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Using Nutrition to Boost Your Cardio

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So, you’re doing cardio religiously and you’re not getting any
results…What’s the deal?! Good news. You’re probably just making
some minor mistakes that need to be corrected. If you want to make
changes to your body, it’s probably pretty important for you to
understand how your body works. After all, I doubt you’re running on the
treadmill because your cable got shut off and the cardio-theater at your
gym is the only place you can watch “The OC.” I’m almost certain you
want to burn fat. So, let’s learn how that works.

We’re going to talk about using nutrition to maximize the benefits of your workout. What you
eat and when you eat it can make a world of difference. But first, we
need to talk about how your body works.

Even though you want to get
rid of the excess fat that’s stretching out your pants, your body is not in
such a hurry to do so. You almost have to trick your body into burning
that fat as energy. You need to have fat to survive, and to your body,
those love handles are money in the bank. Because of this, when you
don’t eat anything for an extended period of time (as little as 4 waking
hours), your body will go into what’s called “starvation mode.” In
starvation mode, your body will actually store more fat and break down
muscle tissue to use as fuel. This slows your metabolism and increases
your body fat. It’s basically a self defense mechanism. With no fuel
coming in, your body fears it may have to survive for some time without
food. Your body doesn’t know that you’re just stuck in traffic or that you
had to skip lunch because your boss was making you do his work. It just
thinks…Holy Mackerel, I’m gonna starve. So instead of using it’s
valuable fat stores, your body gets stingy and actually cannibalizes it’s
own muscle tissue to use as fuel.

So to keep your body from freaking
out and going into starvation mode, try to eat small meals throughout the
day. 5 to 6 small meals a day is ideal. When I say meals, that doesn’t
mean that you need to sit down and have 3 courses. A handful of
almonds or even a protein shake can count as one of those meals.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you eat a turkey sandwich right
before you hop on the treadmill, your body won’t burn fat then either.
When you eat carbohydrates, your body stores them in the form of
glycogen in your liver. As you expend energy, your body uses these
glycogen stores until they are gone. When performing any type of
aerobic activity, like walking, running, etc., your body can use glycogen
stores or fat stores for fuel. The problem is that your body will never use
the fat stores until the glycogen stores are gone.

So you’re saying that
if I don’t eat, my body will get scared and hold on to all my body fat, but if
I do eat, my body will just use that as fuel instead of burning fat? Yes….
And if this were the end of the article, you would probably be pretty mad.
Fortunately, there are ways to make this work.

Option 1: Right when you wake up, before you eat or drink anything
(except water), do 55 minutes of moderate impact cardio. Walking or an
elliptical machine is ideal. If you’re breathing too hard to carry on a
conversation normally, slow down. If you get light headed or weak from
this option, eat something with no carbs before you workout. For
example: egg whites, chicken breast, or a protein shake with no carbs.
Protein consumption will not affect your glycogen stores so your body
will still be willing to burn fat. With this option, it’s okay to eat breakfast
when you’re done.

Option 2: If you only have 20 minutes in the
morning, do intervals before you eat. Warm up for 5 minutes and then
run for one minute and walk for two. Each time you run, make it a little
more intense until you are running at full blast for one minute. After 20
minutes of these intervals, cool down walking for 5 minutes and then
don’t eat for an hour after you’re done. Your body will burn fat for that
entire hour.

Option 3: If you can only do your cardio in the middle or at
the end of the day, use either of the above formulas but try to workout
about 2-2 1/2 hours after you eat.

Option 4: Do your cardio right after
you do your weight training. I know you’ve heard to do it before…this is
wrong. Warming up for 5 minutes before you weight train is fine, but
always do your fat burning cardio sessions after your weights. For more
on this option read “Weights Before Cardio”:

Option 5: If your cardio
sessions are more intense like an advanced step class or a spin class,
you’re better off having something in your stomach. Try eating about 2
hours before the class and then don’t eat for an hour after the class.
Most often, during an intense cardio workout, your body is not willing to
burn fat as fuel. It doesn’t know that you’re going to stop in an hour. It
thinks this behavior could continue for some time so it can get stingy
with it’s energy stores. But it will burn plenty of fat in the hour after you’re

Be specific when following these formulas. They work. Am I
saying that if you eat before your cardio that you’re wasting your time?
No, anytime you do cardio it’s great for your heart, you’re burning
calories and you can increase your metabolism. But why not get the
maximum benefits if you’re going to do the work anyway.

You may reprint or publish this article freely as long as you include a
visible, active link to along with the author’s bio.

Tony Hale is a certified personal trainer with 12 years of experience
servicing clients in the entertainment industry throughout the Hollywood
area. He is also the editor in chief for
To Train with Tony online, visit


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  • Posted On June 1, 2006
  • Published articles 283513

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