Trying to burn away excess fat can be a very frustrating experience. Sometimes, it can seem like the fat is just clinging to your body and refuses to go away. If you feel like you are working hard but still looking fat, this article might be able to help.
For our purposes, we are going to think of your excess fat as an enemy. Like any enemy, this one can be defeated. However, it is very difficult to defeat an enemy that you do not understand. With this in mind, we will attempt to educate you about how your body burns energy.
The Human Body Runs On Three Different Fuel Sources
As you surely know, the body takes in calories when you eat, and these are converted to cellular energy (adenosine triphosphate or ATP). However, there are many different kinds of calories, and the body uses them in different ways. Most of these calories can be classified in one of three categories: Carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
Protein is the hardest one for the body to process. Hence, it tends to be digested last. By contrast, carbohydrates are the easiest to utilize. Thus, they tend to be used first. As for our target, the fat is right there in the middle. It is neither the first nor the last fuel to be used.
How Your Body Uses The Three Fuels
Carbohydrates are converted into blood glucose and used immediately, or stored as glycogen. Either way, these are the body’s “fast-food,” only without all that grease. At the outset of your workout, the body will mostly be burning glycogen. You’re still burning calories, but not the right kind.
After a certain point, your body will begin using approximately 50% carbs and 50% fat. At this point, you should have a good level of exertion going, and your breathing should be a little bit heavy. After a little longer, you begin to burn more fat. This continues until you reach the point of muscle exhaustion.
The Two Transitions
After reading the above, you might be wondering how you can measure your level of exertion. If you want to keep yourself in a fat-burning state for as long as possible, you definitely need some feedback. Thankfully, you don’t have to do anything crazy like hook yourself to a machine.
Instead of trying to use some complex biofeedback system which many people can’t afford, some people have chosen to divide the process by looking at its two transitional points. These transitional points are called VT1 and VT2. In case you’re wondering, VT stands for ventilatory threshold.
Some studies refer to VT1 as the “anaerobic threshold.” It marks the point at which breathing rate increases and the body begins to burn a roughly equal amount of carbs and fat. VT2 marks the point at which the muscles begin to reach exhaustion.
Exhaustion is caused by a substance called lactate that builds up in the muscles as you exercise. After a while, the amount of lactate becomes more than the capillaries of the muscles can handle, and the result is muscle failure. You may remember from our previous article that short-twitch muscle fibers have more capillaries (small blood vessels), and so they can resist lactate-induced exhaustion for a little longer.
How Do I Know Which State I Am In?
The test is so simple that it might surprise you. We already looked at this link, but let’s take a second look.
When you enter VT1, your muscles have already begun to build up their lactate and hinder your breathing. As you enter VT2 mode, you have to breathe even harder to overcome the lactate-induced exhaustion. Because of these changes in your respiratory rate, you can see which state you are in by using a talking test.
Once you hit VT1, talking becomes difficult. Once you hit VT2, it becomes almost impossible. A person in a VT2 state should only be able to say a word or two in between breaths. Thus, all you have to do is open your mouth and try to talk! When it becomes difficult, you’re in VT1. When it becomes nearly impossible, you’re in VT2.
Is There An Optimal “Fat Burning Zone?”
This is a complicated question that lacks a simple answer. However, we will try to make it as uncomplicated as possible. As we already explained, your body will burn its carbs and sugars first. In case you didn’t know, all carbohydrates are technically classified as sugars due to their similar behaviors and molecular structures.
One popular theory is the idea that you can maximize fat burning by keeping your heart rate in a certain range. This range is often referred to as the “fat burning zone.” The idea is somewhat controversial. Many people have called it a myth, but there does seem to be some evidence behind its claims.
In this study, and others like it, researchers determined the maximum heart rate for each person in the study group. Then, they used that number (combined with a heart monitor) to find the exact heart rate at which the body will burn its fat with the greatest efficiency.
Based on the evidence presented, it seems that there is good evidence for the idea of a “fat burning zone.” The scientists who conducted both of these studies found that a certain heart rate would contribute to a higher level of fat oxidation. However, these numbers vary from one study to another. In the first one, the ideal range is supposed to be 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. The second one gives a range of 65-70%.
We can easily explain these discrepancies by pointing out the highly individualized nature of the measurements. We think that someone made a poor choice when they decided to use the subjects’ maximum heart rate as the yardstick with which to measure these lines. There is just too much individual variation for that concept to work in a consistent way. That is why we recommend the “talk test” that is explained in the section above.
