Exercising whilst fasting is one of the best ways to increase your bodies capacity to burn body fat. Exercise has been known to help decrease insulin levels even more. The problem is many people make the excuse as to why they cannot train in a fasted state, due to lack of energy or the term “hitting a wall.” Let’s go into some detail about this, in which the knowledge is kindly explained by Dr Jason Fung, who I follow and who uses this in his practice to cure patience of diabetes and help them win the war on weight loss.
Let’s talk about that happens when you eat.
When you eat, the insulin goes up telling your body to use some of that food energy immediately. The remainder is stored as sugar (glycogen in the liver). Once the glycogen stores are full, then the liver manufactures fat (DeNovo Lipogenesis). Dietary protein is broken down into component amino acids. Some are used to repair proteins but excess amino acids are turned to glucose. Dietary fat is absorbed directly by the intestines. It doesn’t undergo any further transformation and is stored as fat. Insulin’s main action is to inhibit lipolysis. This means that it blocks fat burning. The incoming flood of glucose from food is sent to the rest of the body to be used as energy.
So what happens during a fast? Well, it’s just the process in reverse. First, your body burns the stored sugar, then it burns the stored fat. In essence, during feeding, you burn food energy. During fasting, you burn energy from your stored food (sugar and fat).
Note that the amount of energy that is used by and available to your body stays the same. The basal metabolic rate stays the same. This is the basic energy used for vital organs, breathing, heart function etc. Eating does not increase basal metabolism except for the small amount used to digest food itself (the thermic effect of food).
If you exercise while fasting, the body will start by burning sugar. Glycogen is a molecule composed of many sugars all put together. When it comes time to use it for energy, the liver simply starts breaking all the chains to release the individual sugar molecules that can now be used for energy
Short term storage of food energy (glycogen) is like a refrigerator. The food energy goes in and out easily, but there is limited storage. Long term storage (fat) is like a freezer. Food is harder to get to, but you can store much more of it. If you eat 3 times a day, it’s like you go shopping for food 3 times a day and any leftovers get stored in the fridge. If there is too much for the fridge, it goes into the freezer.
What happens during fasting and exercise?
Well, the body simply pulls energy out of the ‘fridge’. Since you have enough glycogen stored up to last over 24 hours on a regular day, you would need to do some serious exercise for a long time before you could exhaust those stores. But what happens when you “hit a wall” as so many of us do at some stage without training?
Methods to inhibit “hitting a wall” with your training
Glycogen stores are not enough to power you through the entire IronMan race. However, you know at the same time, that you are still carrying vast amounts of energy in the form of fat. All that energy is stored away and not accessible during exercise. But the only reason it cannot be used is that your body is not adapted to burn fat.
By following a very low carbohydrate diet, or ketogenic diet, you can train your body to burn fat. Similarly, by exercising in the fasted state, you can train your muscles to burn fat. Now, instead of relying on limited but easily accessible glycogen during a competition, you are powered by almost unlimited energy drawn directly from your fat stores.
If you would like more information from a Doctors point of view, when it comes to fasting, please go ahead and visit Dr Fungs website for an endless resource of articles. I highly recommend all of his books, which give real-life examples of how people have turned their lives around – all with fasting.
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