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Don't Starve a Working Bod!

“Should I Workout on an Empty Stomach to Burn Fat?”

After 16 years, I still get this question quite often! Less since they removed “fat burning zone” from many treadmills, but still a lot. So, assuming someone is asking this question because they want to lose weight, then the answer is simple: No!

Let me explain….

First, if you workout on an empty stomach, yes, you burn more fat stores, but this doesn’t equate to weight loss or burning more calories. You also burn fat when you do low intensity exercise, like slow walking or biking and….sleeping. If this concept worked more folks would be trying to sleep more to burn fat…hmmm, something doesn’t sound right about that! That’s probably because when you workout at a lower intensity you also burn less calories. You burn about 100 Calories when you walk or run 1 mile.

So, think about this: if you run for an hour at a 10 minute mile pace and thus run 6 miles, you’ll burn about 600 Calories in that hour. If you walk for an hour at a 15 minute mile pace and thus walk 4 miles, you’ll burn about 400 Calories in that hour. Based on how you feel, how much time you have, and your personal goals, you must decide how intense to workout. Doing something is better than nothing and if it’s your “active rest” day, or you need an easier workout because you’re sore, then by all means, work out at a lower heart rate or pace.

Bottom Line:

Losing weight is (still) all about calories. Bummer! Yes, every “body” is unique and that’s why we have Registered Dietitian Nutritionists to guide us. However, in general, you must eat less and/or exercise more. Your best bet for weight loss (in a nut shell) is to eat a healthy, high fiber, nutrient dense, moderate fat diet…and include weight training, cardiovascular exercise, and hopefully some activities like Pilates, Yoga and proper stretching. It is important to note that as you get in better shape, your body will prefer to burn fat as fuel, which is a positive thing.


Should you focus on the “fat burning zone”?

Not if you’re trying to lose weight. If you’re currently working out on an empty stomach, should you continue? Well, you burn fat on an empty stomach because you’ve fasted all night and now your body is out of carbohydrate stores, (which are the preferred energy source), so it switches to fat stores. However, when you run out of carbohydrate stores, this is also when you might hit a wall during your workout or get light headed or dizzy.

Do you lose energy half way through your workout and then all you can think about is eating? If so, you might consider eating a little something so you can workout more efficiently and have a better, longer workout. Eating pre-workout often keeps your energy up so you can keep going, which will burn more calories during that workout - which will aid in weight loss.

If you prefer to workout on an empty stomach because you feel sick after you eat first thing in the morning, then just make sure you eat right after you’ve finished working out so that you can fuel your muscles and keep that metabolism up and going. Or, try to eat half a banana or something small and work up to more food.


It is important to eat some carbohydrates and protein within 2 hours after working out. The perfect combo of carbohydrates, fiber and protein is this nutrient dense superfood smoothie, which I often suggest clients make a meal out of by adding almond milk, fruit, nut butter, water, and then drink half before their activity and half after! Win win.

My personal favorite flavor is Vegan Chocolate. It’s NOT “just a protein shake”. It contains ample vegan protein, over 70 superfoods, probiotics, stress adaptogen foods and is non GMO. #Amazing I have been using this for 2+ years for myself and clients and it’s the best 100% “whole food” shake out there. They’ve just done all the work for you by combining amazing ingredients into one bag!


Final note:

I’m not saying to exercise at a super intense level every time you workout because that can be quite hard on the body and might lead to overtraining and/or injuries.

A good, certified personal trainer (look for CSCS, NSCA-PT, ACSM) is a great person to help you figure out your desirable intensity level and split throughout the week. It is important to mix up your workout and I often recommend clients do one high intensity workout, one moderate, and one easy workout during the week, based on their appropriate heart rate (something a trainer can help you with).

However, the easier it gets, the longer duration you’ll probably need to do. Lower intensity level exercise actually might be appropriate for you if you enjoy it, if you need to work up to harder exercise, you have more time, or if your body is craving an “active” rest day.

Listen to your body and have FUN!

Provided by Lila Ojeda, MS, RDN, CSCS, RYT, CLT Registered Dietitian Nutritionist * Personal Trainer * Yoga/Pilates Contact: 503.789.9707 * LO Solutions: Improving Lives Since 2000!

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