If your primary goal is to lose body fat, or you’re aiming to build muscle while minimizing fat gains, cardio is obviously a useful calorie-burning tool to include in your plan.

Whether it’s a high intensity interval based workout or a lower intensity, longer duration session, a few cardio workouts per week in combination with your diet is usually a sound fat burning approach.

I get a lot of questions about the best ways to maximize fat loss through cardio, and one of the more common ones that lands in my inbox is on the issue of what to eat before cardio.

Is there a “best” pre cardio meal that will help you burn fat at a faster rate?

The question of what to eat before cardio is usually met with a variety of answers…

Some will recommend performing cardio on a completely empty stomach… others will tell you to consume some protein but no carbs… while others will say that a small meal containing both protein and carbs is ideal.

What’s the real answer here?

Well, the real answer is that there is no “best” answer.

In fact, there’s really no need at all to worry about the specific foods or liquids you consume leading up to your cardio workout.

The human body is an incredibly complex and dynamic machine, and trying to influence the type of fuel that it uses during exercise (whether it be carbs or fat) is quite frankly a waste of time and effort.

For example, fasted cardio makes sense in theory because it would seem logical that the body would be forced to break down more stored fat for fuel since there is no food in the stomach.

However, the research has shown that fasted cardio does not result in a greater amount of net fat loss, and that it actually may be inferior since it decreases the thermic effect of exercise and often reduces training intensity.

Or what about consuming a protein shake only and no carbs? That way the body will spare more muscle and turn to fat since no carbs are present for energy, right?

Wrong, because if the body requires carbohydrates for fuel it will simply turn to its glycogen reserves, which is the form of carbohydrates stored in the muscles and liver.

We also know that the type of fuel that is used during the specific cardio session itself is not indicative of its overall effects on your bottom line fat loss.

For example, low intensity/long duration cardio burns a greater percentage of fat during the actual session in comparison to high intensity/low duration cardio, which uses mainly carbohydrates.

However, high intensity/low duration cardio results in a significantly greater amount of total net fat loss due to the longer lasting effect that it has on your resting metabolic rate.

When it all comes down to it, fat loss is dictated by net energy balance (calories consumed versus calories burned) and NOT by nitty-gritty details such as your specific pre-cardio meal.

The answer to the question of what to eat before cardio is actually very simple, and that is to eat whatever you want (and spaced as far or as close to your cardio session as you want) based on what maximizes your own performance and stomach comfort during the actual workout.

If that means a simple liquid whey protein shake 1 hour before, fine. If it means a small solid meal of cottage cheese and fruit 2 hours before, no problem. If it means a full on plate of chicken and rice half an hour before, go for it.

It’s a highly individual thing and will vary quite a bit from person to person, so it really just comes down to your own preference.

Just remember…

Fat loss is a result of the cumulative effect of maintaining a net calorie deficit over time; NOT what happens in short blocks of 20-45 minutes a few times per week.

When it comes to your fat burning nutrition plan, focus on the big picture.

As long as your pre cardio meal fits into your overall diet as a whole, the specifics of that meal are simply a non-issue.

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