Holy crap, I get this ALL THE TIME! Every time I hear this question, I swear a fitness little fairy dies in a far away magical land. So it wouldn’t be an Honestly Kelsey post if I didn’t just come out and give it to you straight…
NO! The answer is HELL NO! Please forgive the little side journeys I take in this post. It will all come back together, I promise!
First let’s talk cardio…There is no question that cardio is incredibly important to any health and fitness routine. Not only does it increase your endurance, heart capacity and overall health, it also decreases your risk of an insane number of health issues including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and SO MANY MORE!
This is not to say you have to run on the treadmill or hit the gym for hours at a time! In fact, studies have shown that after 20 minutes of exercise your body has received most of the incredible benefits it needs to be healthy and fit. So should you only exercise for 20 minutes a day? Not necessarily. The answer to this question really depends on your goals and current health. If your goal is to start an exercise routine and/or maintain your healthy lifestyle, I would say go for it! Move for 20 minutes every day, elevating your heart rate and feeling like you WORKED! If you have bigger goals you are trying to achieve, you may need a more detailed exercise routine, which should include resistance/weight training! Shoot, everyone should lift weights!
Let me take a side journey to make this plain and simple….
Cardio is a form of exercise that makes your body smaller but generally you maintain the same shape. So if you hate your flabby arms and chubby thighs (I get that!) and simply feel cardio at the gym for an hour a day will change that…I have to be the one to tell you that you are very wrong and have killed an innocent little fitness fairy and possibly her baby unicorn named Sparkles. Having an exercise routine that is solely based on cardio is a mistake for so many reasons that another blog entry begs for that topic. To give it to you quick…a program without resistance training makes you a little bit smaller but you maintain the same shape and you aren’t building the muscle you need to gain strength without getting bulky, reduce risk of injury, improve posture, reduce stress, lose body fat and support strong healthy bones. Not to mention you get the SHAPE you WANT! Yes ladies, that hourglass figure happens when you train with weights not when you burn 600 calories on the elliptical trainer at the gym!
Okay sorry, back on topic!
Let’s talk about what happens when you workout at a high level. When you are getting your sweat on, your body taps into your glycogen stores and uses those stores for energy. Glycogen is what your body uses as fuel in order to get through your workout (or any form of activity for that matter). Glycogen is created when your body digests your food (mostly foods rich in carbohydrates). It is typically stored in the liver and a small amount in your muscles.
So now we know that glycogen (workout fuel) comes from food and you need that to get through a workout. Lets talk about what happens when your body has little to no glycogen stores because you decided to workout on an empty stomach. EARMUFFS little fairies!
Without proper fuel, your body will begin to consume the richest and most nutrient tissue on your body.
Think about it now….Do you think that is going to be your muscle or your fat?
I would give anything to see that lightbulb light up above your head right now! If you said FAT….BZZZZ WRONG! Do not pass go! Do not collect the body of your dreams and go straight to jail! If you said MUSCLE….ding ding ding! Winner winner chicken dinner with asparagus and brown rice on the side. You will be tapping into your hard earned muscle tissue to get your body through the gauntlet of that workout! Your body doesn’t care about your muscle! Your body LOVES hanging onto excess body fat because it wants to keep your body warm and surviving. Think about the caveman days and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
So let me paint the picture for you…Choose your own adventure style.
You wake up early to workout and you’re feeling like you’re already winning because the rest of the world is sleeping while you’re getting ready to burn calories at the gym. Your body is screaming for energy because you have just fasted overnight. Your glycogen levels are low and you are dehydrated…What do you do?
- Option 1: Muscle Massacre
You head out the door without eating because instead of refueling, you decided you really needed that extra 20-30 minutes of sleep. You hit the gym and you get after it!
Here’s what happens…
Your body taps into the last little bit of glycogen stores it has and then after being completely depleted after a very short time, it calls in for backup! Your body begins a serious offensive attack on your muscle tissue in order to complete the rest of the workout. Your depleted and exhausted muscle is forced into the game. It is helpless and unarmed as it starts to burn away from your body. All the while, your entire body fat population is comfortable and chillin’ in the grand stands with popcorn, hotdogs and cokes watching it all happen. All your little fitness fairy cheerleaders drop dead on the sidelines one by one, never to be revived again. The only survivors accounted for is your body fat! Is this not a super sad story?! Stop the madness!
- Option 2: Fat Burn Superbowl
You were prepared and woke up so you can eat 30-45 minutes prior to your workout. You have something simple, like a piece of toast with jam and a protein shake with a tall glass of water. You hit the gym and you feel the difference in your energy and performance and you kill your workout! Your fitness fairies and unicorns are going “cray-cray” on the side lines with the loudest cheers! Your body is using the glycogen stores from your pre-workout meal and is suited up to take the field ready for a huge offensive performance against your BODY FAT! Your body fat has no choice but to take the field with no defensive strike or plan of attack. Your muscles are overjoyed to be safe on the sidelines pumping iron and looking pretty fly as they watch your body fat take a serious beating from a properly nourished body! The only loser here, is your body fat!
Moral of the story…
EAT before strenuous exercise, ALWAYS! Choose something simple and convenient that you enjoy. Best case scenario…choose something low in fiber and low in fat. Why? Fiber and fat slows the digestion of your food. While this is a good thing throughout most of the day, it’s not always a good thing surrounding a workout. You need quick energy to burn! Now go be better 🙂