Can we really turn our bodies into fat burning machines? What is the best way to burn fat? We get our energy from fat, carbs and protein but which one our bodies draw from depends on the kind of activity we’re doing. Obviously, it makes sense to most people to use fat for energy, because we think that the more fat we can use as fuel, the less fat we’ll have in our bodies, right? Yet using more fat doesn’t automatically lead to losing more fat.
Understanding the best way to burn fat starts with some basic facts about how the body gets its energy. Primarily, the body uses fat and carbs for fuel. A small amount of protein is used during exercise, but mainly just to repair the muscles after exercise. The ratio of these fuels will shift depending on the activity you’re doing.
- For higher intensity exercise, such as fast-paced running, the body will rely more on carbs for fuel than fat. That’s because the metabolic pathways available to break down carbs for energy are more efficient than the pathways available for fat breakdown. For long, slower exercise, fat is used more for energy than carbs. When you sit or sleep, you are actually in your fat-burning mode!
- To actually lose weight, it doesn’t matter what type of fuel you use. What matters is how many calories you burn as opposed to how many calories you take in; you need to burn the calories, not necessarily using more fat for energy. The harder you work, the more calories you’ll burn overall. But, you’ve probably never contemplated the idea of sleeping more to lose weight, as lovely as that thought is.
Just because you’re using more fat as energy doesn’t mean you’re burning more calories.
Exercising at lower intensities will use more fat for energy–this basic premise is what started the theory of the ‘fat burning zone,’ or the idea that working in a certain heart rate zone (around 55 to 65 of your maximum heart rate) will allow your body to burn more fat. This theory has become so ingrained in our exercise experience that we see even see it on cardio machines. But it is misleading, because even though working at lower intensities isn’t a bad thing, it won’t burn more fat off your body unless you’re burning more calories than you’re eating. One way to increase your calorie burn is to exercise at higher intensities.
This doesn’t mean however that you need to avoid low intensity workouts if you want to burn more fat. There are specific things you can do to burn more fat and it all starts with how and how much you exercise.
Burning more fat with cardio exercise:
High Intensity Training: There’s no doubt that high intensity workouts can be helpful for weight loss as well as improving endurance and aerobic capacity. For example, a 150-lb. person would burn about 225 calories after running at 6 mph for 30 minutes. If this person walked at 3.5 mph for that same length of time, he would burn 85 to 90 calories. High Intensity Cardio falls between about 75 to 85 of your maximum heart rate (MHR). This translates to exercising at a level that feels challenging and leaves you too breathless to talk much. An example of high intensity workout is a 20-minute workout at a fast pace: You can use any activity or machine, but the idea is to stay in the high intensity work zone throughout the workout. You’ll find that 20 minutes is usually the recommended length for this kind of workout and most people wouldn’t want to go much longer than that.
Interval Training: A great way to incorporate high intensity training without doing it continuously is by doing intervals. Alternate a hard segment (e.g., running at a fast pace for 30 to 60 seconds) with a recovery segment (e.g., walking for 1 to 2 minutes). Repeat this series for the length of the workout, usually around 20 to 30 minutes.
Moderate Intensity Cardio: Moderate intensity exercise typically falls between about 60 to 70 of your MHR At the lower end of this range, you can carry on a conversation without much difficulty and you feel pretty comfortable with what you’re doing. Moderate intensity workouts have some great benefits, not the least of it being comfort, which we help you be more consistent with your program; better health — Even modest movement can improve your fitness while lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure; more choices: high intensity workouts will usually involve some kind of impact or, at the least, a fast pace, but you can usually get up into the more moderate heart rate zones with a variety of activities, providing you work hard enough. Even raking leaves or shoveling snow, if you do it vigorously enough, can fall into that category.
Low Intensity Activity: Low intensity exercise is considered to be below about 50 to 55 of your MHR, keeping you at a pace that isn’t too taxing and doesn’t pose much of a challenge. It involves the kind of long, slow activities you feel like you could do all day and, even better, activities you usually enjoy such as taking a stroll, light gardening, a long, slow bike ride. a gentle stretching routine. This doesn’t have to be a structured, scheduled workout, but something you do all day long by walking more, taking the stairs, doing more physical chores around the house, etc.
Mix it up!
Too many high intensity workouts in one week can lead to overtraining, overuse injuries, burnout, inconsistent workouts or growing to hate exercise! Having some variety can help you stimulate all of your different energy systems, protect you from overuse injuries, and help you enjoy your workouts more. If you’re doing several days of cardio each week—which I hope you are!– you probably want just 1 or 2 workouts to fall into the high intensity range. You can use other workouts to target different areas of fitness (like endurance) and allow your body to recover.
Exercise Consistently: It may seem like a no-brainer that regular exercise can help you burn fat and lose weight. Yet it is not just about the calories you’re burning, but it is also about the adaptations your body makes when you exercise on a regular basis. Many of those adaptations lead directly to your ability to burn more fat without even trying. When you exercise regularly, your body becomes more efficient at delivering and extracting oxygen — Simply put, this helps your cells burn fat more efficiently. When you exercise regularly, your body also has better circulation, allowing fatty acids to move more efficiently through the blood and into the muscle. That means fat is more readily available for fueling the body. Consistency also increases the number and size of mitochondria, the cellular power plants that provide energy for the body. And of course, regular exercise will also help you manage your weight. The more activity you engage in, the more calories you’ll burn, and the easier it is to create the calorie deficit needed to lose weight.
Tips for Consistent Exercise
- 1. Schedule some exercise time every day, even if it’s just a few minutes.
- 2. Split up your workouts. You can get the same benefit from short workouts spread throughout the day as do with continuous workouts.
- 3. Change daily routines to incorporate activity. Park at the edge of the parking lot at work to add more walking time, or add an extra lap at the mall when shopping. Integrating more activity into your usual routines will help you stay active, even if you don’t have time for a structured workout.
- 4. Make exercise your focus and schedule the rest of your day around it instead of trying to squeeze it in when you can. If it’s not a priority, you won’t do it.
Lift Weights: Adding more muscle by lifting weights can also help with burning fat. Lifting weights preserves muscle mass, and by now you know that muscle is metabolically active, so when you lose it, you also lose the extra calorie-burn muscles can provide. As you lift weights, it keeps your metabolism going; a nutrition-only approach to weight loss could lower a person’s resting metabolic rate by up to 20% a day! Lifting weights and maintaining muscle helps keep the metabolism up, even if you’re cutting your calories. Weight training also helps you burn extra calories; if you lift weights at a higher intensity, you can actually increase your afterburn, or the calories you burn after your workout.
When it comes to burning more fat, you have to work at it—there is no magic!