare the results across multiple studies. A general rule of thumb for effect size is 0.2 means small change, 0.5 is moderate and 0.8 or higher is large.
In this meta-analysis, the researchers found that studies where participants only did cardio or only lifted, without controlling their diet, experienced little to no fat loss. However, in the studies where diet, diet + cardio or diet + lifting was used, participants experienced significant fat loss.
All of that is to say, if you want to lose fat, the best place to start is usually with your diet. Which is exactly what we did with Sam.
So, which diet is best?
For that answer, let’s turn to a study that compared the fat loss results from a bunch of popular diets. The study looked at the results for a variety of diets, some low carb, some low fat, some in the middle – all to measure which were most effective for fat loss. Which was best? Drumroll please…. They were all pretty much equally effective.
That means all this bickering over low fat vs. low carb is mostly a distraction. The key isn’t which diet you’re on, it’s that you’re on a diet and you’re sticking with it.
Since Sam had made progress on her own, we didn’t alter her diet much in the beginning, we just asked her to start tracking her intake so that we could monitor her foods, hold her accountable and so she could gain greater insight into her intake. She used the myfitnesspal app, which made tracking a breeze.
Soon enough, she got back on track with her fat loss. This simple solution worked for two key reasons.
First, remember that study I mentioned a couple paragraphs back that compared all the diets? Even though they found no specific diet was superior, they did identify one pattern across the most successful dieters, support. The participants that lost the most fat had support to help them achieve that goal. This support was either in the form of a coach, accountability partner or family member taking action with them.
Second, the mere act of logging helped uncover excessive cheats that were sabotaging her progress. She didn’t realize the magnitude of these indiscretions until she started logging, which is common. Sure, most people think they’re quite good at estimating their intake, but unless you’re highly practiced at it, there’s a strong chance you’re fooling yourself.
This is exemplified in a study where participants were asked to estimate how many calories they burned exercising (which they overestimated by 400%) and then consume as many calories as they thought they burned at a buffet (where they miscalculated by a factor of 2x). With errors this large, it’s easy to stall out in your diet and get confused about why it’s happening.
In Sam’s case, we cleaned up a few sources of calories “leaking” into her diet and got her right back on track. We didn’t squeeze out all the fun foods from her diet though. In fact, she had this to say about our work together…
“It’s been so great working with you! Not once have I felt like I was “dieting” or limited in any way! Looking forward to continuing to work with you!”
Making room for the foods you love, in a responsible way, is key to maintaining fat loss over the long haul. We recognize this and work closely with each client to incorporate the foods they love.
Finally, we tightened a few other things up in her diet like tweaking her protein intake and within a few months she had achieved monumental results. Let’s just take one more opportunity to celebrate Sam’s accomplishment.
Dang!!! Helluva job Sam.
Remember, these fantastic results came when Sam felt she had plateaued. We didn’t do anything crazy. We simply made some minor tweaks to her diet, provided some guidance and support and track a handful of highly actionable metrics. It’s incredible what you can accomplish when you eliminate all nonessential elements and laser focus on what truly matters.
Sam is far from our only client that has achieved significant fat loss. Bryan is another excellent example.
You already know nutrition is the big lever for fat loss, so of course, that’s where we started with Bryan.
We had him log his food and provided the same direction, support and accountability that helped Sam. But, there was an additional key step in Bryan’s journey.
In a large study that examined fat loss from low carb vs. low fat diets, the authors found some people do well on low carb, some do poorly. Other people do well on low fat, while other do poorly. Both diets can work, but both can also be a bad fit. The key takeaways were A) you must find a path that works for you, which is likely different than works for someone else and B) fundamentally changing your relationship with food is essential for long term results.
So, we helped Bryan find a pattern of eating that fit his preferences and lifestyle. We also helped him modify his relationship with food, transitioning away from using sugary sweets as a reward.
Again, nothing earth shattering, but insanely effective when applied in a way that provides the right support and cues that make it stick long term. And wow, did it work. Just look at Bryan’s face in his after picture below… he can’t even contain his happiness!
Nutrition is super powerful for fat loss, but it’s not the only thing to pay attention to.
When done correctly, combining diet and exercise can be like pouring gasoline on the fire of fat loss. This works for some unexpected reasons.
First, researchers, such as those in this study, have found that habitual exercise is protective of weight regain – so once you lose fat, regular exercise is one of the best tools for keeping it off. Second, if you can embrace the process and find some joy in the gym by focusing your attention on performance, it actually leads to superior fat loss as compared to those that just focus on their weight.
And the most effective exercise program for fat loss is typically a combination of cardio and lifting weights.
So that’s exactly what we constructed for Bryan. A 3 day per week exercise program consisting of some lifting and some cardio. He was in and out of the gym in less than an hour during each session.
Finally, at EBA, we believe the best approach to fat loss is a holistic one. An approach that looks at diet, exercise AND the other factors in your life that may affect your weight. So, for each of our clients like Sam and Bryan, we keep tabs on their day-to-day stress, digestion and sleep. These factors can play a much larger role in fat loss than you might think.
There’s a strong association between the number of hours slept each night and obesity, that seems to be especially strong with less than 7 hours per night (though women seem to do better on less sleep than men).
We’re still trying to figure out exactly why this association exists, but some researchers have uncovered valuable clues. For instance, in this study, researchers noted that even short term sleep deprivation leads to an unintentional 20% increase in caloric intake. So, if you’re struggling with hunger when on a diet, it could very well be remedied simply by sleeping a bit more each night!
The steps outlined thus far may not seem exciting or even very significant, but they work. The science shows they are the most powerful actions you can take if you want to prioritize fat loss. However, if you do want to dive deeper, below are some additional resources for you to check out.
Find out what the research shows fasted cardio can and can’t do for you.
There are two elements of getting leaner: building muscle and losing fat. In this article we dive into why focusing on building muscle is a better approach.
Some foods have fewer calories than others, but is it actually possible for a food to have negative calories?
Is there really anything special about intermittent fasting that accelerates fat loss? Find out in this episode 😀
The hardest thing about losing fat is usually sticking with your diet. There are a few tricks that can really help.
Most supposed fat loss shortcuts are a total sham. One way to fast track your results though is to work with a coach that has a strong understanding of the science and has experience successfully applying it to help clients achieve significant results. That’s what we do.
We help clear up the confusion. We illuminate the “fast path” for you. We provide support and help you overcome obstacles when they surface.
If you’re ready to get off the endless cycle of hopping from diet to diet and exercise program to exercise program. To take the actions that matter most for the results you want to achieve. Take a look at the program we offer.
We work closely with a small group of clients like Sam and Bryan, that want to leverage the countless hours we’ve spent reading research, tracking data, experimenting with clients and delivering results. If that interests you. If you’ve been struggling with fat loss. If you want accountability. If you want an evidence-based strategy tailored to you and your unique needs. We can help.
If you’re not ready to make an investment in yourself, but still want to ensure you’re taking the right steps for maximum sustainable fat loss, click below to subscribe to the Evidence Based Athlete: Fat Loss Is Simple series. The series breaks down the most important things you should be doing for fat loss. It’s pretty powerful stuff, this is feedback I got from Lisa who took action on the steps in the series.