People exercise for a variety of reasons including better health, more energy, building muscle, looking better and simply to get fit but the most common reason for exercise is arguably weight loss.
A large and ever growing percentage of the population is overweight and even obese so it’s not surprising that many of us are acutely aware of how much we weigh and want to take steps to lose body fat. Being overly fat can have a big impact on your health so if you want to live a long and healthy life, it is important to achieve and maintain your ideal weight.
What is fat?
Fat is simply stored energy. When you eat, the calories contained in your food is used for powering various functions within your body and anything left over is converted to fat or, more properly, adipose tissue. Different foods contain differing amounts of energy. Where protein and carbohydrate contains four calories per gram, fat contains nine and alcohol contains seven so not only can the quantity of the food you eat affect your fat stores, but the type of food too. Eating too much or doing too little activity will result in an energy surplus and that is the cause of fat accumulation.
Losing weight through dieting
It’s clear that what you eat is an important consideration when discussing weight loss and subsequently many people adopt a reduced calorie diet to help them burn fat. This typically involves following a low fat diet, cutting carbs or simply eating less of everything.
If a dietary intervention is going to work, it needs to result in a calorific deficit so that your body will turn to fat for energy. You have to go “overdrawn” at the calorie bank and spend that energy you’ve been saving!
However, too big a deficit may trigger something called “the starvation response”…
The starvation response is your body’s way of protecting itself from famine; it simply does not know you are voluntarily eating too little. As far as your body is concerned your wellbeing is being threatened by low food supplies and so it takes steps to ensure your survival.
The starvation response results in:
- Lowered metabolic rate
- The use of muscle for fuel
- Increased fat storage ability
- Increased hunger
Needless to say, the starvation response can make losing weight harder than it needs to be!
To avoid triggering the starvation response, simply avoid cutting your food intake too aggressively and that means no hyper-strict, fad diets which leave you hungry 24/7. Instead, only reduce your food intake to around 250-500 calories per day below what you need to maintain your current weight. Yes, this will mean you lose weight slowly but that’s a lot better than losing it fast and then regaining whatever you lost and more.
Exercising to lose weight
Another way to create an energy deficit so that your body uses fat for fuel is to add exercise to your weight loss routine. Exercise, like all physical activity, burns calories although how many depends on several factors including intensity, your weight, and your current level of fitness. Exercise can use a lot of energy and where walking a mile typically uses around 50 calories, running a mile uses closer to 100.
Slower-paced cardio is often closely associated with fat loss as, when you exercise at a low to moderate level of intensity, you are said to be in your “fat burning zone” where fat is the primary source of energy. However, while this is the case, you don’t exactly use a lot of fat during these kinds of workouts. A little fat goes a long way and a single pound of fat will power you through 35 miles of running!
In contrast, interval training, where short bouts of high intensity exercise are alternated with brief rests, burns less fat but more calories overall simply because it is a less efficient form of exercise.
Additionally, interval training also increases your metabolic rate for several hours after exercise which results in an even greater calorific expenditure. It certainly makes sense to include interval training in your weight loss workouts.
To try interval training for yourself, warm up for five minutes and then alternate sprinting for 30 seconds with jogging for 90. Do six to ten “sets” and then cool down for five minutes. While you might not have burnt as much fat, you’ll have burnt more calories compared to a more sedately-paced workout.
Cardio exercise is not the only way to lose weight; strength training can also be very beneficial. Although strength training generally uses fewer calories per minute, it can increase your muscle mass and the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you burn even at rest. Yes, building muscle means you’ll burn more calories while you sleep too!
The right solution
When it comes to losing weight, dieting alone can leave you hungry and relying solely on exercise can leave you tired so the best approach is a holistic one that involves both. When combined together diet and exercise work synergistically to give you far better results compared to when used alone. It’s a case of one plus one making three! So, for effective and efficient fat loss, remember:
- Reduce your food intake to slightly below maintenance and avoid starving yourself
- Include cardio in your workout routine to use additional calories
- Try some interval training to really pump up your energy expenditure
- Build some muscle to increase your fat burning capabilities even while you sleep
- Remember that slow but steady fat loss is better than fast but unsustainable; 1-2 pounds per week is about right
Losing weight can often seem like a very complicated undertaking but really, it doesn’t have to be. Just eat a little less, move a little more and, providing you create an energy deficit, you will lose weight.