June 24, 2010 posted by

Shhh, I Have A Fat Burning Secret

There’s always stuff that works that no one wants to talk about condoning, like steroids and ephedra. I won’t say “won’t condone” because, often times, it remains as insider secret and kept for the greater public, often in fear of them abusing it. But not all of it is dangerous, especially if you know why it works and how to do it properly. Take what I did this morning for example: the Workout From Hell Back & Chest workout on an empty stomach.

No trainer would advise doing a WFH (or any kick-ass workout) without an ample storage of blood sugar (which converts to glycogen in your muscles and liver and fuel anaerobic performance). Hard training, sans glycogen, sends your body into a deep stage of the bonk. You have to push harder than you should and, in turn, do more muscular damage than normal (and brain damage, which runs on glycogen). While this sounds bad there’s a flip side—as there inevitably is—in that your body, being forced to the brink of its performance capability, turns to body fat for energy. This is cause for no great shakes as even the most casual athlete has probably heard that your body turns to stored adipose tissue for energy when its preferred fuel, glycogen, is kaput. But what most of us (trainers) don’t discuss is that this fat for fuel equation can be trained to improve. And nothing trains it as well as pushing it to the brink.

More conventional wisdom has us train this process doing low to moderate exercise on an empty stomach. In fact, it’s what you’ll hear from me all the time (in our Beachbody literature and elsewhere). And it works pretty well. But in the sports world we’re always looking for an advantage and it doesn’t work as well as trying to perform anaerobic intervals without any fuel.

If this sounds familiar it’s because there was just an article on the wires about this process and I blogged about it a couple of weeks back. But I didn’t get into specifics, which is why you shouldn’t do it if it works so well, or why I’m doing this right now.

First off, this is not a recommended training modality because, well, people have a hard time with moderating anything they think works “to burn fat”. And it’s definitely not the kind of thing you want to do often. Even then, when you do it the recovery process must be maximized or the damage you cause will outweigh the positive training effects. So let’s go over the rules:

First, you should only do this once in a while; max once per week and in cycles of no more than 4 weeks in a row. Next, you need to eat after your workout. This, more than any time I can imagine, is the slot for Recovery Formula or something similar. Whatever you choose you want 200 or so calories of something that digests rapidly. And then an hour later you should eat a small balanced meal to keep the recovery process going. Even then don’t expect to be at your best. If there aren’t a lot of typos in this post I’ll be surprised. And I certainly wouldn’t want to take a test or try and climb something at my limit this afternoon.

PS – read the comments if you’re interested in more on this topic.

pics: more than any other group of athletes, climbers tend to get pushed anaerobically sans fuel and, hence, tend to get lean. in fact, older (and far less science-minded and more food deprived) climbers seemed like the most ripped of all.


  • I have lost 14 lbs in a month and a half doing something similar to this!

  • Awesome Jacki!

  • Well, Steve, no need to waste any energy on being surprised! 🙂 Found some typos for ya:"No trainer would advise doing a WFH (or any kick-ass workout) with an ample storage of blood glycogen." I'm thinking you meant to say WITHOUT an ample storage . . ."This is cause for no great shakes as even the most casual athlete has probably heard that your body turn to stored adipose tissue for energy when its preferred fuel, glycogen, is kaput." Add an "s" so this reads, " . . . your body TURNS to stored adipose tissue . . . ""But I didn’t get into specifics, which is why you shouldn’t do it if it works so well, or why I’m doing this right now." Not exactly sure what you mean here . . . I'm probably just not reading it right! But, I'm thinking maybe you meant to say something long the lines of even though this works well, don't try it until I finish running this experiment on myself and can elaborate on the specific dos and donts for you."And it’s definitely not the kind of thing you want to do often. Even then, when you do it the recovery process must be maximized or the damage you cause will out weight the positive training effects." Replace "out weight" with "outweigh."Thanks for this nifty post, Steve! Glad you're being the guinea pig for us and not me! :)/michm

  • Hey Steve,I'm curious if your one day a week rule applies to fasted cardio. I can physically partake in multiple fasted cardio sessions a week but the verdict is still out on how it affects training and performance in other areas…ANy thoughts on this? Is the one day a week rule more for fasted strength or HIIT training?

  • Thanks, michm. I love it when my typos completely reverse what I'm trying to say. I'll go make those fixes now that my brain is functioning again.

  • It'a a function of intensity. It's always good to train somewhat on an empty stomach and the process of fat mobilization can be improved in degrees. It's not an on and off switch. But what I'm disucssing here is high level maximal training. For lower level training you don't need to be as careful with recovery.

  • and to answer michm's question, too, it's the super high intensity training on an empty stomach that you want to avoid doing often. Standard easy to moderate cardio can be done regularly.

