For those of you who had a pleasure of meeting me and picking my brain about cardio, in particular, by now you know my feelings towards it. Yes, I get the fact that your concern is: you need to perform cardio in order to train your heart to keep it strong and healthy (this is more of the inside the box style of thinking). I’m not here to knock cardio (cough, cough). I’m here to simply educate you that you don’t need to do it in order to lose body fat. If you happen to be an athlete, then you already know why it is important to YOU, but for an average folk, to achieve great fat loss it is not necessary to spend time on it. Do yourself a favour and introduce yourself to a dumbbell. Cardio, to put simply, is just an activity. It is just something to do. It is not a workout. Let’s all agree now, that in order to keep your heart strong and healthy you need to elevate and drop your heart rate (HR), so you can achieve some sort of oxygen delivery into our muscles. Having said that, in order to achieve a higher level of oxygen delivery into the muscle you need to elevate and drop your HR at somewhat rapid speed OR simply do something that requires physical effort (i.e.: clean your house). Which also means, you need to perform cardio at an interval level. Therefore, this also can be achieved through resistance training. If you don’t believe me, then let’s do a set squats and let’s see where your HR is at the end of the set versus before you started the squats. So, as you can see, while resistance training you already are training your heart and your muscles. Bam! Double whammy! But if you’re the type of person that you must perform cardio, otherwise your entire day would be ruined if you didn’t, then there is a time and a place for it. As there is time and a place for everything else. So, let’s have a look in further detail.
Here you have several different opinions on how and when because doing cardio can work against you and instead of moving you forward, it may actually set you back in the wrong direction. This is why it is important to know how cardio affects your body and how to execute it properly—just like resistance training.
So, when is the best time to do cardio?
There is no set time as to when so you make the best gains from cardio. As everyone is different, the best time for cardio ranges from one person to the next. For example, if you feel like total crap in the morning and you need an hour or two to feel fully energized (you obviously aren’t a morning person), you shouldn’t do it in the morning. Listen to your body; just like you wouldn’t weight train if you were half-awake.
Like I said, everyone’s body is different. So, the best time for you to do your cardio is when you feel like giving it a go. However, there is still more to this. There are still a few guidelines you should follow so that you don’t end up setting yourself back. I hope next few points will help you understand when to perform your cardio for better results.
Cardio in the morning on an empty stomach?
First of all – NO! Cardio in the morning on empty stomach is probably the most unintelligent idea I have ever heard. This isn’t just my opinion but the most knowledgeable professionals and exercise experts agree that cardio in the morning, on an empty stomach, is not good for your body.
“Well,” you might ask, “what if I want to burn fat? Let me point this out, you are probably thinking that at this time you have low glycogen stores in the morning and your energy levels are low because you didn’t consume any carbohydrates in the last 6 to 8 hours, so then you will tap into my fat stores, right?” Nope! TOTALLY wrong. The complete opposite happens.
Fat burning doesn’t occur during cardio exercise; rather, it takes place about two hours later. Instead of burning fat, your body will look at your tasty muscles for energy. Meaning, just like NSYNC sang “BYE BYE BYE” but to your precious muscles. This is everyone’s worst nightmare. So, if your goal is to become scrawny and skinny person then, by all means, do cardio in the morning on empty stomach. This is what professionals call “skinny fat” person look.
It is also common sense (I hope) not to do cardio on an empty stomach because you don’t have an adequate amount of energy. Which means, not having eaten for hours will decrease your performance which leads to crappier results. And if you really think about it, first thing in the morning, your body has just fasted for six, eight or more hours and it needs to refuel itself. Not feeding your body in the morning and doing going straight into cardio is like going into war without ammunition.
Don’t get me wrong, doing cardio in the morning isn’t bad but, doing it on an empty stomach is. So, when you wake up at 5:00am just to do cardio, at least have something light to eat before performing your cardio. Like I said earlier, if you’re a morning person and you feel best in the morning then keep doing it in the morning, just make sure you don’t do it on an empty stomach.
Cardio workout right before resistance training?
HUGE NO! Pretty much just as bad as doing it on empty belly. Unless of course, you don’t want good results from resistance training. You’re wasting your time at the gym if you go all out and perform cardio before your workouts. A lot of folks, especially women, are very afraid of gaining lean mass because they don’t want to end up looking like a dude (yes, because this happens over few weeks 🙄). In such cases, if your resistance training is of relatively low intensity and doesn’t leave you feeling like you just got hit by a car, then yes, you can do cardio before your workout. This is what I also call a warm up but some call it a workout 🤷🏻.
But for most men, and those who want some serious increase in lean mass, let me tell you that the last few reps (say the last 2-3 reps) where you struggle and sweat is where you stimulate your muscles to grow. But when you run before weight training, an intense cardio workout totally, or almost completely, depletes your glycogen stores.
So if you have no glycogen stores–serving as your muscles’ source of energy–and you’re pushing yourself to the max, the energy won’t be there to push through those last few grueling reps; the result is a less effective workout.
Another reason why this is such a big NO is because during a hard cardio session protein synthesis decreases (lowering your body’s ability to build muscle) and protein breakdown increases. However, during weight training, protein synthesis either goes up slightly (or stays the same) as protein breakdown increases. Thus, if you hit the weights after your protein-synthesis dropping cardio session, the result will be that your body’s ability to build muscle is impaired.
So let’s make up a situation……
Billy goes and does his intense cardio workout. Afterwards, his protein synthesis drops and muscle breakdown is high. He then lifts weights and, instead of his protein synthesis being normal or slightly elevated, it is very low because of his cardio session. Plus his muscles are in a state of breakdown. So basically, you don’t want your body’s ability to build/repair muscle (protein synthesis) to be impaired right after a weight workout. Don’t get me wrong. yes, don’t get me wrong again. What I just explained is the result of doing cardio right before your workout or even an hour before your workout. It is all right if you do your cardio exercise followed by resistance training if you give yourself an adequate amount of time to recover and replenish your glycogen stores. But in between you must have the proper nutrition to stop protein breakdown and increase muscle synthesis before you hit the weights. Additionally, you have to replenish your muscles’ glycogen stores. Still though, your performance in the weight room may suffer even though you have given yourself enough rest and nutrition. Ultimately, it is best if you do your resistance training before anything else to make sure that you lift to your full.
Cardio right after weights?
Doing cardio right after resistance training is better than doing it before. The reason is that resistance training doesn’t deplete your glycogen stores as badly as in cardio workouts (depending on how intensely you train). This means you will still have some of your glycogen stores left so you can complete an adequate cardio session. But for a more effective cardio session right after a workout, I recommend waiting at least 2 hours or more (if you have the time to do this) before doing your cardio.
In between this time, it is important that you replenish your glycogen stores quickly, and stop protein breakdown as fast as possible. But if you don’t have the time, it is still all right to do cardio right after resistance training. Just be prepared to have a less effective cardio session.
My two cents…
For best results (if you must), try to schedule your sessions separately from your resistance training days. So, if you lift weights 3 times a week, then do cardio on the other days that you’re not lifting weights. Just remember try to schedule your cardio session as far away as possible from your leg lifting schedule because running on super-sore, tired legs sucks. Doing cardio on separate days to resistance training ensures that you have the proper energy to perform your best in both your cardio and resistance training sessions. If such a goal is not realistic, do your cardio after your workouts. Remember, you get the best gains when you have the most energy. Yeah, if you did an all-out run for 45 minutes do you think you could have a good leg work out?