Cardio and fat loss.
Often, when people want to lose weight, they aim straight for the cardio equipment and grind out hours upon hours of boring, monotonous steady state work.
But let's just see how much of a role cardio plays in the fat loss process…
Where Does This Myth Come From?
“You have to do cardio for 20 minutes before you burn fat”
“You have to do cardio in your fat burning zone”
“You have to do cardio first thing in the morning, fasted, to lose fat”
The above sound familiar?
They are just a few things I hear every day in the gym.
The common consensus appears to be that if you don't do 60 minutes of cardio, in your fat burning zone, then you will never lose fat.
Myths relating to cardio and fat burn have been around for a while.
It’s mainly to do with lack of education towards fat loss goals. That, and the media preaching on with their “if you eat a donut you must do X amount of minutes on the treadmill to burn X amount of calories.”
What is exercise now? A punishment when consuming a ‘treat’? I think not!
Now For The Science Part
Let's address what cardio actually is…
Cardio is a light to moderate form of exercise that can be performed for an extended period of time. The goal is to keep moving, without stopping, to burn as many calories as possible.
As we’re addressing cardio in relation to fat loss, I won't veer too far off track, but I should touch on the fact that cardio is used to improve cardiovascular health.
There are different forms of cardiovascular exercise:
- LISS (Low Intensity Steady State). This style is low intensity and is the more typical style you see in the gym. LISS sessions tend to be lengthy and often rather dull.
- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). This style incorporates bouts of exercise at very intense levels for short periods of time, followed by longer periods of lower intensity levels to recovery in preparation for the higher intensity that follows.
So with these two in mind, let's progress to the differences in efficiency for fat burn…
HIIT is the preferred training choice if you want to burn more calories in a shorter period of time. It does come with some consequences though; it is more difficult, it increases pressure on joints and can be taxing for heavier or older gym goers.
LISS is less taxing on the body and is performed for longer periods of time aerobically (with oxygen). You need to target your “fat burning zone”. This is calculated as follows:
Fat Burning Zone = 220 – (Your Age) x (.75)
You will burn fat at this intensity but in the grand scheme of things it won't be a significant amount, especially if you have a lot to lose. You could spend an hour on a treadmill, 4 times a week, and only lose 8lbs of body fat for the year. This isn't such a great loss if your goal is to lose 40-50lbs say.
Additionally, the burning “more fat” part really only relates to what substrate you’re using.
LISS uses more fat for fuel than HIIT, which places more focus on burning glycogen, but it’s crucial to note that using more fat as a substrate doesn’t directly correlate with losing more body fat. This all comes down to total calorie burn.
Above all, cardio training really isn't an efficient way to lose body fat.
So What Is A More Effective Way To Target Fat Loss?
Yes. The simplicity of eating will promote the most effective fat loss.
Is there a catch?
Well, no. Not really. You just will be required to monitor your calorie intake towards your goal and make some nutritional changes if necessary.
Performing cardio for your fat loss goals, without a proper nutrition programme in place could be disastrous.
Cardio is exercise.
Exercise increases appetite.
Without monitoring your calorie consumption from food, you could easily be eating over your requirements for fat loss without even realising. Therefore cancelling out any efforts you’ve put in.
What a waste if time hey?
Do you know what else?
You are GUARANTEED to reach your fat loss goal following a structured diet plan catered solely for you. Providing you stick to it that it.
You will not get this guarantee from cardio.
Cardio is great for health, so don't avoid it. Just don't concentrate on it solely for fat loss.
If you enjoy it then programme some cardio work into your week
But first up, work out your calories and macro requirements to meet your goals, get into a deficit and watch the fat melt off.
To further your fat loss progress – hit the weights.
Resistance training is far superior to cardio for fat loss.
The more lean muscle mass we have, the faster our metabolism, the more calories we burn.
Providing you follow an efficient nutrition plan, stimulating muscle tissue via resistance training will ensure that the body taps into the adipose fat for recovering energy.
Meaning more fat loss.
So… Pay attention to your diet, maximise your work effort and understand that it will take a little discipline and determination to lose the fat you have gained over a period of time, not just hours on the spin bike.