A few things to think about here-
When it comes to weight loss it appears exercise alone is not enough.
Many exercise sessions burn far less than we expect.
Exercise alone typically results from a change of less than 3% of initial body weight, e.g, if someone weighs 100kg, well if they just started exercising alone then it would be roughly 3kg worth of fat loss, with absolute weight losses between 1kg-3kg in body weight.
If our goal is fat loss then exercise alone will not cut it, not unless you’re a top level athlete doing hours and hours of training otherwise it’s not going to work.
Diet beats exercise when it comes to fat loss however diet and exercise together beat diet alone so they should basically both come hand in hand. We can lose a bit of weight by just exercising but we can lose a lot more weight just through diet, in fact, we actually lose the most weight when we have a calorie deficit through a diet and we use exercise.
Exercise - keeping the weight off
Exercise has great benefits in helping to maintain weight loss. Those who exercise more keep more weight off. In order to keep more weight off, you need exercise.
Exercise also helps you keep your calories higher as your diet. You want to keep your calories as high as you can whilst still staying within a calorie deficit so keeping up the diet and the exercise nice and high is going to allow us to diet on more calories.
Studies have shown that roughly 1,500 calories of exercise per week helped participants gain less weight post-diet. Participants who maintained high levels of activity(2,500 calories per week) lost more weight and kept it off rather than a standard group(1000 calories).
In some instances, it helps to prevent a reduction in activity(NEAT). Those of us who tend to do regular exercise tend to move more throughout the day which again makes us burn more calories so we can then consume more calories than those who don’t move as much.
How does exercise help fat loss?
It increases energy expenditure. Weight loss isn’t always fat, it could be many things such as muscle, fluid, carbohydrates in our bodies, so it’s not always fat. When we say that we would like weight loss what we normally mean is fat loss.
After exercise we can burn calories which is called EPOC(excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) - this has been largely overstated.
Exercise may slightly increase RMR(resting metabolic rate), this is because you have got to repair the muscles. This is where resistance training can be useful as basically when we resistance train we slightly damage the muscles in which they then have to repair and the repair process takes a lot of energy.
Repartitioning- you might send calories towards building muscles, to refill our carbohydrate stores within our muscles and not towards fat cells.
It’s not beneficial on it’s own particularly for weight loss, it can be great as part of a weight loss plan because it increases our energy expenditure during the exercise session and after the session as well as potentially help move calories towards muscle building and not fat.
Exercise- The benefits beyond the scale:
Improved life expectancy
Reduction in visceral(bad) fats around the organs. This is independent of diet so people who just started exercising had lower levels of visceral fat with no change in their diet
Lower risk of Chronic Diseases such as Diabetes, Cancer, Hypertension etc
We have stronger bones and joints
We move better
We have less pain
Improved mood, cognition and stress management
Exercise is also great beyond weight loss too.
When it comes to weight loss we want to maximise the amount of weight that we’re going to lose so we need to maximise our exercise volume over intensity. Volume is directly related to calories, e.g if you can do a long run or more reps/sets then you’re going to burn more calories. Another example would be that you burn very few calories when walking on a treadmill whilst you’re holding the handles when incline walking on the treadmill, this is because you’re making it easier for yourself by holding onto the handles. It may say on the treadmill screen that you have burned 500 calories yet it will be far closer to 100 calories.
EPOC or ‘the afterburn’ as some people call it, is much higher with greater intensity and volume. The harder and longer than you can work within a session then the more calories that you’re going to burn however it is much much lower than we once thought.
During a CV session roughly 6-15% of the calories you expend from exercise come post session so if someone says do HIIT sessions and burn calories for 72 hours afterwards well you’re only going to probably burn an extra 6-15% of the calories.
If you only burn 50 calories because your session is only 7 minutes long then you are only going to burn an extra 6,7/10 calories after that session which is basically nothing so it all comes down to maximising the number of calories that we burn per session. E.g if I did a session which was 250 calories then I would burn an extra 15-38 calories in ‘the afterburn’ for the next 72 hours or so.
Exercise intensity needed to get the afterburn effect may not be suitable for the non-athletic people so if you’re particularly overweight or if you have painful joints etc then a lot of the time some of these high-intensity protocols may not be appropriate for you at this time.
Steady state cardio vs HIIT
A study was done with 2 different protocols-
A HIIT study which was 7 lots of 2-minute sprints with a 3-minute recovery. They compared this to a continuous cycle for 30 minutes. So both groups have done the same amount of work but 1 group did a steady state pace throughout. This study has shown that the difference was only 10 calories. During this session, the continuous exercise group burned 171 calories and the interval HIIT session burned 181 calories so realistically it’s not a massive amount difference, it’s basically nothing. In conclusion to this, it would come down to how much time that you have and what you enjoy the most.
