Cardio in the morning can maximize fat loss by capitalizing on your body’s carbohydrate-depleted state caused by your overnight fast (sleep). The body stores carbohydrates you eat throughout the day as glycogen in your muscles and liver. Regular physical movement and exercise deplete those stores, but before bed, you can still have some glycogen stored within your body. While you sleep, those carbohydrates naturally decrease because, even at rest, you burn calories. This is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR) or basal metabolic rate (BMR). The number of calories you burn at rest largely depends on your body composition: body fat percentage and lean body mass (muscle). Doing light-to-moderate cardio in the morning takes advantage of your carbohydrate-depleted state by going straight to fat-burning than when stored glycogen is readily available to fuel the activity.
Caution: Protect Your Muscles
Exercising in a nutrient-depleted state can put your muscles at risk. This is because muscle can be broken down to fuel activity in the absence of outside nutrients from food sources. However, there are a couple of ways to prevent muscle breakdown: 1) select the right exercise intensity; 2) use a muscle-protecting supplement before your workout.
As stated above, make your morning cardio light or moderate in intensity. The body seeks fat for activities of those intensities. However, for high-intensity activities, the body seeks carbohydrates primarily and protein secondarily as fuel. In the absence of carbohydrates for high-intensity exercise, like when you’re in a carbohydrate-depleted state, the body will breakdown protein, and if you have not eaten before your morning exercise, that protein source can be your muscles.
Whether want to gain muscle or lose fat, you need to prevent muscle breakdown. Preserving muscle makes your body more efficient at burning calories, keeps the skin firm, and it looks good. Lost muscle = a lower metabolic rate, looser skin, and falling back on gains if you desire muscle growth For these reasons, doing cardio first thing in the morning on a completely empty stomach can be counterproductive. To prevent your muscles from being salvaged for fuel, simply provide yourself with an external source of protein or carbohydrates to fuel your activity. My choice is a protein shake (with no milk or added sugar or fat) about twenty to thirty minutes prior to your workout.
This is also why the general rule (of those in the know) advises doing weight training before cardio, rather than doing cardio before weight training.
So, what is the most effective and least catabolic way to do cardio in the morning? Have a scoop of protein powder and BCAA’s 20-30 minutes before morning cardio. Doing so will enable you to maximize fat loss and prevent or minimize muscle breakdown.
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As an athlete for over 19 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created brokesinglemomfitness.com, now LLAFIT.com, to aid anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site. LLAFIT – Lifelong Applied Fitness