Does Exercising Before Breakfast Burn More Fat?

morning-exercise-fat-burnThe annoying thing about research articles is that they sometimes contradict each other. It doesn’t happen often – but when it does, the discrepancies tend to be pretty frustrating.

A few years back, I came across a study published in Strength and Conditioning which concluded that the body burns the same amount of fat regardless of hunger. Moreover, the report also found that you’re more likely to lose muscle when exercising in a depleted state. In other words, exercising before breakfast after a full night of fasting isn’t beneficial.

Today, I came across a study that has concluded just the opposite. According to researchers from Northumbria University, exercisers can burn 20% more fat when exercising before breakfast on an empty stomach. One researcher noted:

Exercise increases the total amount of energy we expend and a greater proportion of this energy comes from existing fat if the exercise is performed after an overnight fast.

So who are we to believe?

Personally, I’ve found that exercising on an empty stomach limits my performance. If I’m hungry and feeling depleted, I’m not able to push myself in the same way – and thus the intensity of my exercise suffers. Even if exercising on an empty stomach provides a slight advantage in terms of fat burned, I’m quite certain this benefit is outweighed by my lackluster performance.

I know that contradictory research can be a point of frustration. But let’s remember that there are some things about which everyone is in agreement – like that regular exercise is necessary for a healthy lifestyle. My advice would be to not get too caught up in the tiny details. Whether you exercise before breakfast, after breakfast or anytime thereafter, what really matters is that you are exercising.


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  1. ah but i noticed i find it hard to really get in the swing of things in my exercise after eating. my tummy is just not happy to be moving around when it’s full (even if NOT super full) and i’d get gassy, uncomfortable and stuff. i can’t seem to move fast. so i like it better on an empty stomach, or with very little, if at all.

  2. I used to work out on an empty stomach to reduce fat as recommended in the Body-for-Life Program. I had really good success with the program reducing my overall fat by 20% and putting on some muscle during the twelve week program. I continued to work out on an empty stomach to keep the fat off.

    I still workout in the morning but my goals changed and I want to build muscle, working out on an empty stomach is no longer the right choice – at the same time I don’t want to overeat before a workout – so I keep it simple, just enough to give me the energy I need to push some heavy weights … a shake (protein powder, cocoa powder, 1 tbsp oatmeal flakes, soluble fibre, 1/2 banana, OJ) and half a whole wheat bagel. post workout comes the big breakfast.

  3. I read a study once that had greater results when the person had a high fiber breakfast as opposed to nothing. It was in regards to sugary cereals mostly, and it showed something like 50% more calories burned when you ate a high fiber cereal, or 20% more if you ate nothing versus eating a high sugar cereal for breakfast. I’ll have to find the study and post it for you.

  4. After reading this I thought about it and what’s the point in exercise or doing anything if you’re not going to do your best. A decrease in performance can lead to an increase in injury which can then limit your activity also not eating before exercise can lead to hypoglycemia which at that point you are not going to be able to exercise. Look at the benefits vs. the risks and make your own decision or talk to an educated professional in the field of health and fitness.

  5. christopher says:

    anytime working out-is better than no time-works for bout you?

  6. Me being an Yoga Follower and an yoga Instructor, I had been taught and read that more benefits follow, exercising on an empty stomach in the morning. And many people who want to loose weight, or gain flexibility have achieved that. Gaining muscle and building up may need people to do it otherwise. However as u say, exercise is exercise and do it any time for u to be healthy..;)

  7. the discussion should hv been:
    does doing CARDIO (not weight training) on an empty stomach burn more fat?
    that has always been a point contention.
    of course you need to have something in your system before you train in the morning after having slept. this is just common sense. i personally think it will do more harm than good.

  8. Well said Davey Wavey;

    What is important is exercise and feeling good because of it.


  9. Hey Davey,
    the research papers I have read confirm that the body burns more fat during the exercise when completing a cardio on an empty stomach. However, this effect does not really matters as fat bruning should be considered over the course of days, and not on an hour-to-hour basis, to get a meaningful perspective on its impact on body composition. As a general rule: if you burn more carbonhydrate during a workout, you inevitably burn more fat in the post-excercise period and vice versa (Brad Schoenfeld: Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast maximize Fat Loss? Strength and Conditioning, February 2011).

    Further references: Hansen K, Shirver T, and Schoeller D. The effects of exercise on the storage and oxidation of dietary fat. Sport Med 35:363-373, 2005