Here’s Why You Can’t Lift Weights on an Empty Stomach

Many people know that you shouldn’t work out right after a meal, or believe that weightlifting on an empty stomach will burn more fat. While there’s truth to both of these, weightlifting on an empty stomach might not be the safest way to go.

The truth is, neither weightlifting on a full stomach, or an empty one is a good idea. If you have a full stomach, you may become nauseous or even throw up. On the flip side, weightlifting on an empty stomach may leave you with not enough energy, and the potential to hurt yourself or pass out.

Explaining whether or not you can lift weights with an empty stomach.

There are many myths surrounding weight loss and eating, and I’ll go over some of them later on. It’s easy to fall victim to weightlifting myths, but the truth is usually simple. In this case, you need to find a balance between the extremes of a full and empty stomach.

Getting what you want out of weightlifting requires a strategy. This means picking your goals, whether it be gaining muscle or losing fat, as well as getting a routine and diet plan that match these goals. Along with going over weightlifting on an empty stomach, I’ll help you figure out a strategy that works for you.

Weightlifting on an Empty Stomach

Weightlifting on a completely empty stomach is never a good idea. Your body needs energy to workout, run, and do other activities. When you’re hungry, you don’t have this energy, and you’re setting yourself up to get hurt.

Without this energy that your body needs you’ll get very tired, and depending on how severe it is, you could get lightheaded or even pass out. Make sure that you’ve eaten enough earlier in the day, without being too full.

Many people experience this when they have low blood pressure, and this can happen from lifting on an empty stomach. There shouldn’t be any direct long-term injury, but passing out in the middle of a set is a bad idea.

When you’re in the gym, you want to have enough energy to avoid getting tired, and actually finish your workout. You won’t accomplish this by workout out on an empty stomach, and you’ll probably achieve the opposite.

You also have a high chance of becoming distracted or discouraged, because of your hunger. This isn’t safe, and also won’t help you get through your entire workout. You need to have energy, as well as be in the right head space to get your lifting done.

Lifting weights on an empty won’t kill you, but it’s not a good idea. There are no real benefits and it will hurt your performance in the gym. Remember, you need to have enough energy in your body if you want to run or lift weights.

The Myth About Fat Loss

There is a myth surrounding eating that going to the gym on an empty stomach will help you burn more fat. This is partly true, as you may burn more fat during your workout.

However, there is a big flaw in this idea. Truthfully, the burning of fat, as well as the building of muscle, all happen outside the gym. This might sound strange because you spend hours in the gym doing something that happens outside of it.

Fat burns when you take in fewer calories than you burn. This is called being in a calorie deficit. The point of doing cardio for weight loss is to burn as many calories as possible safely, as well as some added benefits.

Burning more calories than you’re eating means that your body is using up energy that it already has, usually in the form of fat. This is most people’s goal when they go to the gym to lose weight.

Going to the gym with an empty stomach isn’t only unsafe, it doesn’t work. Aside from a side benefit when you’re in the gym, it doesn’t do anything for the real process of losing weight, and can actually make you lose muscle. Any information that tells you working out with an empty stomach is wrong, and you should take caution following it.

How to Actually Lose Fat

Like I mentioned earlier, you actually burn fat outside the gym, rather than inside. To lose weight, you need to burn off calories in the gym.

After this, during the rest of your day, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. The extra calories that you burnt will come from the fat on your body, and you’ll start to lose weight.

Man running outside, burning fat and calories.

Some people believe that you have to starve yourself to lose weight, and this isn’t only untrue, but unsafe. You can still eat all of your favorite foods, as long as you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning.

Sounds simple, right? It can be difficult to track your calories exactly, and it requires some work. This being said, with some practice, you can usually feel if you’re doing it right. There are also online tools to help you track the calories that you’re eating and burning.

It’s also hard for some people to cut out unhealthy foods that will kill their weight loss progress. It’s ok to have cheat days, but they should be limited.

Weight loss can be easy, but it will take your body time. It’s something that can’t be rushed without health consequences. If you lose weight too fast, you can have serious health issues.

In the end, weight loss can be simple. Taking things slow and burning more calories than you eat will both ensure your success. Be dedicated, have a plan and a little bit of time, and you’re sure to lose the weight that you want to.

Timing Your Meals

While it’s not good to starve yourself before a workout, it’s not good to have a full meal right before either. If you eat too much leading up to a workout, you can feel nauseous and even throw up.

Even though you shouldn’t eat right before a meal, you still need energy in order to actually workout. Exercise with a full stomach can cause stomach issues, something you don’t want to have in the gym.

