Some people say to do cardio before weights and others say to do cardio after weights. I’m confused! Can you help reconcile this for me given the fact I’m trying to gain muscle and lose fat so I need to know the best time to do cardio to take advantage of fat burning while preserving as much muscle mass as possible. Right now, I’m not really doing any cardio and just focusing on weight training since I want to pack on about 5-10 pounds of solid muscle but I seem to be gaining a little fat also so I need to start adding some cardio into my workout regimen. Can you help?
The only time you want to do cardio before doing weights is only for warming up or if you do cardio in the early morning right after waking up (morning cardio and weights later in the day). You never want to do a long cardio session right before lifting weights because you will end up burning all of your carbs (glycogen) and energy needed to push heavy weights.
Doing a light session of cardio (around 10 minutes) before your weight lifting workout is very important to fully warm up your body and get your muscles ready for an intense workout. You should never go into a weight lifting workout completely cold so it’s always good to get some activity like riding the stationary bike or walking on the treadmill for a little while until you break a light sweat which will indicate your body is warm and ready to get started lifting weights.
Cardio after weight training is the best time to perform your main cardio session in order to maximize fat burning. Cardio after weights is important because you have already burned off all the carbs (glycogen) from your weight training workout. Cardio right before weights is something you want to avoid because you want to have energy (carbs) to fuel your body when lifting weights and doing cardio before will deplete your carbs and energy reserves.
If you want to do cardio in the morning and then weight train later in the day, that is totally fine. As always, make sure to eat a carb and protein meal before your weight workout so you have enough fuel to train hard. Lots of people like to break up their cardio and weights during different times of the day. If your schedule allows for this, you might want to give it a try. You can also try doing weights early in the day and then do your cardio session at night. To maximize fat burning, try to avoid eating any carbs after your cardio workout and drink a protein shake before bed to supply nutrients to your muscles while you sleep.
Doing morning cardio on an empty stomach is probably the best time to perform it since you will tap right into your body fat because you have basically fasted for 6-8 hours while sleeping. When you wake up, your glycogen levels will be completely depleted and your body is primed to tap directly into your fat reserves. The only thing you need to be aware of is consuming protein and amino acids before doing cardio in the morning so you can make sure to preserve your lean muscle tissue. When you wake up, your body is in a catabolic state (high cortisol levels) and it’s basically in “break down mode” so you want to make sure you at least get some protein into your body in order to reverse this catabolic state. One of the best supplements you can take is called BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) and they come in a powder that you can easily mix with water and most of the flavors taste amazing!
There are three branched chain amino acids which consist of leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs serve as a significant fuel source for skeletal muscle during periods of metabolic stress. Branched chain amino acids promote protein synthesis (muscle growth) and help to prevent protein catabolism (muscle breakdown) by acting as a readily available fuel source for hard-working muscles during an intense workout.
Most of the BCAA powders on the market contain zero carbs and zero calories so you don’t have to worry about drinking it before and during your cardio workout. You can also find some BCAA supplements with added caffeine which will give you a spike in energy for a long cardio session. Some of the most popular BCAA supplements include Amino 1, Amino X, and Xtend. They range from $25 to $35 for a month supply and they come in many different flavors. These are considered “intra-workout” supplements which means you drink them during your workout. Along with drinking them before and during your cardio workout, you can also mix up a shaker bottle and drink them during your weight training workout.
So, just make sure to do your cardio workout after lifting weights if you are doing everything in the same workout. If you want to break up your cardio session and weights then you can decide when during the day to include your cardio session to maximize fat burning. You might try doing morning cardio for 6 weeks and then switch it over to evening cardio for 6 weeks. Take photos each week and track your physique changes to see which one works best for you!