My editorial objective when it comes to Further is that “we're all in this together.” That means I discover things just shortly before sharing them with you, as opposed to bringing a pre-conceived agenda.
That said, I was under a misconception about what constitutes the “perfect workout.” Actually, lots of people seem to believe this myth is true, so when it was called into question, I decided to see what the science says … and share it with you.
First, some background information. This mythical workout involves the intersection of two otherwise legitimate practices, so let's look at those first.
Intermittent fasting is a form of dietary restriction where you go certain periods of time without any caloric intake. This could mean you occasionally skip eating for a day, but it can also mean you confine your consumption to a certain period of time each day. For example, no calories at all between 6 pm and 10 am the next morning.
Research suggests that intermittent fasting can fend off or even reverse such illnesses as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders. The absence of caloric intake also shifts the body into fat-burning mode, and eating within a defined window of time can naturally lead to less intake, no nighttime snacking, and quicker weight loss.
Verdict: There are many proven benefits to intermittent fasting.
High Intensity Interval Training (“HIIT”)
Headlines everywhere promise 12-minute, 4-minute, or even 1-minute workouts. There's a catch though — those workouts need to be intense, as in all-out can't hardly breathe intense (the Tabata workout is lovingly described to as “the longest four minutes of your life”). HIIT is an exercise strategy alternating periods of short, intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods, such as sprinting for 30 seconds, slowing down for 30 seconds, then hitting it again.
Rather than slogging through a 20 or 30-minute bout of moderately-paced cardio, you can actually burn more fat and calories in a much shorter period of time. And research shows that the fat-burning benefits of HIIT continue even after your workout ends in ways you don't get from typical cardio.
Verdict: HIIT is really good for you, and not just for losing weight.
HIIT in a Fasted State?
Both intermittent fasting and HIIT are scientifically proven to be beneficial, and you can certainly practice both. The myth comes into play when people believe that doing HIIT while in a fasted state is the “perfect” workout, first popularized by Bill Phillips in his book Body for Life. The idea is that because your body has no carbohydrates to burn for energy due to the fast, doing HIIT on an empty stomach is a way to burn away stored fat in a highly efficient, almost magical manner.
Seems reasonable (it did to me). Turns out, it's not true, and the reason is pretty wild. Research dating back to 1997 shows that moderate to high intensity exercise breaks down significantly more fat than the body can use for fuel, and so it's simply reabsorbed.
A more recent 2013 study testing subjects specifically performing HIIT demonstrates that there is “no significant differences between a fasted and fed state existed for any measurement.” The good news is that all of the subjects improved their health and decreased fat storage.
Verdict: If you want to do HIIT before you eat, have at it … it won't hurt you. But if being excessively winded and starving at the same time sounds extra terrible to you, go ahead and and eat something first. Just remember that intermittent fasting has its own benefits separate from the amazing results you'll get from HIIT.
- PDF: Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss?
- Article: HIIT Cardio: Fed or Fasted?
- Article: 5 Intermittent Fasting Methods: Which One Is Right for You?
- Article: A 12-Hour Window for a Healthy Weight
- Article: Molecular mechanism behind health benefits of dietary restriction identified
- Article: Why Your Workout Should Be High-Intensity
- Article: 10 Reasons to Love High Intensity Interval Training
Between my 46th and 47th birthdays, I lost 30 pounds. The first 20 went from eating well between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. I lost the last 10 by adding HIIT. And yes, I did it on an empty stomach … because that's how I (cluelessly) roll.
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Share Further? That'd be awesome … here are some handy links to help:
See you next week … in the meantime you can dive into the archives here.