Is working out in the morning on an empty stomach the best to burn fat?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

It's a myth that working out on an empty stomach helps you burn fat faster, says Dr. Oz. In fact, the opposite is true. Watch the video to find out what to eat before you exercise in order boost calorie burning.

Brian Tanzer
Nutrition & Dietetics

From a biochemical perspective, if insulin levels are elevated, which is typically happens when you consume a meal that contains carbohydrates, this may reduce the activity of the enzyme hormone sensitive lipase. This enzyme responds to hormone typically secreted during exercise and allows for maximum breakdown of triglyceride (stored fat) into glycerol and fatty acids. On the other side of the coin, if the workout is vigorous, and not just a very moderate walk on a treadmill or work on an elliptical machine, etc. the intensity of the workout can help burn more fat over the duration of the workout making the less active enzyme more active during and after the workout.  

So I do agree to some extent with the responses from our professional trainers and exercise physiologists, but I think we do have to consider these variables and not just make a blanketed statement that would apply to everyone and every type of workout routine. The key is to keep the small meal or snack balanced with both protein and complex carbs as to not cause a surge in blood sugar and insulin which could result in the body being less able to access stored body fat for energy.

My personal opinion is that there is more importance in getting the exercise done in a positive, enjoyable and efficient way, than whether we choose to do it on an empty stomach. I encourage people to try both ways, and see how they feel. Some people have a better experience, when working out first thing in the morning, to do it on an empty stomach. Others feel better when they eat something. Some feel best to not eat on early morning cardio days, but prefer to eat on resistance training days. Figure out what works best for YOU and let's get moving!

I will play devils advocate here and say I agree with the above trainers but there is a time and place where training on a empty stomach can be good.

Many people actually prefer to train without anything in their system.  This does not mean everyone but many people actually will find that they perform better when not much food is in their system.  This is a personal preference but I have known several people that prefer to workout first thing in the morning on a empty stomach.

Once again please know I am not suggesting everyone, I am just saying some.  I for instance prefer to have a big meal in the evening and load carbs into my system, get a good nights rest, wake up early, take some dotFIT glutamine, NO7 Rage and Amino Boost XXL and then tear up the training.  If find that loading my carbs the night before and then training hard the next morning with just nutrients from my supplements allows me to feel like I get a better workout because I do not feel loaded down.  I then follow up my workout with a post workout shake and a meal about 1 hr after that.  I would argue that whatever causes someone to train harder causes for greater fat loss.

Like I said I am not saying that training on a empty stomach is better, I am saying that some people can train harder and feel better on a empty stomach and therefore for those people it can lead to better results.  As I always say, IT DEPENDS!  

It depends on how people feel and it also depends on the goal.

No, this is an exercise myth and can be quite dangerous. The human body will perform at it's best when it has fuel (food). Our body has several "metabolic mills" running that help us produce energy from the foods we eat. This energy helps fuel our workouts which allows us to workout longer, and more intensely, than we would be able to without enough fuel. Working out on an empty stomach can have quite a negative impact on your workouts. It can also be dangerous - leading to extreme fatigue, dizziness and injury! It's very important to fuel your body before your workouts.
Let's think about it in terms of your car - Would you try to race your car with no gas in the tank?  Our bodies are really no different than our cars; in order to perform optimally, we need to fuel them!  That doesn't mean we need to have a full breakfast before working out, but we certainly need to put something in our stomachs before training first thing in the morning.  You will have to experiment a bit to find what works best for you, but after a little trial and error you'll have your routine down pat!  And I promise you that your workouts will be far more productive with breakfast than without.    
No.  It is important to start your day with some nutrition, both solid & liquid, or if you are really crunched for time have a healthy shake instead. If you are just starting an exercise program, and you feel that the early morning is the only time you have to accomplish your goals, don't torture yourself by not eating or drinking a light breakfast first. It will be hard enough to get up earlier than usual in order to start a new routine of exercising. If your primary reason for exercising is to lose weight, do not reward yourself with a second (large) breakfast after your workout!!  Drink water, have a piece of fruit, and be proud of yourself for starting your day in such a positive & healthy way.
No it is not.  A lot of people think if they don't eat in the morning and workout it will allow them to burn more body fat.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  This is actually the worst thing to do.  I tell my clients this in order for them to understand.  If you want your body to be productive and burn fat you must feed it first just like a car.  If your car has no gas in the tank it is not going to go anywhere.  If you have no food in your system to use for energy and burn fat it will not happen.  Also since you are working out on an empty stomach you will not be able to do as much as you usually do since you have nothing fueling you.  So if you have a hard time eating in the morning just have something small and quick to eat or drink.  Having a smoothie will be the best because you can absorb it quickly.  However if you have time even a half of a bagel and some almond butter would work great as well. 

No, it is not. In fact, working out in the morning on an empty stomach will limit your ability to maximize your calorie and fat burning. The mistaken belief is that doing it this way will allow you to focus on fat loss only, since muscle glycogen (energy) is hardly present. This overlooks the simple fact that fat burns in a carbohydrate flame. Your body’s fat burning systems are fueled by glycogen. Without adequate glycogen to keep the system burning, fat metabolism is impaired. Your intensity level will be less (though it may FEEL like more) and your endurance and ultimately your total calorie burning will be reduced. This is not a recipe for success. If you must work out early in the morning, have a small pre/post workout meal replacement shake. This shake should be higher in carbohydrate than protein, in a ratio of about 2:1, and around 200-300 calories. The shake is ideal because it will be digested and absorbed quickly and can fuel your muscles to a great workout that will allow you to burn the most calories. This will make it easier to create a deficit in the calories you eat versus what you burn, leading to fat loss.
Woman Working Out with Resistance Band

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.