How Do I Use This Knowledge?
Now that we have gotten past the intelligence-gathering phase, it is time to plan your attack. The first thing you can do is incorporate the “talk test” into your normal workout routine. By doing this, you can learn to gauge your progress and keep track of your body’s metabolic state at all times.
Your goal should be to reach VT1 as quickly as possible. Therefore, the initial phase of your workout should be fast and explosive. Do something that is kind of difficult to ensure that you clear the initial metabolic hurdle as quickly as possible. Once you get there, you should slow down a little bit. Remember, optimal fat burning as achieved at approximately 60-80% of your maximum breathing rate.
We want to emphasize that these little tricks will only help you to a certain extent. Regardless of whether you burn fat or carbs, your body still needs to burn the same total number of calories if you hope to lose weight. These metabolic manipulations will help you to optimize the process and hopefully speed things up, but they are not magic spells, and they will not solve your problem unless combined with a calorie-minded mentality.
If you take in more calories than you burn, you are going to gain weight. The reverse is also obviously true. There is no way around this basic fact of life, so you’re going to need to reduce your caloric intake if you hope to lose weight. The idea is to burn more calories than you eat.
Cardio Or Resistance?
This is perhaps the most important question we will answer today. For purposes of fat burning, most people prefer either cardio or resistance training. Both of these exercise types should be effective if used correctly, as both will allow you to vary the intensity as needed. That being said, cardio seems to be slightly more effective in terms of calories burned.
Most authorities seem to agree that cardio is the better choice for burning maximum calories. However, we can use this calorie calculator to check for ourselves. If we assume a weight of 180 pounds, and a workout time of one hour, we get these values for the following cardio exercises:
- Bicycling: 697 calories burned
- Power Walking (5 mph): 656 calories burned
- General Running: 656 calories burned
- Aerobic Conditioning (general): 492 calories burned
- Punching bag training: 492 calories burned
Now let’s look at some values for various types of resistance training:
- Light/Moderate Weight Lifting: 246 calories burned
- Intense Weight Lifting: 492 calories burned
Although cardio burns more calories, the argument isn’t totally settled. Excessive cardio can result in muscle loss, as the body end up feeding on its own stored muscle protein in order to maintain body weight. Weight training might not burn as many calories, but it will preserve your muscle gains.
This study is somewhat interesting, as it may help to strike a balance between these two styles. In this study, researchers found that people who lifted weights in their spare time were more likely to achieve and maintain weight loss. This would suggest that there is another mechanism at play and that pure calorie-burning ability is not the only important thing to consider.
With this evidence in mind, we recommend that you use a program of variable-speed cardio, combined with a moderate amount of resistance training. Focus more on the cardio, doing it every day. The weight lifting can be done 1-3 times per week, and need not be completely exhaustive. Use intense cardio to get to a VT1 state, and then slow it down a little bit to keep your heart rate in the right range.
The Essential Factor Of Diet
As we mentioned earlier, cutting your calories will be necessary. To lose weight, you must create a caloric deficit. There is no way to cheat this natural law, even if there are ways to make things a little easier.
This means avoiding foods that are fatty or fried. Anything that has been dipped in grease (like french fries or buffalo wings) is a particularly bad idea. Dairy tends to have a lot of fat, so hold it down to a bare minimum or cut it out entirely.
Carbohydrates will be your biggest enemy in this endeavor. You want your body to enter a fat-burning state as easily as possible, so you want to minimize the number of carbs in your system so as to cut straight to the fat-burning phase.
Fruits and vegetables are the best things to eat when attempting to lose weight, as they are high in nutrients and low in calories. Nuts and seeds can be a good way to go, and are a great way to get your protein without needing to eat meat or eggs, both of which are pretty fatty. Research indicates that a low-fat, low-carb diet is the most effective option. The study also found that personal dietary preferences will play some role in a person’s ability to continue with a strict diet.
A Final Word Of Warning:
While doing the research for this article, we came across this interesting study. According to this research, people are much more likely to over-eat after finishing an exercise routine that is labeled as a “fat-burning” routine.
So, people do a workout routine that is supposed to burn fat. After doing this, they feel that they can get away with eating a large meal, and they do so. Make sure that you don’t fall prey to this temptation, or you will just be running in place forever.
Although it isn’t easy to shed those jelly rolls, we believe that anyone can muster the discipline and the energy to do so. If our instructions have been unclear in any way, please feel free to follow us on Facebook so that we can stay in contact and bring you more interesting articles like this one, as well as answer any questions that you might have.