It’s a common general rule that you should eat a meal an hour or two before going to the gym. It varies for everyone, but around an hour before your workout is a good place to start. Work from there and find a time and meal size that works for you.

There are also certain foods that you should eat as well as avoid eating before and after your workouts, but I’ll go over these specifically later on in this article. In general, avoid foods with a lot of sugar and processed foods whether you’re eating before or after the gym.

Timing your meals can be hard to pinpoint at first, but it can be done. Testing different meal sizes before your workout as well as the time before your workout can both help find a strategy that works and is comfortable for you.

Best Times of the Day to Workout

There are many different strategies for timing your workouts. They all take in different factors and are suitable for some people, however, some strategies are better than others.

The biggest part of this planning is working the gym in around your schedule. Finding time to work out while you have school, work, or other engagements throughout your day can be difficult, but hopefully, you can find a free hour or two.

There are certain benefits to working out at different times of day, but they won’t have too much of an effect. The most important part of planning a workout is actually finding the time to get in the gym. Many people claim that they don’t have time to go to the gym, but most people do and find ways to make excuses.

If you have lots of free time, there are more strategic ways to plan your workout times. Your body is more flexible when it’s warm, compared to being cold. Your overall temperature rises throughout the day, which may make it beneficial to workout at night.

Another argument for working out later in the day is your hormone levels, especially for men. Throughout your day, your testosterone levels rise, and cortisol levels fall. This excess of testosterone at night can help you do better in the gym.

However, there are disadvantages to working out at the end of the day. Going to the gym too late at night, or overworking yourself, can mess with your sleep schedule and even unbalance your hormones. Working out in the morning can make a great start to your day as well, waking you up and improving your mood.

In the end, the most important thing about planning a workout is making sure you get there. Some studies seem to find that night workouts are more beneficial, but really, it comes down to preference.

What to Eat Before a Workout

Like I mentioned earlier, some foods should be eaten before workouts, some after, and some not at all. Different foods have different effects on your body and your energy levels, and they all have an optimal time to be eaten.

Most of your body’s energy comes from fat and carbs. These types of nutrients should be eaten 1 to 2 hours before a workout, to ensure that you have enough energy to get through the gym.

Meat cooking on the grill.

Protein can also be good to eat before you hit the gym. Your body uses protein for many things, including building muscle. Eating some protein before a workout can help make sure that you have the nutrients necessary to build muscle after your workout.

Another thing you can do before a workout is using supplements. Some supplements are designed to be taken before workouts, and some of them after.

Around 30 minutes before a workout, mix some pre-workout powder with some water to make a pre-workout drink to help you keep energy throughout your workout. You can also drink BCAA’s throughout your workout to avoid getting tired.

Make sure that you check the amount of powder you should use, as well as the amount of time before your workout you should drink them. Most supplements show this on their label, which can be very helpful for timing their use.

What to Eat After a Workout

There is a good amount of overlap between foods you should eat before and after a workout. The biggest difference between these two types of food lies in the amount that you’re eating.

When you’re eating after a workout, you don’t have to worry about overeating, and feeling sick at the gym. You still shouldn’t overeat, but you’re not about to go into physical activity.

After your workout, your muscles have used up their energy in the gym, and are continuously using energy to repair themselves. The same foods you eat before a workout can be eaten after, in greater amounts, to help aid with recovery and muscle repair.

The same nutrients, carbs, fat, and protein, are essential to recovering after a workout. Like I said, after a workout, these foods can be eaten in larger amounts. Foods like these can be used to make a great post-workout meal:

  1. Rice
  2. Fruits
  3. Meats (ground beef, steak, pork)
  4. Nuts
  5. Potatoes
  6. Eggs

As well as before a workout, there are post workout supplements to help you recover. A protein shake 20 minutes after you leave the gym will help you recover and build muscle. Creatine can also be mixed in, for long-term muscle growth.

Creatine helps to give your muscles more energy to repair themselves and to grow stronger.

Post-workout meals have a large effect on your muscle growth and recovery. Give your body the nutrients it needs to heal like carbs, protein, and fat, and you’ll be building muscle or losing weight fast.

Best Foods for Muscle Growth

Along with there being optimal times to eat, there are also certain foods that boost muscle building, no matter what time of day. For a full list, check out our article on the best muscle building foods.Opens in a new tab.

As I’ve mentioned before, your body needs a few key nutrients in order to healthily grow your muscles. Things like protein and carbs are essential.

Common sources of these nutrients are meats, which there are a variety of, as well as nuts, and things like peanut or almond butter that come from nuts. Rice is great for getting carbs, and chicken is probably a weightlifter’s favorite food.

