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The Fat Burning Zone

What is the elusive Fat Burning Zone?

The fat burning zone is the popular method of not doing very much at all to try and cause a massive fat burning effect! Ok so I am being a little flippant. Let me explain why.

The fat burning zone is an level of physical effort where it is thought that the body uses a greater percentage of calories from body fat, as opposed to muscular glycogen stores. The lower the effort the larger amount of energy comes from body fat. Hence why I say it is a method of not doing much at all. Generally the lower the heart rate the more fat burning is occurring.

It appears to be the method of choice, only this morning did I read a post on social media where somebody said “I am not lifting weights until I lose some body fat doing cardio”. I assume they are going to be exercising in the fat burning zone! The reality is the weight training would be far better!

You will see rows of treadmills, cross trainers, steppers, bikes and other contraptions with a button for “fat burning”, sometimes another one for weight loss. Should there be a difference? The manufacturers of the machines think so. You may also see a chart indicating optimum zones for burning fat based on heart rate.

What is my problem with the fat burning zone?

There are a few, I will keep them brief. Each or all of these are likely not considered when people follow this zone.

1) You burn very few total calories exercising at this low heart rate. Compare this to some tough interval training or resistance training and you are not even close, even if more fat is fuelling the work. It is still less overall.

2) It does not take into account your nutrition which can influence whether you burn more or less fat/carbohydrates at rest.

3) It does not take into account what happens after the training session – repairing muscle damage, changes in protein synthesis, metabolism.

4) It neglects the fact that fat burning is not a per session thing, it is more long term. You need to be looking at what happens over the week, not just one session.

5) People adopt a “I ate 400 calories, so I can burn 400 in the fat burning zone” attitude – which never seems to work out that well, certainly when actually calculating true caloric expenditure is pretty tough.

Your nutrition and stress influence your fat burning

Take a police officer for example, in fact take anyone dealing with stresses. You get a fight or flight response and your body will raise blood sugar! This sugar might not actually be needed, so it will get stored. Stored or used an your body senses the crash and you may reach for sugary snacks to pick your sugar back up. The cycle continues.

Over time this bombardment of sugar shifts your body into being awesome at using sugars, it is how your body learns to survive. It needs to reach a happy place for blood sugar levels and will quite gladly store them as body fat for a later time. It is okay though, because you are constantly fuelling with sugar your body will learn to use this quite well to fuel activity. You have plenty in supply so it sees no need to use fat stores. Why use fat, when it can just use sugar!

So you may think you are exercising in the fat burning zone, yet internally you may actually still be burning up sugar. You may think this is not so bad, however you need to be honest with yourself. It doesn’t matter what training you do, if you have not given your body a chance to learn to use fat through effective dietary measures then do not be surprised if it stays clinging to you!

Do not be limited by fat burning zones, look at fat loss as something your daily choices influence, not the 40 minutes on the cross trainer!

Part of my nutrition coaching business is educating people on such things. So if you are struggling to change your body shape and not sure where to start please do get in touch. However I will not work with everyone, there needs to be some commitment to change on your part and I only have a couple of slots open for those who want to be coached on their nutrition! You can find details here and apply via this page.

Alternatively get in touch via twitter or facebook.

Or read more of my articles on my personal training blog.

Or post a question in the comments field.


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