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Is Cardio Necessary For Fat Loss?

Is Cardio Necessary for Fat Loss?: No actually, you are better off without it…

Resistance Training is better than cardio for fat loss…

    In the 1980’s commercial gyms became widespread and very popular, making men like David Lloyd very wealthy indeed. The problem they faced however were women- how do you get them into the gym? They didn’t want to lift weights and were intimidated by having to share the squat rack with the Incredible Hulk. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and a Cardiovasuclar training ethos was born. It was marketed as ‘a gentle way of exercising’. Sounds very feminine. The idea was to promote use of treadmills, rowing machines, steppers, cross trainers and a CV bonanza was created! To get the women into the gym there were promises of burning calories and fat. True to a point, but lets not get carried away- there are far more efficient ways of losing blubber than punishing yourself on the treadmill, rower, stair-climber etc. The thing is with these marketing claims is that people believe them! (As I have been guilty of in the past, by signing up to a well-known insurance company!).
    There are a few major companies who specialise in helping people to lose weight. They work (to a point). Now interestingly enough, they rely on counting calories and watching what a person eats. Although they both suggest exercise, it is not something that they demand from their members, yet they still lose weight.


    The answer is very simple- to lose weight there is a simple equation. It involves a basic law of economics- to create a deficit you simply use up more of a resource than you replace. This also applies to the human body. If you eat more calories than you burn, the excess is stored as fat. Think of fat as a savings account for the body. The body has energy demands- if we burn more calories than we consume, the difference has to be made up from the savings account to make sure everything runs smoothly. The net result is weight loss. The body has energy demands anyway- this is called basal metabolic rate, so calories are needed just to keep everything functioning. The brain requires energy (some more than others), the heart is constantly beating etc, so we don’t have to exercise to need food!

So how does cardio work for weight loss?

    To start with, a person’s weight tells us very little about their body composition. It gives us no idea of their body fat percentage or their lean body mass (muscle, bone etc). It is a well-known fact that muscle tissue is heavier than fat tissue. This explains how a competing bodybuilder can weigh over 17 stone yet only have 3% body fat- it is for this reason I don’t like the term ‘weight loss’, as it actually means very little- because you weigh less it doesn’t actually mean you are in better shape. The idea behind cardio for weight loss is that you burn calories through doing the exercise, helping to create the required deficit. Conceivably, they may lose a few pounds, but how much actual fat have they lost and how much muscle have they lost? When a person performs cardio exercise, the weight they lose is always going to be a mixture of fat and muscle.


    The human body can be in one of two states- anabolic or catabolic. To explain these very basically, Anabolic means building or growing, hence the term anabolic steroids, which are used to chemically aid muscle growth. Catabolic means shrinking- this is shrinking of muscle tissue. When we perform cardiovascular exercise, we enter a catabolic state, shedding muscle. The basic reason for this is because the human body will adapt to the stimuli we expose it to. When we lift heavy weights, we stimulate the body to produce muscle to help us lift easier. When we run long distances, we lose muscle, as muscles require lots of energy, which cannot be supplied during a long run, unless of course you eat mars bars as you plod along the treadmill. You can see this for yourself- when was the last time you saw a marathon runner with a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger? The same goes for the weight lifters- when have you seen a power lifter with a body like Paula Radcliffe? They were not born with their respective bodies- their training for their sports shaped them that way. Don’t believe me? Why do sportsmen and women often get fat when they retire? They are just like you and me, but were in better shape because they trained harder and ate a scientific diet! When they stop, middle age spread hits them just like anyone else!
    Of course it helps if you have a natural leaning towards a particular physique- a rugby prop forward is never likely to be a world class middle distance runner, as their body would naturally develop the capacity required at a much slower rate. The same applies to Peter Crouch- try as he might, but he would always find it hard to be a good sumo wrestler! When looking at the general population however, anybody can train their body to a point of adaptation for weight loss. It is only when we try and force the body to reach Olympic capability levels we struggle!

