Intermittent Fasting and Working Out : A Powerful Duo

Combining intermittent fasting with workouts provides many benefits. Read on to learn more about why this combination is beneficial.
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Combining intermittent fasting with workouts provides many benefits in terms of fat burning, improving insulin resistance, and stimulating growth hormones. The right foods during fasting and feeding can further increase the benefits.

Written by
Jill Lebofsky
15+yr Women's Wellness Expert, Holistic Menopause Support, Intermittent Fasting, Midlife, Essential Oil, Author, Speaker

Losing weight is not solely about what you put – or don't put – into your mouth. Whether you are a workout newbie, a weekend warrior, or a seasoned athlete, consistent exercise is key to long-term weight management success.

Many people like to wake up and go for a run, hit the gym, or put on a cardio video to start their day. A genuine concern for women starting intermittent fasting is what to do about exercise. We have always been told not to work out on an empty stomach.

Women on a traditional eating schedule (3 meals a day with snacks in between) often report feeling lightheaded or nauseous when they kick up their heart rate on an empty stomach. But women who adopt an intermittent fasting lifestyle do not experience those things. In fact, in time, they feel energized, enjoying greater endurance and stamina.

Benefits of Combining Intermittent Fasting and Workouts

Here are some of the amazing benefits of working out in a fasted state.

  1. You Burn More Fat–Research shows you can burn up to 20% more fat exercising in a fasted state (1). You would need significantly more exercise to enjoy the same results.
  2. You Decrease Insulin Resistance–Insulin resistance leads to metabolic disease (pre-diabetes). A possible sign of insulin resistance in women is having a waistline of greater than 35 inches. Studies show that intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance (2).
  3. You Don't Gain Weight When You Indulge–Many people experience that they can enjoy in their eating window their food favorites or second helpings, guilt-free.
  4. You Trigger the Release of the Human Growth Hormone (HgH)–Release of this hormone results in greater fat burning and anti-aging benefits (3).

Best Practices For Incorporating Workouts Into Your Intermittent Fasting Schedule

Woman doing crunches.

The type of exercise you choose will help determine the timing of your fasting and feasting schedule. You may need to be flexible with your fasts, depending on which workout you choose each day.

Low-Intensity Workouts–These are best for women new to intermittent fasting and can either be scheduled within your feasting or fasting window. Try doing Pilates or Yoga before eating to ease yourself into more strenuous workouts in a fasted state.

Cardio Activities–Fasted cardio is great for fat-burning. If you feel good afterward, wait for 2 to 3 hours before eating. These few hours allow for a rise in the Human Growth Hormone, which helps you burn more fat.(3) Running, biking or any activity during which you elevate your heart rate for a sustained period of time are good choices.

Strength/Weight Training–Try to perform any exercise involved in building muscle mass or strength a little before breaking your fast or early in your eating window. That's when your body is more fueled and can recover without muscle breakdown. Grab your hand weights, use the machines at the gym, or do bodyweight exercises like squats and pushups.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)–This combination cardio/strength workout should be performed right before or directly after breaking your fast.

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Choosing Foods On Workout & Non-Workout Days

Salmon on lettuce.

The last meal you eat the night before exercising plays a role in how you will feel during your workout the next day. Focus on eating protein and fats for dinner, rather than simple carbs like pasta. Protein and fats will provide more sustenance if you plan on exercising before your first meal the following day.

What you choose for your first meal of the day is also important. Eat proteins (lean meats, nut butters, tofu, eggs), complex carbs (quinoa, oats, brown rice), healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil), and vegetables/low-glycemic fruits with high fiber (broccoli, artichokes, swiss chard, berries, apples) during your eating window to maintain a healthy fast. 

More complex carbs are needed for workout days. More protein, veggies, and fats are needed on rest days. 

Important things to consider when working out in a fasted state. 

  • Ease into your workout, paying close attention to how you feel while exercising in a fasted state. There will be an adjustment period, but listen to your body and feed it if needed.
  • If you find yourself becoming lightheaded while exercising, eat a little something and try exercising in the afternoon within your eating window.
  • Stay hydrated at all times! Drink plenty of water before, during, and after you exercise. Try adding peppermint oil to your water for a boosted workout (4). Adding peppermint oil won't break your fast. 
  • Don't exercise too close to bedtime because exercise, as well as eating, can interrupt your sleep.

Bottom line

Intermittent fasting and exercise can be a powerful duo for permanent weight loss. Depending on what workout you feel like doing each day, you must wisely choose when and what to eat for the greatest benefit. Go slow and pay attention to your body. If you start to feel unwell, stop. Otherwise, reap the many benefits that working out and fasting can give you.


1. Moro T, Tinsley G, Bianco A, et al. Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. J Transl Med. Oct 13 2016;14(1):290. doi:10.1186/s12967-016-1044-0

2. Cho Y, Hong N, Kim KW, et al. The Effectiveness of Intermittent Fasting to Reduce Body Mass Index and Glucose Metabolism: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Clin Med. Oct 9 2019;8(10)doi:10.3390/jcm8101645

3. Ho KY, Veldhuis JD, Johnson ML, et al. Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. J Clin Invest. Apr 1988;81(4):968-75. doi:10.1172/JCI113450

4. Meamarbashi A, Rajabi A. The effects of peppermint on exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. Mar 21 2013;10(1):15. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-15

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