Hide a pound of butter in the garage…..ok, that’s probably not helpful.
Seriously though, as I have said before, it can be a complex answer, but there are things we can do when designing your program that can set you up for maximum success.
Let’s start with the most common myth: that low-intensity exercise is best for burning fat (usually cardio). Yes, it is true that during exercise at a very low intensity, studies have shown that most of the energy expenditure comes from fat (as a percentage), and while at a moderate intensity, fat accounts for only about 50 percent of the energy used. True, but here is the thing: since the number of calories burned per minute is much greater at a moderate to high intensity than at a low intensity, the total number of calories expended is greater than it is during a low- intensity workout of the same duration. That all means the total number of fat calories burned is also greater during the higher-intensity workout.
So to burn more fat, you need to burn more calories – and what is better: an hour walking (a 160lb person will burn 202 calories walking for an hour), or 30 minutes running or cycling moderately hard (288 calories burned)? The higher intensity by far – as it not only burns more calories and therefore more fat, it actually causes you to get more fit, where walking may not. That said, if you are just starting out, and have a ways to go – in which case walking is in fact, perfect for beginners!
High endurance-trained individuals rely on carbohydrates and fat as a fuel source during submaximal exercise and for you, the more aerobically trained you become, the more fat you will burn in your exercise sessions. Bottom line: Cardio is good, and moderate to high intensity when you are fit enough to handle that safely.
There is another way to decrease body fat percentage that does not necessarily mean you have to use fat as a fuel during exercise, you can actually burn fat while you are NOT exercising!
You see, much of the fat from adipose tissue (the kind under your skin, as opposed to intramuscular fat, which is primarily used during exercise) is lost in the hours following exercise when muscle uses it as a fuel source. Further, the amount of fat lost after a workout depends partly on the exercise intensity during the workout.
If you workout with high-intensity, the rate of fat burning is higher than it is following low-intensity exercise and there are studies to prove it. Using High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) the workout is broken up with periods of rest, and not only is it fun, but the body is challenged to adapt, and grow stronger. It is a great way to decrease body fat percentage the quickest.
Both strength training and endurance exercise have been shown to decrease body fat percentage but according to three different studies, aerobic exercise appears to have a greater impact on fat loss than does strength training.
My experience and another study show that a combination of endurance and strength training results in more fat loss than just cardio or just strength training alone. As well, activities that incorporate many muscle groups and are weight bearing use more calories per minute and are therefore better suited for fat loss than non-weight-bearing activities that do not use many muscles. We do also know that strength training makes muscles more dense and active, which has muscles burn fat while you sleep when they repair and grow, which is awesome! Plus, you become stronger and more functional, so you can handle more intensity in your cardio training, which burns more fat and the cycle constantly improves upon itself.
So apart from hiding butter in the garage, a balance of cardio and strength training at moderate to high intensity is clearly the best way to lose (burn) fat and get lean. (assuming that you are eating well…..)