A question I get asked all the time is, ‘what’s the best form of cardio for fat loss?’
The body uses different energy systems at different times and under different stimulus. How long you train for, how hard you train and what you eat all impact whether you burn carbohydrate stores or fat stores.
High intensity training often requires carbohydrate levels as an energy source. Long duration steady state cardio (jogging, long walks) is well known to tap into your fat burning system.
Great! So, I’ll just do long cardio then. Well, hold on…
The reason body builders have such little fat is because they train at such a high intensity (lifting weights) that their increased muscle density and mass requires more calories - which they get from their fat stores while resting. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to reap these benefits, you just need to train at your threshold to make your body crave calories while you are working, resting and sleeping.
Fat loss occurs when we are in a marginal calorie deficit, how we achieve this is the real question. Too large a deficit and our body will adapt negatively, sapping us of energy, keeping us fat and potentially making us ill. If there’s a surplus of calories, then we don’t burn our fat stores, we just add to them. We must find a balance.
Both high intensity and long duration cardio have a place if used properly. If you exercise for a long period (run, bike, row), make sure that you are using it to create the margin deficit. If you fuel your long cardio with high carbs or don’t train for long enough then you may not reach the fat burning stage. If you train at a high intensity (HIIT, circuits, spinning) you will need to fuel your workout appropriately and train hard enough to improve your fat burning capability while resting.
How much time you have will dictate which cardio variation you choose. If you make the time to do long runs and bike rides, then combine it with intense forms of cardio. If your time is limited, then you may need to rely on the higher intensity workout.
If you’re training for a sport or event, then the type of cardio you choose should be relative and specific to the demands of your goal. If you are trying to increase your marathon time, then manipulating your carbs while training may be a good option. If you are training for high-power sports, then a two-hour run might not be for you.
Neither is right or wrong, it just needs the correct approach.
The bottom line? In most cases, consistency trumps technicality. If you want to lose body fat, choose a cardio that you enjoy and are most likely to stick to. We are what we do most, not what we do sometimes!
Hope this helps, but if you need any further advice please drop me a line.