Since more fat is used at low exercise intensities, people often assume that low-intensity exercise is best for burning fat, an idea that has given birth to the “fat-burning zone.” However, while only a small amount of fat is used when exercising just below the lactate threshold, the rate of caloric expenditure and the total number of calories expended are much greater than they are when exercising at a lower intensity, so the total amount of fat used is also greater.
The Bottom Line: For fat and weight loss, what matters most is the difference between the number of calories you expend and the number of calories you consume. Fat and weight loss is about burning lots of calories and cutting back on the number of calories consumed. For the purpose of losing weight, it matters little whether the calories burned during exercise come from fat or carbohydrates.
SIDEBAR: Workouts for Fat Loss
To maximize your fat loss, try these workouts. For assistance in designing effective, safe workouts, consult with a certified personal trainer.
Go Hard: A great way to perform high-intensity exercise and decrease your body fat percentage is through interval training, which breaks up the work with periods of rest. Not only does interval training allow you to improve your fitness quickly; it is also more effective than continuous exercise for burning lots of calories during exercise and increasing your postworkout metabolic rate. Try one or two of these workouts each week:
- 5–6 x 3 minutes at 95%–100% maximum (max) heart rate (HR) with 2-minute active recovery periods
- 4 x 4 minutes at 95%–100% max HR with 3-minute active recovery periods
- 8–12 x 30 seconds fast with 1-minute active recovery periods
Go Very Long: Long runs or bike rides (≥ 1.5–2 hours at 65%–70% max HR) that stimulate mitochondrial synthesis and promote the depletion of glycogen threaten the muscles’ survival, since carbohydrates are muscles’ preferred fuel. In response to this threat, muscles “learn” how to use fat more effectively and over time become better fat-burning machines.
This handout is a service of IDEA, the leading international membership association in the health and fitness industry, http://www.ideafit.com/. IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 7, Number 5, May 2010