When most people think of fat loss, the first thing that comes to mind is endless hours of cardio. We have all read those article which claim that we need to be in the “fat burning zone” while performing cardio to have any chance to losing fat. So… is this true? Let’s take a look at what the science says…
HOW FAT LOSS OCCURS
To lose fat we must be in a sustained energy imbalance between energy intake from food and energy expenditure. Put simply, the only way to burn fat is to expend more energy than we consume from food.
WHERE WE GET ENERGY FROM
Yes, you guessed it – FOOD!
- Protein – 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram
- Fats – 9 calories per gram
- Alcohol – 7 calories per gram
HOW WE BURN CALORIES
Our bodies expend energy through the following ways:
- Our basal metabolic rate (BMR) – the amount of energy required to maintain the body’s vital functions while at rest
- The thermic effect of food (TEF) – the calories expended in processing the food we eat
- The thermic effect of activity (TEA) – the energy expended during physical activity in the form of exercise
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) – the energy burned from activities other than exercise (eg. taking the stairs, walking around the shops, housework, etc)
SO WHERE DOES CARDIO FIT IN?
As we can see, exercise is just one method for burning calories. And cardio is just one form of exercise. Therefore, a calorie deficit can be achieved by reducing your food intake alone OR by adding in cardio OR a combination of both.
Cardio can become useful when you don’t want to reduce calories or reducing your food intake further would be detrimental to your energy levels and performance. Therefore, if your primary goal is to improve your body composition then cardio should be used as a tool only.
But…cardio IS good for our health isn’t it?
Cardio can reduce the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and other diseases as well as improving lung and heart function, mood and increasing feelings of wellbeing – all while burning calories.
SO WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Cardio does have many health benefits, so it shouldn’t be avoided. With that being said, it shouldn’t be the focus of your fat loss either. If you enjoy it, then add some cardio into your routine.
My recommendation however, is to calculate your calorie and macro requirements to ensure that you are in a calorie deficit. If you really want to accelerate your fat loss, then hit the weights. Weight training is far more effective than cardio for fat loss. Why? Because the more lean muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism becomes, and you burn more calories as a result.
Therefore to lose fat effectively:
1. Calculate your calorie intake
2. Start weight training if you aren’t already
3. Track your progress
4. Add cardio when needed to ensure fat loss continues
5. Get results!