The rules of burning fat and maintaining muscle are fairly simple. What I will do is try to keep the information as diluted as possible. What you should do is make sure you are applying this if your goal is rapid fat loss. Alrighty, here we go.
Fat, ladies and gentlemen, should not be confused with all calories or all weight. It seems most people will prioritize calorie burning and weight loss over fat burning. It is easy to burn calories and lose weight. However, to make sure you are prioritizing fat loss, you need to understand the basics.
The human body has a main purpose, simply to survive. Looking as good as you can naked doesn’t quite fall into the body’s protocol. The body will maintain as much muscle that is needed to meet the demands of your life on any given day. Also, the body must protect itself from a possible nuclear winter……and the way the world is going, it might just need it….so it insulates the vital organs (mainly around the core and brain area) with adipose tissue (fat).
First thing you should be clear on is fat burns in the presence of oxygen. The process is called beta oxidation. Oxidation will increase progressively during training (or most strenuous activities). The rate of oxidation is specifically determined by the energy requirements of the muscle(s) in use (for training). Fatty acid is delivered to the muscle (more specifically the muscle mitochondria), and then is used with other sources of energy. To put this in a more dilute form. Fat burning is not instantaneous when you first begin a training session. It will take an accumulation of TUT (time under tension) to begin and amplify the process. Now, the rate this fat oxidation will happen is greatly influenced by the amount of quality muscle you have on you, the nutrition that is fueling your body and your functional ability to use the most potential muscle you can during a particular exercise. Oh, and you better believe there is a HUGE difference in quality training and crappy machine based training. With quality training, the oxidative response of the muscle will deny the fatty acids to rebuild on adipose tissue and allow even more use of fatty acids to skeletal muscle (the combination of fat oxidation and lipolysis) (4).This is the “x” factor a quality workout brings. So don’t waste time doing leg press, leg curls, machine chest fly and other ridiculous machines that just waste time. Standing up and training using free weights will eliminate the ability of the body to store fat for a good duration (sometimes referred as EPOC (excessive post exercise oxygen consumption)). What this means to you is the better your workout the more your body will allow fat to be used fuel for the muscle (lipolysis) and in turn use up that fuel (fat oxidation).
Second, the big kicker and payoff for fat oxidation to continue is your ability to bring on lypolysis. I briefly touched on this process earlier, but now I will give you a better idea of what it is. Lypolysis is the breakdown of fatty acids stored in fat cells to be used as fuel(2). This should not be confused with fat oxidation. This is really the process to “allow” the body to use more fat as fuel. The actual use of the fat fuel is oxidation. Bad news is the more advance you become at training your body, the harder you have to train next time to breakdown more fat cells. The good news is the more you impose this demand for fat oxidation the more the allotted fat it will oxidize. So, if you are advanced in training, your body will use the fat broken down more thoroughly than a beginner. Hopefully it will use all of it and not restore it. It is a never ending process of getting one step ahead of your body’s natural ability to adapt. The more endurance savvy your body becomes the more efficient it will become with fat oxidation. What happens is your body will maintain oxidation of fat BUT lipolysis will be turned off (so no more additional fat is used to fuel). What this means is if you like running or biking for miles on end, there is a limit to the amount of fat you burn before your body stops burning extra fat and simply becomes efficient fueling your body with the SAME amount of fat as always. At this point the human body is saving you a lot of energy in your exercise sessions. You don’t want this if you want to burn fat. What you want is to be able to burn more fat each time you train.
In order, to lose more fatty tissue in this example, the body’s composition must enhance muscle and size (you have to put on muscle) OR the endocrine system must become more tune to attacking body fat and leaking GH (growth hormone). Supplementation of steroids is one option bodybuilder types have used to start up lipolysis again. For those wishing to do so naturally (hopefully that is everyone), eating properly and enough of the right foods (big emphasis on protein and fat), sleeping well will help along with a quality training regiment. So, you have to fuel the muscle to grow to lose more fat, sleep to recover and allow GH to increase, and train for the gusto.
Our main purpose is to increase fat oxidation to the point it is as optimal as LEGALLY and as humanly possible. A smart colleague of mine explained it like this:
“A Honda Civic and Lamborghini Diablo sit in idle at a stoplight. Which one burns more fuel?”
It would be the Diablo, for those who don’t know much about cars. The reason….it has a bigger engine under the hood or trunk (wherever they put that engine). This relates to us as well. Honda Civic type people are too efficient at what they do. They can not expect any change, unless they get a bigger engine (more muscle). Diablo type body is there …..It’s that perfect body and can maintain fat loss easier.