‘Fasted’ Cardio is better for fat loss…

    Why would somebody say this?
    The ‘theory’ behind this is that if the body has no food inside it, it will have to use fat stores straight away, therefore burning more fat. I will let you into a little secret…..
    When we eat food, it is broken down into simple molecules then absorbed into the blood stream where it is transported and used for its respective job, be it repairing tissues, providing muscles with energy or any other job that it may be used for. All foods are broken down into simple sugars called glycogen and glucose. When the body has taken its required nutrients for growth and repair, the left over is stored as glycogen in two places- the muscles and the liver. Studies have shown that the body stores enough energy in the form of glycogen to allow a person to exercise very intensely for up to 1 hour. In order to burn fat as the major fuel resource, a person would have to be totally fasted and then train at an intensity level that would make an Olympic athlete foam at the mouth for 1 HOUR. Only then would they start burning more fat than carbohydrate (sugar)!
    Think that’s bad enough? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but when the body burns fat as its primary resource, it enters into a state called ketosis. This HURTS! You may be familiar with the term ‘hitting the wall’. This is when the body runs out of glycogen and starts to burn fat for energy. It is associated with ultra-long distance events such as marathons and triathlons, where after a few hours of activity the body runs out of glycogen and burns fat. Hitting the wall is so painful that a world record holder over various running distances, Haile Gabri Selassie, had to pull out of the London Marathon when he hit the wall. There are plenty of examples where experienced athletes have given up in the middle of a race thanks to hitting the wall. People have been known to cramp up, pass out and even wet themselves. My point is, if a world record holding runner struggled after entering ketosis, then a person who has been training for a few measly months doesn’t really stand much of a chance!
    Rest assured, the average gym goer would struggle to do even a quarter of the required work to make this happen. Fasted cardio in practice sounds like a good idea, but when you actually think about it, it really isn’t!
    Is the real reason a person is still fat is because they couldn’t decide whether to do cardio on an empty stomach or not? Nope. 30 minutes of steady state cardio will burn about 300 calories. Three times per week – 900 calories. Add that up for 26 weeks and we get a whopping: 23,400 calories, or in real terms, 6.6 lbs of fat- in six months! Hardly slimmer of the year material!
    If doing the cardio fasted, burned 30% more calories (which it doesn’t, but lets say it does for the purpose of making it seem better than it really is!), you’re looking at another 2lbs of fat in that same six month period, or an additional 0.07 pounds per week.
    Fat people finish marathons all the time. Aerobic training doesn’t do a hell of a lot for real world fat loss. Even if you’re hungry.
    Luckily, restricted calorie intake coupled with progressive resistance exercise does.
    Studies have estimated that for each pound of muscle that you add to your body, you burn an additional 40 to 70 calories per day. So, an extra 10 pounds of muscle will burn approximately 400 to 700 calories a day, or an extra pound of fat every 5 to 9 days, without making any other changes. That is 72,000-126,000 calories. In another study, researchers found that regular weight training boosts basal metabolic rate by about 15%. This is because muscle is ‘metabolically active ‘ and burns more calories than other body tissue even when you’re not moving. So if you add 10lbs of muscle to your frame, hardly a massive amount- just over half a stone, you will be burning 20-36lbs of fat in six months, compared to the 6.6-8.6lbs of fat that you would burn with 3 half hour cardio sessions per week.
    An intense session of cardiovascular exercise will burn around 300 calories, depending on the individual. The calorie counter on the machine may say it’s more, but don’t even get me started on why those things are wrong! Armed with this information, why should you pound the treadmill or exercise bike for 30 minutes, working yourself into a sweaty mess, when you can simply drop those calories from your daily intake? You will notice almost no difference in your daily food intake and can spend the extra 30 minutes working on building that vital calorie-burning muscle!
    If I need to further the point (which I don’t think I need to, but what the hell!), the ‘Golden era’ of bodybuilding was the 70’s, when people like Arnold Shwarzenegger, Franco Columbo, Lou Ferrigno etc became famous. They were in amazing shape- big but not stupidly so, lean without going down to 2% body fat. I can tell you that they certainly did not lose their excess fat on a rowing machine or a treadmill! This was about 15 years before the CV craze swept the world. If it worked for them, I’m sure it will work for everyone else!
    I hope that this clears up the issue once and for all! I don’t wish to say that cardio does not have its place- it does. What I am trying to establish is that for fat loss, weight training and controlled nutrition is a much better option. If you want to be a better runner, then cardio is for you! If you want to be leaner, try the weights approach.
    I have backed up this method with lab-based studies in university over three years and I have used it professionally for three. Six years of success are no fluke.

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