|Lunatic Fringe: Cardio Craziness
By Joe DeAngelis
|Through the years, the reasoning Ive heard people use to develop and justify their fitness and nutrition programs has bordered on lunacy. Sheer lunacy. Some of my favorite reasons why people engage in a particular practice are: Because I read it in (fill-in-the-blank); Because so and so recommended it; and Because everyones doing it.
One topic that falls into this lunatic category is early morning aerobics (before breakfast) to increase fat burning. The logic is this: because glycogen stores are low first thing in the morning, doing aerobics at this time will significantly increase fat burning. This means more fat loss for the same effort as compared to doing aerobics later in the day. How is this possible?
The bottom line in attaining sustained fat loss is creating a calorie deficit through reduced food intake or increased activity. Period. High carb, low carb, moderate protein, high protein, exercise or no exercise...whatever. If you create a calorie deficit, youll lose weight. Now does this mean performing an activity on an empty stomach will cause your body to burn more calories while doing that activity? No. Ive never seen any activity chart that had different numbers for whether it was done on an empty stomach or not. Ive never seen any convincing evidence of that.
What about the argument that because blood sugar is low, youll burn bodyfat for energy. At the end of the day, total calories expended versus ingested is what matters, no matter where those calories come from. One danger of doing cardio on an empty stomach, especially higher intensity cardio, is burning muscle for energy. Remember folks, first thing in the morning your body is in starvation mode and wants to conserve fat. If blood sugar is low, what else is left? Muscle. Throw into the picture someone who is on a low-calorie diet already (and by definition, already depleted) and you have someone who is in catabolic heaven.
Even if pure bodyfat was burning, do you have any idea how pathetically little fat it would be? I weigh 275 pounds. Riding a stationary bike at a moderate level will burn about 150 calories. There are 3600 calories in a pound of fat, which means, best case scenario, I would burn 2/3 ounces of fat. If this were to happen, would it justify the extra trip to the gym, and the discomfort of doing cardio while hungry? I dont think so. Also, keep in mind that if you are a 130 pound woman, your caloric burn would be considerably less.
Another argument is that some pro bodybuilders have adopted this practice, so it must be right. All pro bodybuilders have a rather significant pharmacological intake. They will lose fat and gain muscle, regardless of when they do cardio (I personally do not claim to be a virgin on this subject). Pro bodybuilders also have lifestyles in which training is ALL they do. A natural athlete or average Joe has nothing in common with these people, other than desiring a great physique.
I can think of many reasons why pre-meal aerobics might be good for some. It may kill your appetite, causing reduced food intake. Or, it may cause the body to supercompensate carbs when food is finally eaten. In the final analysis, it makes little or no sense, with most indicators showing it can be detrimental.
So, when should you do cardio? Never immediately before a weight training workout because glycogen is 100% necessary for a productive, anaerobic workout. If you expend glycogen with cardio before the weights, the weights will suffer. Otherwise, perform your cardio whenever it is convenient and workable in your schedule. And dont forget to take your Carni-Tech and Animal Cuts. Finally, since this author really enjoys a good argument, all you personal trainers out there, send me your comments.