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The Pros and Cons of Fasted Cycling

Some cyclists swear by fasted cycling, claiming it helps burn more fat and improves endurance and body composition. But how much truth is there to those claims? And is fasted cycling right for you? To help you make the best choice for you, we’ll take a closer look at fasted cycling, how it works, and its potential benefits and risks.

What is fasted cycling?

Fasted cycling is the process of cycling on an empty stomach. By training in a fasted state, the goal is to encourage your body to burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.1 Many cyclists accomplish this by fasting cycling first thing in the morning before they eat breakfast.

Some fasting cyclists drink a cup of coffee before they head out on a morning ride and drink water throughout the ride but wait until after to refuel with breakfast. Or, if they’re heading out on a long ride, they might refuel with an energy gel about 45 minutes to an hour into the ride.

How does fasted cycling work?

Depending on the type of physical activity you’re doing, your body switches between using carbs and fat for energy. With fasted cycling, the idea is to ride when your body is depleted of glucose (its primary energy source), so it will use stored fat for fuel instead. Fasted training can help endurance cyclists teach their bodies to use fat for fuel instead of just carbs, improving their overall stamina and body composition.1

To reap the benefits of fasted cycling, you should complete your fasted cycling at a low intensity because that’s when your body uses more fats for fuel than carbs. If you work too hard while cycling, your body will switch to using carbs as its primary fuel source because it takes longer to break down fats for energy.

By burning more fat for fuel during your fasted cycling rides, your body will hang on to more carbs, which it can use for additional energy toward the end of your ride. As a result, your endurance will improve, and your body will become more efficient at burning fat for fuel.

What are the benefits of fasted cycling?

More research is needed to confirm the effectiveness and benefits of fasted cycling, but one 2018 study found that fasted cycling enhanced metabolic performance after the workout. However, the same study also reported that eating before a prolonged aerobic activity improved physical performance.2

It’s important to remember that each person is different, and fasted cycling may not have the same benefits for everyone. Regardless, it can be beneficial for the following reasons:

  • If you’re short on time, you don’t have to worry about preparing and digesting a meal before you cycle.
  • If you cycle while fasting in the morning, you can complete your workout early before the day gets busy.
  • Fasting cycling might be better for you if you feel better working out before you eat.

Fasted cycling may also help increase fat loss, but research findings are mixed. While the previously mentioned 2018 study indicates that fasted training burns more calories overall during the session, it doesn’t significantly impact the total daily caloric burn.2

In another study, two groups of young women worked out three times a week and maintained the same low-calorie diet. One group completed fasted cardio while the other group completed non-fasted cardio. Between the two groups, there were no significant differences between weight loss and body composition, indicating fasted cardio won’t necessarily help you burn more fat and lose weight.1

Are there any risks to fasted cycle?

If you’re generally healthy, fasted cycling is relatively risk-free. However, if you cycle for too long while fasting, you could experience some harmful side effects, including:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Low energy levels
  • Poor physical performance
  • Dehydration
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle loss (If you ride too long in a fasted state, your body may break down muscle.)

These side effects could be hazardous on a bike, so it’s best to take it slow and start with short rides if you intend to try fasted cycling.

Is fasted cycling right for me?

Talk to your doctor or a certified personal trainer to help you decide whether fasted cycling is right for you. If you’re generally physically active, it should be fine to try fasted cycling. Just start slow.

On the other hand, if you’re pregnant or have a medical condition that affects low blood pressure or blood sugar, you should not try fasted cycling.

For new cyclists, it’s best to start training with non-fasted cycling. That way, you can better understand how your body feels when you train on a bike before you try fasted cycling.

How do I get started with fasting cycling?

The best way to get started with fasted cycling is to just get out and ride. You can complete your first fasted ride with Vingo, using any current indoor setup you already have. Or, you can complete a quick ride on one of your favorite local trails. 

If you’re new to cycling or regular physical activity, spend some time biking while you’re not fasting first. Then, once you feel comfortable, you can try a fasted cycle.

General guidelines for fasted cycling

If you decide to give fasted cycling a try, follow these general guidelines:

  • Make sure you’re well-hydrated before and during your ride.
  • Complete a short and low-intensity ride. Don’t ride too long or too hard!
  • Make sure to refuel with a healthy meal immediately after you cycle.
  • Avoid completing fasted rides several days in a row. Make sure to rest in between sessions.

Key Takeaways:

Many cyclists claim fasted cycling can help you burn more fat and improve endurance, but the research is mixed. While fasted training is generally safe and may have some benefits, it also has a few risks. It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor and carefully consider both before cycling in a fasted state.

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Sources:

  1. Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Krieger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-014-0054-7 
  2. Aird, T. P., Davies, R. W., & Carson, B. P. (2018). Effects of fasted vs fed-state exercise on performance and post-exercise metabolism: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 28(5), 1476–1493. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13054 

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