Do I need to do fasted cardio?
Despite the claims by some fasted cardio is better well it’s actually no better than cardio in which you have food inside of you.
Fasted cardio does burn more fat during the training session however over the remaining 23 hours of the day your body naturally burns less fat and burns more carbohydrates. There is no difference between the amount of fat that you burn over the 24 hours between doing fasted cardio and doing non fasted cardio.
For some people doing cardio with food inside them already may allow you to train harder because you have more fuel to burn so you can burn more calories during that session.
Fasted cardio can suppress appetite in some individuals so some people don’t feel hungry until later on in the day but fasted cardio may actually increase appetite in others.
If you’re doing cardio then perform the type that you prefer and the one that you’re most likely to do.
What about resistance training?
Here are some things to know about resistance training-
An average weight session burns 60-400 calories. 400 calories are very high volume.
50-75% of energy expenditure roughly comes from the session itself. Roughly 200-300 calories of energy will be burned during that session with the remainder coming from ‘the afterburn’.
There’s a direct relationship between the volume in which we can think of as the number of sets and the calories burned so we want to do more sets and more exercises. This is why it’s good to keep training sessions dense so to do lots in the time that you have, however, if you rest too little you perform less work which means lower calories burned. Find a sweet spot between working your hardest but resting enough so you can work at a good intensity.
“Rest as little as you have to but as much as you need to’.
Increased EPOC for 1-3 days(100-200 calories over 24 hours) as we repair muscle damage however the more that you train and as you get further in your lifting career well this may get less as we get better at repairing.
Exercise may minimise some of the reductions in NEAT that we see from dieting.
Some individuals do compensate with lower energy expenditure, this is why we can’t have a one size fits all approach when it comes to exercise because you may have someone that does morning cardio who’s appetite is completely reduced and they don’t get hungry at all and the weight just drops off of them, whereas we may have some unlucky individuals who tend to do an exercise session and they just compensate by sitting around for the rest of the day and they overeat too.
Resistance training vs CV
Energy expenditure of the sessions will vary depending on the fitness individual,
Examples of this are:
how fast they recover
the exercises that are chosen
how many sets that they do in the session
When it comes to EPOC(the afterburn) and the total number of calories that we burn, actually CV work and resistance training both have very similar effects in terms of calories.
However, when it comes to resistance training not only are we burning calories we are improving:
Ranges of motion
Increasing our lean muscle and in fact, muscle plays a great role in shaping the body as well as burning slightly more calories when we are at rest.
It can be very beneficial when your trainer/coach does different cardio finishers in each workout session because when we perform the same type of CV work, one of the adaptations is becoming very efficient at that exercise so for example- if you started to be able to run at 16 kilometres per hour which are super fast, well if you kept running at that speed not only would you be getting fitter you’d actually start to get so efficient at it that you’d burn fewer calories, so you’re body is able to do the same amount of work for less calories so therefore you’re energy expenditure goes down so this is why it’s good sometimes to do different CV work and different finishers because we’re always inefficient at it so we always burn more calories.
Resistance training may provide a novel way of preventing this because hopefully when you’re working with your coach, every 4,6,8,12 weeks you change the exercise and what happens when we change the exercise? Our body isn’t used to it so we then get sore, we have to adapt all over again so we can’t get too efficient.
Resistance training not only burns calories but it also has far-reaching benefits such as building muscles etc.
In conclusion to exercise
When it comes to body composition and weight loss do the exercise that you enjoy and that you will stick to up to a certain extent.
If you are short on time and have the ability to do so then you can perform HIIT or something along them lines.
If you want to get outside and do a long run or swim then that is good too and acceptable as well.
Chose exercises that maximises your volume whether that be the number of minutes that you do, how long that you can run for, the amount of sets that you do etc during the session without lowering overall work so if you try and do too many exercises or have too little rest then your form is going to start to break down as you’re too tired.
Work as hard as you can with perfect form.
A mixture of resistance training and CV work, whether it be HIIT or steady state, it’s a great idea not only for burning calories but it’s going to give you the best of both worlds when it comes to building muscle, shaping, your strength, as well as having a great set of heart and lungs and your overall health.
Remember that exercise alone for weight loss is not enough but it’s better than diet alone and it’s very important in order to keep the weight off.
Is there a best exercise when it comes to weight loss? No, it’s the exercise that allows you to burn the most amount of calories however once it goes beyond pure weight loss we want to bring in other things to help us stay strong and keep up our strength and to also build muscle.
The benefits of fat loss go far beyond weight loss.