If you haven’t heard this expression before, what I am referring to is going for a long, brisk walk first thing in the morning before eating. Many people believe it to be the best way to for burning body fat because when you exercise on an empty stomach and at a low intensity, apparently your body will opt to use fat for fuel rather than carbohydrate. Seeing as your stomach is empty, this “fat for fuel” is assumed to come from stored body fat. Supplement companies and Insta-famous fitness models will also have you believe that you can enhance the result by consuming a fat burner shake upon waking and prior to exercising.
Now I’m not saying that walking is a complete waste of time – in fact if you are already doing other high intensity training that day, it’s a great way to burn a few extra calories without placing too much extra toll on your body. For some people, walking is also a great way to wake up, stretch out or relax. However, as a main form of exercise, walking on an empty stomach is not high on the list of most effective ways to shed body fat.
Let me explain…
- Your body doesn’t use just one type of fuel. Carbohydrate is the fastest fuel source able to be broken down and therefore easiest / most readily available for your body to use. So if you have carbs available, your body will generally prefer the use of carbs regardless of the intensity of your workout. Most often though, you will use multiple sources of fuel and it is only usually at higher intensities that you will use carbohydrate more exclusively. At a low intensity, your body has the pick of the bunch. My mate Chris Algieri – Sports Nutritionist and former boxing and kickboxing world champion – explains it like this: “You’ve got to think about your body as a high performance sports car AND as a highly efficient economy car. During low intensity sessions or activities, the human machine is very efficient for using fat for long (very long) periods of time. And during high intensity bursts, the body will utilize primarily carbohydrate – namely because of how fast we can liberate energy from carbs. And on top of all that-Our bodies can seamless transition from using a low octane energy source (fat) to a premium grade fuel (carbohydrate) in the same session!”
- If you exercise at a low intensity, it will take you longer to burn enough calories to cause an energy deficit, which is necessary for weight/fat loss.
- If you exercise in a fasted state you may indeed burn more fat for fuel as a percentage (possibly not in overall actual quantity), but unless you are training for a marathon or some other kind of event that requires you to be able to function well using your fat stores, then it’s totally irrelevant. Why? Because weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. If you’re putting more in your mouth than you’re burning off, then you’ll get fatter. Think of it this way: if you only do low intensity exercise (like walking) that burns a high percentage of fat, then what do you think happens to all the carbs you eat? (And yes, you MUST eat carbs). You guessed it, if they’re not burned they get stored as fat. And ok, just say you don’t eat carbs (something I don’t recommend if you want to function optimally), you’re going to be eating more fat and protein to make up for the void of energy your body will be feeling. Possibly a sugar binge here and there too when you give in to a craving due to fatigue stemming from lack of carbs. So basically you’ll just have an endless amount of fat to burn until you eventually reach your goal… which could be a long time later because you don’t burn very many calories in low intensity exercise like walking and it’s harder to create a caloric deficit. Compare this to if you went jogging instead, where you would burn a higher percentage of carbs, and lower percentage of fat, but you would burn many more So remaining in the body, you have less carbs to be stored as fat, and less fat stored as fat. That’s less fat remaining overall. It doesn’t matter if the calories come from fat or carbs.
And before you say that you want to “Lose fat” not “lose weight” let me explain that too… If you reduce body fat and maintain the same weight, it is likely because you are simultaneously gaining muscle. The gaining of this muscle (and therefore faster metabolism) could even be the reason for your reduction in body fat. But two separate things are occurring here; muscle gain is one, and fat loss is another. If you were to maintain all other variables and strictly just reduce body fat, then this will result in “weight loss”. As we are discussing the burning of fat and not the loss or gain of muscle, for the sake of this article I will refer to “fat loss” and “weight loss” as one and the same. Just to clear up any confusion 😉
So what exercise will most effectively reduce body fat?
Low intensity exercise is still important to your regime for a whole host of reasons. But if you can, try a more moderate intensity exercise such as jogging. It doesn’t have to be super fast, in fact a medium pace is totally fine! You will burn through your energy stores much faster than if walking, and you should recognise when your body is favouring the use of fat for energy as your energy levels will drop. So when you get tired, keep pushing and you will burn more fat.
And just FYI, eating when you wake up, smashing out a weights and/or high intensity cardio session later (that you have a tonne of energy for because you ate) and then even sitting around all day afterward will also burn a lot of fat. Why? After resistance / high intensity exercise a phenomenon called “excess post exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC) occurs. Basically, this refers to the increased amount of oxygen required and further calories burned after a workout as a result of that workout, used for things like muscle repair, cell recovery and returning the muscles to their pre/workout state. The harder you push yourself the more calories you will continue to burn later on after the session… even when you are doing nothing. Again – not that its relevant – but because during this phase you are in a low intensity state (doing nothing) your body is able to source more of these calories from fat and not rely as heavily on carbohydrate.
Will I utilise more body fat if I take a fat-burner supplement?
Fat burner supplements claim to get you burning more fat. Here’s how it actually works: The supplements make it easier for your body to break down fat cells, which means they are more readily available to be used for fuel. Your body will still favour the use of carbohydrates if available. But once these carb stores run low, you won’t feel so f*ed when your body starts to use a higher amount of fat stores and may feel like you’ve got a little more energy to continue for longer. Keep in mind though that the harder you have to work, the more calories you will burn. At the end of the day weight loss is due to calories in vs calories out, not due to how much carbs or fat you burned, so NOT taking a supplement and rather just sucking it up and pushing yourself harder through the struggle could actually get better “fat burning” results. In this day and age many people want to take the “easy” option or the “quick fix”, and while it might sound great it’s not always the most effective method.
In saying all that, if your goal is not actually to reduce body fat and instead to do with athletic performance (such as marathon running), then taking a fat burner supplement could be beneficial.
I hope this helps to clear up any confusion surrounding this issue for you! If you are looking for the best and fastest way to shed fat permanently, contact me about help with nutrition and/or a personalised workout plan.
Ps. Outfit is from Mink Pink