Running on an empty stomach: is it really a good idea?

Running on an empty stomach is an increasingly widespread practice among runners who don't hesitate to put on their sneakers when they get out of bed to get a better start to their day. What are the advantages of this practice? Is it really suitable for everyone? What precautions should you take? Expert answer.

It's a question that divides runners: is it better to get up early to run on an empty stomach or to take your time and eat breakfast before putting on your sneakers? We take stock with Mathieu Jouys, dietitian nutritionist within the performance optimization unit of the French Athletics Federation.

Running on an empty stomach: what does it involve?

You guessed it, running on an empty stomach means running on an empty stomach!  This usually involves getting up early enough to run before breakfast even though we haven't eaten anything for 10 to 14 hours (since dinner the day before, in short).

Does this idea seem totally absurd to you? And yet... More and more athletes are taking advantage of this morning window to boost their metabolism and exercise before starting their work day. Let's try to understand why. 

Advantages and disadvantages: is it reasonable to go jogging on an empty stomach?

First of all, let's remember that you don't have to get up at dawn to go running. “To each their own: some people prefer to run in the morning for reasons of health, lifestyle or fitness objectives . The main thing is to respect their needs and desires,” notes Mathieu Jouys. 

The benefits of running on an empty stomach

  • Running on an empty stomach can promote the use of fat as an energy source . “In the absence of immediately available glycogen stores, the body is more inclined to draw on its fat reserves, which can promote weight loss in the long term,” indicates the expert. 
  • It also promotes metabolic adaptation : running on an empty stomach can help the body adapt to using fat as an energy source, which can be beneficial for people working on endurance and those looking to improve their ability to burn fat. 
  • Running on an empty stomach also requires some mental discipline, which can build resilience and determination .
  • Without forgetting that this practice can be an opportunity to save time (we avoid waiting a few hours after having breakfast before going for a run), but also to avoid postponing exercise until the last moment because of a change of schedule. 

That said, do not hesitate to seek advice from a health professional or a sports coach before starting to run on an empty stomach! The latter will be able to ensure that this type of training is suitable for your level and your physical form

Weight loss: does running on an empty stomach really help you lose weight?

As noted above, running on an empty stomach can help promote weight loss, but it's not necessarily a miracle method for losing weight! And Mathieu Jouys explains again: "When we practice physical activity on an empty stomach, our glycogen reserves (the carbohydrates stored in the liver and in the muscles) are so low that our body is forced to draw from energy in our fat stores , which can contribute to imbalance energy balance and promote weight loss.  

As a reminder, only a calorie deficit allows you to lose weight (expend more calories than you consume). Running on an empty stomach is therefore interesting in that it increases fat burning. But it also strengthens our muscles and boosts our metabolism , which promotes the burning of calories on a daily basis outside of any sporting activity.

Please note: it is important to remember that weight loss does not depend only on physical activity, but also on genetics, diet, health and lifestyle habits of each individual . “In other words, if you go running on an empty stomach one day out of three, but you don't pay any attention to your diet, it is possible that your weight will stagnate,” warns the dietitian nutritionist. 

This sporting practice also has its share of disadvantages!

Fasting running is not for everyone... In some runners, the absence of glycogen from food consumed before exercise can sometimes lead to a drop in performance : reduction in strength, endurance and speed while running.

Running on an empty stomach when first starting out can also increase the risk of  premature fatigue during exercise, which can lead to decreased motivation... Low glucose availability can also affect cognitive function and compromise concentration and coordination while running (which increases the risk of injury).

Finally, running on an empty stomach can exacerbate feelings of hunger during and after exercise. This feeling can be the cause of food overcompensation after training - in other words, cravings! Some people are in fact tempted to consume more calories to compensate for the energy spent during the race... A behavior that is, to say the least, counterproductive from a weight loss perspective. 

Running on an empty stomach, a practice reserved for experienced runners!

“Running on an empty stomach is not a bad practice, but it is reserved for experienced and sufficiently trained runners. I don't mean people who have already been running two to three times a week for some time ,” insists Mathieu Jouys. And to specify: "The runners' body must be sufficiently seasoned to be able to adapt on a physiological level and continue to function without prior carbohydrate intake." Otherwise, runners quickly find themselves in hypoglycemia and suddenly stop their race. In the program ? Dizziness, muscle weakness, feeling unwell... Hence the importance of proceeding in stages!

Instructions for use: how long can you run on an empty stomach? And at what rate?

Running on an empty stomach yes. But not just anyhow. “To limit the risks, it is better to adapt the effort to your abilities,” advises Mathieu Jouys. As for running pace, the ideal is to run at a moderate or even slow pace. “He runs with basic endurance , that is to say at  a pace that allows you to run while maintaining a conversation without being out of breath all the time,” he specifies. 

In terms of timing, it is generally recommended to run for at least thirty minutes , so that the body is able to mobilize its fat reserves. Start with short sessions and gradually increase their duration as your body adapts. Some experienced people can run on an empty stomach for more than an hour, but it's important to listen to your body and not try to exceed your limits on an empty stomach.

Finally, there is no question of running on an empty stomach every morning - especially if you are a novice! Go gradually and adjust according to your tolerance by aiming for three to four sessions maximum per week, even if you are experienced, recommends Mathieu Jouys.

Morning or evening: what is the best time to go jogging on an empty stomach?

The best time to go jogging can vary depending on personal preferences, lifestyle and individual goals. But when it comes to jogging on an empty stomach... It's better to go for the morning for reasons of practicality given that it's during the night that you go the longest without eating. That said, if you're not a morning person, you can definitely eat breakfast, fast for around ten hours then go for a run! 

What precautions should be taken to run on an empty stomach without risk when waking up?

  • Consult your doctor to check the absence of contraindications and benefit from personalized advice. 
  • On the big day, don't go running straight out of bed: wait until you're wide awake  and don't forget to warm up to unlock your body. 
  • Hydrate yourself before during and after exercise! “Running on an empty stomach does not mean running dehydrated,” emphasizes Mathieu Jouys who even advises drinking a cup of coffee or tea as caffeine could promote the use of adipose tissue for energy purposes.
  • Go gradually : do not exceed 30 to 45 minutes of training if you are a beginner and gradually tend towards 1 hour, or even 1 hour 30 minutes. 
  • Always take a snack , ideally a compote to drink or a cereal bar, but a cube of sugar or an energy drink will do just as well! 
  • Pay attention to your body's signals : If you feel dizzy, dizzy, weak, or any other unusual sensation, stop and take time to recover. 
  • If you run at dawn or sunrise, make sure you are visible to other road users: wear reflective or brightly colored running clothing and use lighting devices if necessary to ensure your safety.
  • After the run, take the time to stretch to relax your muscles and promote recovery. Also make sure you eat well to replenish glycogen and aid recovery.