Run Your Gas Tank Empty!

“Run your gas tank empty!” is a mindset I have to explain to clients early in our training program. What do I mean by this? Whenever you complete your work out, you should be unable to talk and need to be peeled off the ground because you are so exhausted.

Why would anyone do this?

Well, your fat will literally melt off of your body like the snow off a snowman in Death Valley from the body’s depleted glycogen state.

I often see members who finished working out talking up a storm, full of energy, etc. The same members are consistently complaining how they are not reducing their body fat percentage. In their minds, they are coming into the club, working out, and putting in the time needed but what they don’t understand is they are lacking intensity. All they have to do is put more effort into their workout. Once you understand that the science behind depleting your gas tank, it is easier to push yourself during your workout.

What's the science?

When you “run your gas tank empty” you are depleting your body of glycogen. Dr. Jeff Volek, an Associate Professor in the #1 ranked Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, explains the science. “Glycogen is the name for carbohydrates that are stored in your muscles. An easy way to understand glycogen is to picture it as a storage tank (gas tank) for sugar, the form of carbohydrate your body uses for fuel. Just as you have fat stores, you also have sugar stores. However, unlike your fat stores, which are able to expand (read: you can get fatter and fatter), your glycogen tank has a limited capacity to store sugar. For instance, think of your car: If you own a midsize, you probably have a 14 gallon fuel tank. Try to fill it with 20 gallons though and the other 6 would spill out onto the pavement. It’s the same way with sugar and your glycogen tank, and therein lies the problem: A full glycogen tank signals your body to use incoming carbohydrates for energy instead of stored fat. As a result, your body not only stops burning fat, it starts conserving it. This is one of the main reasons for American’s growing obesity problem. Because most people’s diets are excessively high in carbohydrates, their glycogen levels are always at peak capacity. In turn, their bodies won’t allow them to use their stored fat for energy. “

Why is depleting your glycogen so important?

Dr. Volek explains further. “You lose fat faster by exercising in the carb-burning zone. This is when you’re exercising hard, often going nearly all out for 30-60 seconds at a time. There are two reasons for this. The first is that even though you burn a lower percentage of fat during this type of high intensity exercise, the total amount of fat you burn is similar to that of light and moderate activity. That’s because the harder you go, the more calories per minute you burn. So even though the percentage of fat you burn is smaller, it’s in relation to a bigger number of calories. The second reason: If you primarily burn fat during exercise, you’re automatically burning fewer carbohydrates. That means you’re not significantly reducing your glycogen levels. And this diminishes your ability to burn fat when you’re not exercising. However, exercise in the carb burning zone, and you’ll deplete your glycogen tank. This will allow you to burn more fat while you’re sitting at your desk and lounging on your couch. The upshot is that the harder you exercise, the more glycogen you burn. Interestingly, German researchers reported this very same finding in 1934. So this isn’t new science. It’s just a better interpretation of the science as it relates to fat loss.“

When I am training new clients, they are unfamiliar with working out this hard. About half way through the workout, the new client will apologize for not talking to me during their recovery time. “I just don’t have the energy to talk,” they say. “The lack of energy to talk to me is displaying to me that you are burning up your glycogen stores in your body. You are well on your way to running your gas tank empty. Great job!” I reply.

I explain to my clients, “It’s not your fault that you do not run your gas tank empty. You have been conditioned to never run it empty. For example, when you are driving your car and your gas tank reads below ¼ tank, the little warning light turns on…Fill engine soon. We have been conditioned by that little light. Whenever we see it turn on, we realize we need to get more gas in the near future. Running out of gas is not an option with your car. While this mindset is great for driving a car, it does not carry over into our own bodies when applied for working out. As a result, whenever we expend our own energy, we use the same mindset, never run out of gas.”

Whenever you workout, you don’t want to leave anything in the tank. Once you finish your workout, you should significantly lack energy. Once your workout is complete, you will focus on getting to their locker and consuming their post workout BCAA (Branch Chained Amino Acids) to repair your broken down muscle fiber. After you consume their post workout BCAA, your energy will begin to come back. In about 15-30 minutes, your energy levels will return.

What are you to do?

Run your gas tank empty. Empty your glycogen stores. Because your gas tank is empty, your body will burn more fat throughout the day When you empty your glycogen stores, you are accomplishing 2 concepts: accelerating fat loss due to an accelerated calorie burn during your work out and depleting your stored glycogen levels to increase your fat burn throughout the rest of your day. If you lack the ability to talk more than a few phrases, you are in a great spot. Remember, this is only temporary. Once you consume your post workout BCAA, your energy will return in 15-30 minutes. The more consistently you do this during your workouts, the faster your body will recover each time. In other words, “Run your gas tank empty!”


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified