The world of health and wellness is ripe with myths, misconceptions, and generally accepted principals. These long held beliefs have stood the test of time to the point where people emotionally attach themselves to specific practices as if they were “law”. Granted, everyone is different and what works for one may or may not work for another. The point is that as an industry, we need to become more objective about how we interpret and accept information. In keeping with that theme, we want to introduce the idea of “simplexity” as a new construct or world-view perspective. This idea created by Vincent Comtois is meant to bridge the gap between theoretical understanding and practical application. The end goal of any piece of information or advice is to give something tangible for the end user to adopt. Simplexity in a sentence, refers to the simple and practical understanding of complex biological concepts. The human body has a wonderful biological complexity about it, but it doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in biochemistry to understand how to fix, change, or improve its function. To start off our simplexity series, we will examine some of the biggest myths or mistakes we commonly see in the industry and give you the; what, why, and how of making it better, or at least more specific to your goal. Strap in, put on your propeller hats because here we go. Fasted Cardio, fat loss tool or fast track to being a skeleton? We are going to start this off with a hot topic right now; fasting and fat loss. To properly examine this idea, we need to give it context and look at it from a biochemical perspective. What is the big deal about faster cardio anyways? Why would someone want to do it? From a theoretical perspective, fasted cardio can potentially enhance fat loss due to some unique biological circumstances. Upon waking, our bodies experience some very specific biological conditions: high catecholamine hormones, a spike in metabolic rate, and a rhythmic set point for the day. (1) This is an evolutionary adaptation to prepare us for the activity, and this circadian rhythm is actually one of the most important factors to regulate when it comes to health and well-being. Since we have fasted overnight, we awake with a low energy reserve and high energy requirements. (2) This puts us in a very unique position to tap into some stored body fat for potential energy expenditure, and help to facilitate an improvement in body composition with potential improvement in variables like insulin sensitivity and metabolic flexibility. So the question becomes what should one do? or how can fasted cardio best be implemented? First we need to define “cardio” as this term seems to encompass everything from walking to incline treadmill intervals. This is a time I would NOT suggest implementing high intensity cardio here because that can activate a substantial stress response (think high cortisol) and also promote a catabolic environment to muscle mass as any time you go above your anaerobic threshold (where you are no longer making energy in the presence of oxygen), you are utilizing glucose or stored glycogen to fuel your activity. (3) This is a time to encourage more “low-and-slow” cardio as this is a prime method to enhance the body’s ability to enhance fat metabolism, while not promoting a strong stress response. To gain a better understanding of these mechanisms, we should draw some lines in the sand. Humans can only burn fat under the following conditions; 1. Low insulin, high glucagon environment 2. Low energy status in the cell: High AMP/ATP ratio 3. Increased energy requirement from activity 4. Stress/stimulus mediated norepinephrine/epinephrine release A brisk morning walk, or light exercise on an empty stomach will serve as a good proxy to suit these conditions. Secondly, in order to utilize fat for energy one must actually greatly reduce their level of exertion as research has determine that staying in a moderate aerobic zone is optimal to promote fat burning activity as the primary fuel for activity.(4) Notice I didn’t say the best method for fat loss, those are two different variables. Let’s explore the role fasted cardio can play in the promotion of health from a theoretical and practical perspective. When we induce a stress on the body, the body responds by specific adaptations in order to get better at dealing with that stress. In the case of fasted cardio, we force the body to become more “metabolically flexible” to enhance its ability to burn fat as a primary energy source. The phenomenon of metabolic flexibility has strong potential implications for long term health as it improves the ability of the mitochondria to burn fat which is a very positive adaptation. (5) Who can this benefit? Well in theory everyone because targeted fasting and enhanced fat metabolism has a wide range of benefits including; anti-aging, reduced free radical formation, improved body composition, enhanced gut health and more! (6) This is where you do have to state your desire goal/intent because there are certain populations of people we think would not benefit from regular fasted morning cardio. The first population would be those who have the goal of maximum hypertrophy COMBINED with being an ectomorph. These people are naturally anxious teenage beanpoles and burn muscle like it’s their job. If the goal is to put on quality muscle, excessive cardio as activity in a fasted state can increase the likelihood for catabolic muscle activity, although likely far less than one might assume. The same advice goes for youth athletes who NEED to maintain an anabolic environment to support their intended sport. The second group in our opinion would be young children who need to stay anabolic to support growth, but again in context a short walk in the morning sun likely won’t harm them. The last group we have to mention is those who are experiencing extreme stress and possible blood sugar/adrenal issues. The common buzz word of what these people experience is adrenal fatigue which we look at as more of a dysregulation with the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis communication. The issue here is due to some biological/environmental circumstance, they cannot regulate their cortisol levels and as a result have blood sugar issues and poor energy levels. These people are far more sensitive to exercise-induced stress and without healthy blood sugar/endocrine control, this small amount of stress can actually push them to a more severe stress response which will be counter intuitive to their end goal. Let’s round out this article by moving to the practical aspects as we see them to be most optimal. What this can look like now that the weather is getting better north of the border is waking up and drinking a big glass of water to hydrate. Hydration is a key factor in fat loss. Another overlooked benefit is getting outside in the morning sun to reap the benefits of setting the circadian rhythm (7) which is necessary for humans to experience optimal health. Your activity level should be low-level exertion; fast-paced walking, a light jog or some skipping at best for anywhere between 20-40min. The benefits of this which we outlined before can improve metabolic health, reduce inflammation via ketone upregulation (8), create an environment to burn fat, and become more in-tune with the natural rhythm of the day. Will there be benefit to doing this inside a gym? In a word yes, but the ATP philosophy is to optimize ALL aspects of health and wellbeing, so try it out for a while and stay patient, you will likely see some benefit. Stay tuned for part 2.
By: Roland Pankewich & Vincent Comtois
Top 6 Mistakes in Fitness & Nutrition (part 1)