Your body obviously needs more than these two nutrients, but for building muscles, it needs these the most. There are also other things that can supplement these foods, but they may not qualify as food.

There’s a plentiful amount of supplements on the market for muscle building. Creatine, as well as protein powder, are specifically aimed at helping you get stronger.

Most protein powder is based on whey, which comes from milk. However, there are some brands that use animal protein, which, obviously, comes from animals.

In the end, protein is probably the most essential nutrient for building muscle. Eating meat, and some peanut butter is a common and easy way to get protein into your body.

Weightlifting on a Full Stomach

Weightlifting after a meal has a lot of downsides, but not any real benefits. It’s not only uncomfortable, and can hinder your results, but can actually be dangerous to your health.

You should work out an hour or two after you eat, but never right after a meal. Waiting for a few hours lets you have enough energy to fuel your workout, but not be so full that you feel nauseous.

Lifting with a full stomach can make you feel nauseous and tired during your workout. This is uncomfortable for many people, and some people even throw up if they try this.

There might not be any long-term consequences for lifting with a full stomach, but it may impact the effectiveness of your workouts. You want to get as much done as possible in a workout, right?

If you feel gross and tired during your workout, you’re a lot less likely to get your goals accomplished. You might even leave the gym early, which is no good.

You need to have enough energy to workout, but not be so full it starts to get uncomfortable for you. All science aside, play around with the timing of your meals and find something that works for you.

How to Grow Your Muscles

There are many different ways to grow your muscles, all suiting different types of people and weightlifters.

As a weightlifter, you have many different strategies for building your muscles and becoming stronger. This being said, there are some that work much better than others.

A common and basic strategy is slowly increasing your weight. Start by lifting what is comfortable for you. Then, every week or two, add another 5-pound plate when you get too comfortable with the current weight.

Man weightlifting, holding a barbell.

This might sound weird if you haven’t heard it before, but muscles grow by breaking down. When you go to the gym, it breaks tiny fibers within your muscles.

After a workout, your body repairs these fibers plus more, which is why your muscles get bigger. While this is happening, you need to be eating more calories than you’re burning.

This is called a caloric surplus, and it’s essential for building muscle. If you want to lose weight, you need to do the opposite, which is called a caloric deficit.

In the end, muscle building is simple. Eat more calories than you’re burning, and keep going back to the gym. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll get stronger.

More Myths About Fat Loss

I’ve already mentioned one myth about fat loss; that going to the gym with an empty stomach helps burn more fat. I won’t talk any more about this one, but there are many more fat burning myths that are important to know and avoid.

One of the biggest and most dangerous myths I’ve heard is that if you starve yourself, you’ll lose weight since you’re eating much less. While this might sound right, it’s dead wrong and can hurt you.

The human body is built to survive extreme situations. If you barely eat, your body thinks you’re starving, which you are, and will pack on as much weight as you give it. This means you could actually gain weight.

It also has horrible effects on your body. It upsets your hormones, you’ll have no energy, and you could even develop injuries. There are many extreme ways to lose weight, but this is one you should avoid.

Another common myth is that if you avoid eating food at night, you will burn more fat and avoid losing weight. This is untrue also because calories are calories no matter the time of day.

Whether you’re eating at 10 pm or 10 am, they are going to have the same effect on your body. You need to have enough energy to get to the gym and finish your workout, and it can be hard to find a balance.

The truth is simple though; eat fewer calories than you burn, and you’ll lose weight. Make a plan, stick to it, and you’ll find success.

The Bottom Line

The basics of this come down to a very simple idea. You shouldn’t weightlift on a completely empty or completely full stomach. This being said, find something that works for you, and do that.

If you go to the gym with no food in your system, you won’t have enough energy to complete your workout, and you’ll leave without the progress that you wanted.

On the opposite side of this, if you have a full stomach, you’ll feel sluggish and possibly even nauseous. In this situation, you’ll also probably leave the gym without doing what you wanted to, which destroys the point of working out.

You should also eat the right things to give your body the energy it needs to get things done. Unprocessed foods with protein and healthy carbs will get the job done. Avoiding sugar will also help your progress.

A good baseline is to eat one to two hours before you go to the gym. This lets you have the energy to workout, without feeling full and slow.

Experiment with when you eat before you workout and find something that works for you. There are a lot of opinions based on science in weightlifting, but some of them come down to what works for you.

Pete Schenkel

My name is Pete Schenkel, and I've been into weightlifting since I was a teenager. Now, my main focus is growing Powerful Lifting and putting more information out there. In fact, I'm also currently working on becoming a certified personal trainer.

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