Should I Dance on an Empty Stomach?

nutrition Jun 18, 2020

As dancers it is important to stay fit, lean and healthy.


When doing research to figure out the best way to achieve that you may have heard that working out on an empty stomach can help you get there more quickly. Perhaps you’ve even tried it before.


Let’s just start out by saying, it’s certainly not for everyone. And just like with anything, there are pros and cons to consider.


Here, we're exploring the benefits and downsides of dancing on an empty stomach to help find what works best for you.


What is “fasted cardio”?


Fasted cardio refers to doing cardio workouts while your body is in a fasted state. Your body is considered ‘fasting’ when it’s no longer digesting food, usually between 3 to 6 hours after a meal.


When your body is in this state, insulin levels are low. Insulin breaks down glucose in your body, and glucose comes from food. This process is responsible for producing energy. Without food readily available, your body gets that energy from glycogen and fat storages instead.


Most people who work out first thing in the morning are likely already doing fasted cardio. If you start before having anything for breakfast, your body is in a fasted state after a full night’s sleep. However, it can be done at any time of the day if it’s been 3 to 6 hours after you’ve eaten.


Long story short, the idea behind fasted cardio is that you’re targeting your body’s fat storage versus simply “working off” the energy from the food you just ate.


Pros and Cons of Fasted Cardio


While there are advocates for both sides of the argument, deciding whether to try fasted cardio depends on the person. To better understand working out on an empty stomach, here are the pros and cons.


Pros of Fasted Cardio


The main reason some experts recommend fasted cardio is for its fat-burning benefits. The idea is that when your body is forced to rely on burning fat to create energy for a workout, you’ll have an easier time losing weight.


Essentially, when you work out on an empty stomach, your body:


  • Breaks down adipose (fat) cells
  • Releases fat from cells to burn as energy
  • Increases the production of hormones that use fat as energy
  • Increases blood flow to the abdomen, further facilitating fat breakdown near the abdomen


If your goal is to burn fat, fasted cardio could be something to try. But, before you do, it’s important to understand the downsides.


Cons of Fasted Cardio


While most studies don’t show any harmful negative side effects of working out on an empty stomach, it’s not always ideal. In fact, doing so can cause issues like:


  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Low stamina
  • Low energy
  • Poor performance


As dancers who need to perform at the top of our game in rehearsals and competitions, perhaps there’s a better way to stay fit without doing fasted cardio.


Additionally, there is a risk that if you work out on an empty stomach and your body doesn’t have much fat left to burn, your body could resort to burning muscle tissue instead.


If you’re dancing at a high level, you’re probably in great shape. So, you might not even need to do fasted cardio since you won’t have many fat deposits to burn through.


Plus, strong muscles continue to burn fat even after you stop exercising. So, if your body starts to extract energy from muscle tissue, it actually has the reverse effect. Without muscle, you’ll be burning less fat in the long run.


Long story short, if you want to effectively burn fat, focus on building lean muscles instead of feeling like you have to work out on an empty stomach.


What should I eat before a workout?


For the most part, it’s totally ok to eat before a workout or a performance and it is more about what you eat.


Eat foods that your body can easily digest. Nuts and fruit are great pre-workout snacks. And as for meals, opt for healthy sources of protein and fats an hour or two before a workout. They should keep you going without causing adverse digestive issues.


Should I work out on an empty stomach?


Dancing and performing takes a lot of energy, not just physically but mentally too. For most of us, it’s usually best to eat whole, healthy foods to fuel our dancing and performances.


But, if you feel sick or heavy when eating before a routine, test out what happens if you wait until afterwards to have a snack. The main things you’ll want to avoid when it comes to fasted cardio is feeling dizzy and low on energy.


And you definitely don’t want to get to a point where your body starts using your muscle tissue for fuel. Our muscles are everything to our dancing, so protect them at all costs!



Final Notes


As a dancer, our focus is on maximizing performance and strength and not so much on losing body fat. If you have body fat to lose then fasted cardio or even reducing your calories can be a great way to tap into body fat for extra energy instead of food. But this is best done far out from competition as energy levels will be lower.


If you are already fit and healthy then I highly recommend avoiding fasted training at all costs and just make sure your pre-training meals are made up of something that you know you can digest!


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