Hello, blog readers! Welcome to Empower Blog: Mythbusters edition, your bi-monthly debunking of common fitness misconceptions! This episode will explore the idea that long duration endurance training (Cardio, as most people refer to it) is the best way tone up – NOPE! It isn’t. For everyone running to stay looking lean, there’s a better option!
Even though it isn’t the overall best way to get lean, there certainly is merit to the idea that cardio training burns fat. Long duration exercise taps into your body’s aerobic energy pathway. Without going into unnecessary detail, I’ll try to explain why this can be used to lower fat mass. It’s called beta-oxidation – the process by which your body breaks down adipose tissue (fat molecules) to use for energy; every Beta Oxidation cycle yields much more ATP (our body’s form of energy) than any energy yielding process that involves glucose (the sugar we burn to create energy) or glycogen (the stored form of glucose in our body). However, it takes much longer for this reaction to occur because it doesn’t start until most of the stored glycogen reserves are depleted. While the human body is designed to work aerobically (in the presence of oxygen), we are also designed to burn energy sources that can be quickly replenished (Carbohydrates and sugars) when our bodies are stressed. So how does this pertain to long duration exercise? As you begin your long distance workout, your body gets placed under stress and will begin to use up its quick energy stores. Once those stores are used up, it will then switch over to fat burning. Unfortunately, beta-oxidation doesn’t really become efficient until about 20-30 minutes into the workout, meaning you have to be running for quite some time to really begin burning off fat stores.
So what’s the best way then? The answer is High-Intensity exercise, and here’s why:
Like I previously stated, our body likes to use its quick energy stores when a stressor is placed on it. During strength training or other high intensity exercises (sprinting, plyometrics, etc) our body uses different energy systems: the anaerobic pathways which utilize Creatine Phosphate and Glucose. These systems can be replenished quickly once they are depleted, which is usually why rest-times are recommended during strength training or sprint training – because your body can’t continuously work at such a high-intensity. Beta-oxidation and aerobic-glycolysis take much too long to occur to produce enough energy for these types of exercises. I’m sure you all are wondering, “Well Empower Blog writer, if these exercises don’t burn fat, then how can it possibly be a better way to get lean?” The answer to that lies in what occurs AFTER your workout. After your workout, your muscles are so depleted of its quick energy stores that the body enters a state called Excitatory Post Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). During this phase of recovery, your body is no longer under a stress and will switch over to its only available energy system: Fat oxidation. Your muscles have been broken down by your workout and need to be repaired. The energy for these repairs can only come from one place: your body’s fat stores. For up to two hours post-exercise, your body is burning fat to repair your musculature. Additionally, the human body adapts to strength and power training by enlarging it’s muscle fibers. During the day, your muscles still require energy even while you aren’t working out. This means that during your day, your body is burning fat because it isn’t placed under a stressor. Bigger muscles = a larger energy requirement, therefore, people with more muscle mass burn more fat calories at rest than do people with less muscle mass. Plus, having more muscle on your body will create that leaner, toned, look that people are looking for! Make sense?
This doesn’t mean don’t do cardio. By all means, go running; do long duration exercises. They have a ton of benefit to overall health and well-being, but if you are specifically looking for the best way to get lean and toned, then definitely look to add a strength training regimen to your exercise schedule!
With all that being said, I officially declare this myth BUSTED! As always, stay awesome and we’ll see you next time on EMPOWER Blog: Mythbusters Edition!
Have a myth that you’d like to be debunked? Leave your suggestion in the comment section below or on any of our social media sites!