Every weight loss topic is hotly debated and that includes whether fasted cardio is better for weight loss or not? Many believes that by depleting energy resources by fasting before runs or cycles, the body will automatically draw energy from fat sources. But is this true or just yet another urban legend and misconception?
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A research called "Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise (opens in new tab)" – published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition – was trying to find an answer for this and divided a group of 20 woman into two groups: 10 participants exercised after an overnight fast while the other half of the group was given something to eat before the workout.
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Training consisted of one hour of steady-state aerobic exercise performed three days per week. The subjects of the research were provided with customised dietary plans designed to induce a caloric deficit. Nutritional counselling was also provided throughout the study period to help ensure the participants didn't cheat and eat more food than they were supposed to have.
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Is fasted cardio better for weight loss?
This is what the research paper has to say about the results: "Both groups showed a significant loss of weight and fat mass from baseline, but no significant between-group differences were noted in any outcome measure. These findings indicate that body composition changes associated with aerobic exercise in conjunction with a hypocaloric diet are similar regardless whether or not an individual is fasted prior to training."
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In short: if you want to lose weight, it doesn't matter if you do cardio fasted or not, as long as you keep a calorie deficit and exercise regularly. As the research shows, it doesn't have to be every day either, although the participants were subjected to 1-hour long workout sessions each time which is not just just a short session for sure.
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It is worth noting that the research chose a peculiar way to test the theory by giving test subjects a meal either immediately before or after the exercise session, preventing us from finding out whether a sustained high-metabolic state after the workout would've helped shed fat even more or not. The sample size was also rather small (only 20 women were tested) and the gender ratio was also anything but balanced.
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Taking this information into account, if you want to maximise weight loss doing cardio exercising, you are best off doing a workout early in the morning and having some food immediately after, preferably some protein and some carbs to aid muscle recovery. Also, as it turns out, the best time of day to workout for weight loss is early morning. Just saying.