Matteo Cigala: Should cyclists train while fasted to lose weight?

Posted on: January 15th, 2019

Some cyclists train while fasted – not eating before they go out on their bikes – to lose weight. But if you are going to do it, how should you approach cycling while fasted?


Training fasted has been used for years as a training mechanism by some riders who want to lose weight.

It involves skipping breakfast and doing a portion of a ride, or maybe a full ride if it’s short, before eating.

However, this kind of training should only be done as part of a structured training programme and under the guidance of a coach. It is not something to simply ‘have a go at’.

In this piece top rider turned coach Matteo Cigala explains why ‘easy does it’ is the only way to go if you’re riding fasted.


By Matteo Cigala

Low glycogen level

The higher the intensity, the more our body needs sugars to perform while riding. Training at high intensity will cause depletion of the glucose stored in the body.

And resulting weakness and fatigue will make it impossible to continue our session. Additionally, muscle glycogen has a double function as it is also a muscles protector.

Against that background, it is strongly recommended you carry out hard or high-intensity sessions while not in a glycogen depleted state.

Therefore, fasted training should only be carried out at low intensity and at a steady pace; aerobic activity, below the aerobic threshold.


Catabolism in danger

We have seen how intense training exhausts you stores of glycogen. The danger associated with training intensely while fasted is that your muscles become stressed and they need to find an energy source. Fast.

Under these conditions, the body starts burning the proteins contained in the muscles, giving rise to the so-called “muscular catabolism”.

Basically, the muscles burn themselves to be able to continue the activity. That’s a situation we definitely want to avoid as it negates the very reasons we are training; to improve.


Stress level and physical problems

Cortisol, which is a stress hormone that releases stored energy when running low, is increased when riding fasted. This means cycling fasted too often will increase our stress level.

Other physical problems can arise with riding fasted such as headaches and nausea as sugar storage in the brain drops drastically.


Risk of over-training

Over-training is a pathological condition during which the body no longer reacts to training stimuli. Rather, it begins to weaken more and more.

Overt-raining comes about by training too much or too intensely without appropriate rest periods. Training continuously with low glycogen storage can lead to and promote over-training.


Reduced workout performance

Training fasted, as mentioned, decreases glycogen level, which leads to an inability to perform as you want and meet your goals for a particular sessions.

Performance is therefore compromised and the athlete cannot hit the scheduled target and achieve the improvements they are aiming for.

To conclude, fasted training can be effective for weight loss but only if it is managed properly.

It is highly recommended that you closely manage your fasted training and keep it low intensity at all times.

Fasted riding is not suitable for younger cyclists. It should only be every done on the advice of a coach and there is no substitute for a balanced sensible diet and plenty of exercise.