You probably “burn more fat” sitting on the couch than you do in your “30-minute bout of exercise in the Fat Burning Zone”. That sounds pretty ridiculous right? Remember the numbers 13 & 87, then let me explain why.
The reality is that many people struggle to lose weight, and misleading messages from the fitness community do more harm and confusion than good. Heart rate zones are represented pretty poorly. You’ve probably saw the charts on the treadmills or seen things that say you need to have your heart rate in this range otherwise you can’t “burn fat”. We are really missing the boat if we just look at the small-time frame, 30 minutes – 1 hour- whatever, you are exercising to determine how much “fat was burned”. We have to see this in a larger window of a day if we want a meaningful impact on weight loss or body composition.
Oh yea, and our body is at all times burning fat to keep us going. That’s why we store so much of it and why when we lose actual weight it’s from fat storage. So yes, you could potentially burn more fat watching an entire season of Game of Thrones than you would in 30 minutes in the “fat burning zone” on the elliptical.
When we exercise for longer periods of time it’s normally at a pretty low intensity. Long physiologic process short- we burn stored fat to fuel that exercise demand. In that time of exercising we essentially burned a greater number of fat calories compared to carbohydrate calories. That’s just the way our body uses energy. But, just because you exercised and “burned fat” doesn’t mean you’re promised to trim fat around your stomach.
On the other hand, if your cardio is high intensity, your body burns carbohydrates and that’s because your body doesn’t have time to utilize oxygen and break down fats.
Dang, does that mean high intensity cardio doesn’t burn any fat? At that moment, no it doesn’t, but what happens is it does after the time period the cardio session was completed. We call it post exercise oxygen consumption. That’s the period of increased oxygen uptake after a really hard cardio session. Your body burns calories well after you’re done exercising. Sounds great right? Don’t be fooled, It’s not that great.
Let’s look at some research. You can measure exact calories burned from a device that analyzes your breath. It’s pretty cool actually. So, they took people and had them do 1 of 3 things:
Rest for 1 hour: it burned 125 calories
10 minutes of rest + 50 min of continuous cycling: it burned 547 calories
40 mins of rest + 20min High Intensity Intervals: it burned 352 calories
That was one hour of the day, so what about the other 23 hours they rested or did their normal day?
In 24 hours total the results were:
The person who rested for 1 hour: they burned 3005 calories in a day
The person who did 10 minutes of rest + 50 min of continuous cycling burned 3464 calories in a day
The person who did 40 mins of rest + 20min High Intensity Intervals burned 3368 calories in a day
So, it seems that high intensity cardio didn’t burn as many overall calories in a day than the long duration group. It was fairly close but still less. And obviously the person who didn’t exercise at all burned the least number of overall calories.
I can see your face now, “DB, why did I just waste time reading that? You said that you burn more fat by sitting down watching Netflix? You’re crazy! It clearly says the people in the fat burning zone burned the greatest number of calories?”.
If that was your first thought, I will put money on the fact that you have struggled to lose weight at some point in your life. And if I’m correct by that statement, I’m sorry that you’ve struggled and been frustrated because of how the fitness community gives you information.
Here is while that ideology has failed you in the past.
Let’s use our example from earlier: 3005 average at rest / 3464 average with 50 minutes of cardio = ~87%.
That means the time you spent in the gym focusing so heavily on your cardio amounted to 13% of the total calories you burned that day.
If you want the best for yourself then why do you neglect the other 87%?
Here is what I mean: the two people (a & b) burn the same total calories in a day ~3500
Person A: they live their life normally, go to the gym on a regular basis, eat 3 meals a day, snack occasionally. This person constantly loses and gains weight back.
Person B: they live their life normally, go to the gym on a regular basis, eat 3 meals a day, snack occasionally. This person consistently loses and keeps the weight off.
Person A “tries” to eat healthy. They eat some meats, veggies, stays away from lots of junk food. But some days they eat 3000 calories and some days they eat 4000 calories. Their weight always fluctuates. This leads to frustration.
Person B knows that they have to eat less calories than what their body uses in a day. Their goal is to eat around 2900 calories every day, but they know some days are hard, so they always cap it at 3500 calories. Person B consistently loses weight.
Plot twist here comes person C! They do nothing but binge watch Netflix and give terrible fitness advice on the internet. From earlier we know that person burns about 3000 calories. They only consume 2500 calories for the day, and they lose body fat. And those are the people you want to strangle because they don’t have to do anything to be skinny, they just exist.
I didn’t write this to give you an out for your previous weight loss journey or an excuse as to why you shouldn’t focus on your cardio or give up. I wrote this because you can succeed in losing weight. You already understand the importance of the 13% and now you’re aware of the 87%.
Stop looking through the peep hole and start looking out the window.
The calorie numbers above are different for every single person based on their lives. If you need help determining those numbers and what it will take for you to see the consistent results you desire. Click below and lets do it together.