Not only that, the build of the engines are different. Honda Civic is endurance type and slow. This would be a good comparison to our type 1 slow twitch muscle fibers. These muscle fibers will be with us until we die. They are the muscle behind posture and survival. Very necessary muscles but they will not give you the effects of the higher levels of fat burning you seek. Then we have the Diablos big yet silent engine. This engine explodes from 0-60 in three seconds or so. This explosive nature compares to our type 2 fast twitch muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are easy to burn out. They run out of fuel fast just like the Diablo. They also give us the ability to jump, sprint, and lift maximal weight. They don’t stick around unless you use them. When you use these type 2 fibers, your body will need more fuel (fat) to oxidize. For that reason, you will have a higher potential to burn fat and keep it off. You want to look good, you have to move heavier loads and or move at maximal speed when training.
If you are with me so far, we know we need to lose fat optimally by:
1. Eating properly and enough (can’t stress that enough…you need to eat enough)
2. Train like you mean it. If you go to the gym to sit on a machine you won’t get much but a waste of time. Use the free weights and lift properly.
3. Sleep well. The body heals during your sleep and it also amplifies your GH output.
Now, fat oxidation can and will happen by aerobics and other forms of energy systems training. A dreadful long term 25k jog on the treadmill will yield fat oxidation, but it will also use just about everything else in the body to get done. Aerobics burns calories. There is a supposed fat burning zone and caloric burning zone. The fat burning zone is at a lower heart rate. This theoretically will allow for the body to only use fat. The caloric burning zone is higher and will burn calories including calories coming from fat. Let’s look at both of them:
o The major problem with the fat burning zone is the gawd-forsaken length of time you have to do it in. It simply is not optimal or efficient for most lifestyles to do aerobics for close to an hour. Not only that, the amount of fat is very minimal and your body easily adapts and prevents anymore major caloric burning.
o Then there is the caloric zone. This type of aerobics will be a shorter term for time. It is much more optimal in time, but it comes with a fallback. It burns fat and can easily burn muscle up as well. One way to prevent or minimize the cannibalization of the hard earned muscle is to do quality resistance training before aerobics. Most likely, the body will not make a meal out of the muscles that were just used.
Another form of fat burning training is high intensity interval training (HIIT). This method can be a hybrid between aerobics and resistance training. More effectively it is a maximal power combined with low impact aerobic training effort. HIIT can be coupled with training to make the fat oxidation process as fast as humanly known. For average Joe or Jane, fat oxidation with aerobics is its highest at a low to moderate intensity. However, advanced to elite athletes will find the highest fat oxidation when more a demanding intensity is placed on the body (5, 2). Maximum oxygen consumption type intensity would be a wise choice for a more advanced athlete/trainee. This training is about 3 -5 minutes long. 80 -85% of max force must be applied for short bursts, while longer duration can fall to moderate max force (1). How’s that for a fast fat burning bout!
EPOC is an effect more than a way of training. Although fat oxidation will happen during a resistance training session, it is after doing resistance training that the body will go through EPOC. What it actually does is attempt to bring your body to a recovery “normal” state, after the trauma of the session. The body actually oxidizes a whole mess of fatty acids as it calms itself and recovers. This effect can happen up to a few hours after training. Aerobics alone will most likely produce a catabolic effect (muscle wasting). Hence, a more moderate intensity of training will allow for greater fat oxidation (2, 3, 5) and combine this with a very high intense bout. The reason I say to supplement the training with bouts of high intensity is because the predominant method the body will use energy for very intense exercises is carbohydrates (glycolysis) metabolism. Unfortunately, the process of lipolysis and fat oxidation do not happen at the same time. Your body will either burn the fat OR begin gathering more fat together to get burned. So, high intensity training will block fat oxidation (2, 4) but increase lipolysis.
When it comes to burning the maximum amount of fat while sparing the muscle, these two methods should be combined. First, quality resistance training (a combination of moderate and high intensity) will spark the flame that begins to grow as the session goes. Next aerobics will take the flame and bring about an inferno. Finally, the EPOC effect will continue the fat burning for hours after training. This is fat oxidation at its finest and the key to shedding the unwanted fat and maintaining muscle.
1. Tudor O. Bompa, PhD., Michael C. Carrera. Periodization Training For Sports 2nd edition. 29-35, 1999.
2. E.T. Poehlman, A.W. Gardner, P.J. Arciero, M.I. Goran and J. Calles-Escandon. Effects Of Endurance Training On Total Fat Oxidation In Elderly Persons. Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol 76 Issue 6.
3. Jeffrey F. Horowitz, Amy E. Kaufman, Amanda K. Fox, and Matthew P. Harber. Energy Deficit Without Reducing Dietary Carbohydrate Alters Resting Carbohydrate Oxidation And Fatty Acid Availability. J Appl Physiol 98, December 17, 2004.
4. Knechtle B. Exercise Intensity And Fat Burning-Theoretical Principles And Practical Considerations. Schweiz Rundsch Med Prax. 2002 May 22
5. Bergman BC, Butterfield GE, Wolfel EE, Casazza GA, Lopaschuk GD, Brooks GA. Evaluation Of Exercise And Training On Muscle Lipid Metabolism. AM J Physiol. Jan 1999.