  • We do our P90X workouts and Insanity workouts first thing when we wake up. There isn't time to eat before our workouts. We start at 5:15. I always do a protein drink and breakfast right after. Then 2 hours later I need to eat again. Is this along the lines of what you are talking about? I would assume Insanity falls into that, does Plyo? Interval plus?

  • there are a few considerations. Your body will store glycogen over night (providing you have some carbs with dinner), enough for about an hour of hard exercise (which covers both of those workouts). Assuming you like the way your workouts are going this is what is happening here and it's a fine schedule in general.However, if you are trying to induce the process discussed here I would, one night per week, skip eating carbs with dinner. This should have you struggling to get through the morning workout, which you should follow with a carb heavy snack.Following an hard workout with protein, however, is never the preferred nutritional stragtegy. Read the Recovery link in the article for more on why.

  • Question on that topic, I can eat up to 120 grams of carbs the night before and even then my body requires food in the morning before training (breakfast). How come?

  • Steve, to clarify…P90X in the AM is find on an empty stomach.What about Insanity, particularly month 2? Is that intense enough to need to consider eating anything before?I'm similar to Cindy. I wake up, hydrate a bit, and then start working out, with usually only 30-40 minutes max from when the alarm goes off to when I'm into the workout.I'm losing fat, so that is not the bigger concern for me. I'm more concerned with whether I am possibly damaging myself by not trying to take something in first.

  • Just did Legs and Back then Ab Ripper X on an empty stomach. Felt like passing out a couple times…now for a mountain bike ride. Legs will be jello tonight.

  • Hassan, it's 'cause you're a kid and you train very hard. Your body's metabolism is raging all the time.Essentially, you'll know if you run out of glycogen because your workout will get very harder (harder than it was before at the same point). If you're un-sure try and banana or some Recovery Formula as you start your warmup and if you feel stronger at the end of the workouts voila! When you are struggling with glycogen outage at the end of any workout you are doing damage and want to follow that workout with something for recovery, especially carbs because you want rapid digestion. Besides the RF article you might want to check the BB archives and find the 911 article on nutrient timing.

  • Steve, This, as usual, is a great article of information. I guess, after reading the article and going to the post-workout nutrition link, my question is about breakfast. We Workout at 6 AM on empty stomach, so, we need the drink recovery drink right after (even though I've cut sugar out of my diet), then we should have breakfast, but not a protien shake? I love my protein shakes for breakfast, but also love oatmeal with nuts, apples and cinnamon…which is better? Should we go ahead and do the carbs + protein instead of just the protein shake? I'm trying to loose, hubby trying to gain…I'm off Gluten to try a little something new and it is working. (sugar gives me a "car-sick" feeling, but my blood sugar levels are A+).Thanks!!

  • That's funny, because I think I just found the missing link to my workout success of the last round of the "X"Steve your work is so underappreciated Thanks alot!!

  • Sally, breakfast can be a protein shake but it should be later, an hour or so, after your post-exercise snack. If you don't want sugar, or want it more natually, try some fruit, especially the more "athletic" fruits like bananas, figs, dates. No sugar advocates (like Hammer Nutrition) use maltodextrin which is quite similar to a sugar. They make a good argument why its superior but it's more or less 6s. The body needs fuel post exercise when glycogen is gone and wants it as fast as possible. Creating a drastic insulin response here is a positive thing–how your body is meant to work–as compared to jacking yourself with sugar while sitting around at the office or watching TV which is one of those things that will, eventually, lead to a chronic condition like type 2 diabetes.

  • and one more thing; this isn't a tactic to try and get ripped. It's a tactic that leads to more performance from your body so that it's easier to get ripped. In the beginning this process can cause excessive breakdown, leading to more cortisol release and, hence, water weight gain. But this is temporary and when it reverses you'll be performing better and have a body that will be more receptive to changes in body composition.

  • thanks for sharing your secret in fat burning. hope to find more ways from you to burn my own fats too. good luck.

  • thanks for sharing your big secret for us. its a big help for someone like who has this difficulty in losing weight. hope to find more ways from you. keep up the good work.

  • Hi Steve – just found your posts after using BB since March – this info is all phenomenal so thanks. Just another clarification – I did P90 on an empty stomach for the whole 90 days and it worked well, lost 30lbs. Now I am doing a Turbo Fire and Chalene Extreme Hybrid – loving both, but realised that when I don't eat in the morning prior to TF, I find it difficult to bring it… even if I drink Recovery Formula throughout. Is this what you would class as a high energy workout? (In my books, yes, but you mentioned Insanity and P90X but not Turbo Fire). Now I have a Shakeology with a banana mixed in prior and my usual snack about two hours later – such as an apple with peanut butter. Is this okay? Shakeology before, Recovery formula during the longer workouts and snack two hours after? Thanks again. GG

  • GG,Yes, for sure, but we can give you better advice on the Message Boards so come on over (link on the side of my blog). You'd probably be fine with a few more carbs at dinner but we may be able to give you better advice with a look at your progess chart and your diet.

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