When most people think of fat loss, the first thing that comes to mind is doing endless hours of cardio. We have all read those articles which claim that we need to be in the “fat burning zone” while performing cardio to boost our fat loss results.
There’s no question that cardiovascular exercise is great for burning calories as well as reducing 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. But is it essential for fat loss to occur?
Let’s take a look at what the science says…
HOW FAT LOSS OCCURS
In order to lose fat, there is one requirement – you MUST ensure that you are in a calorie deficit. This means that you are burning more calories than you are consuming. We can achieve this in a number of ways:
- Reducing calorie intake
- Adding in/increasing exercise
- A combination of both
Therefore, a calorie deficit can be achieved by reducing the amount of calories you consume on a daily basis alone OR by adding in/increasing a form of exercise to your routine OR a combination of both. Performing cardio is therefore not a requirement to lose fat.
IS CARDIO THE BEST FORM OF EXERCISE?
Cardio is just one form of exercise that helps with burning calories, but it’s not the best form of exercise to focus on when trying to lose fat. If your goal is to improve your body composition, weight training should ideally be your focus because it helps with retaining and building muscle. When you increase your muscle mass, you increase your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn at rest). Muscle tissue requires more calories to function than fat tissue, so the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn per day!
SO WHERE DOES CARDIO FIT IN?
Cardio can become a useful tool when you don’t want to reduce your calories or if reducing your food intake further would be detrimental to your energy levels, training performance and compliance.
If you enjoy cardio, then by all means add some into your routine – but don’t make it the focus of your fat loss efforts. Studies have shown that excessive aerobic activity can decrease testosterone levels, increase cortisol production, weaken the immune system, limit strength gains, and severely impact muscle growth.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
In order to optimise your fat loss results, our recommendation is to calculate the amount of calories you need to be eating each day to ensure that you are in a calorie deficit. The next step from there is to calculate how much protein you should be eating (we recommend aiming for 1.6-2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight). Then, hit the weights! As we explained earlier, weight training will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to increasing your metabolic rate and making fat loss easier. Aim for a minimum of 3 x weight training sessions per week for best results. To measure whether you are making progress towards your fat loss goals, track your progress using body weight, body circumference measurements and photos. If progress stalls, reduce your calorie intake further or add in some cardio to increase calorie expenditure. Reassess and repeat as necessary until you achieve your goal.
Here’s a summary and action plan:
- Calculate your calorie intake for fat loss
- Eat the right amount of protein
- Start weight training if you aren’t already
- Track your progress
- Reduce your calorie intake or add cardio when fat loss plateaus
- Reassess and repeat
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