Have you seen those trainees at your gym that are constantly on the treadmill, trying to lose fat, but they just look the same since you first saw them ? You see, doing cardio for fat loss is one of the biggest misconceptions in fitness, but it is somehow a dogma, it has been traditionally associated with fat loss.
Yes, cardio will improve your health (which is probably the most important side effect), it will improve your mood, it will help you cut weight, but is it the MAIN thing for fat loss ? Absolutely no !!
How much cardio you need to do to cut fat ?
Most of the people would probably answer: “a lot”. The majority would give more precise numbers like : “25-30 minutes, 3-5 times a week”. The correct answer, however, is that you don’t actually need cardio to burn fat. Let’s see why.
What is the definition for cardio exercise ?
Cardio is light or moderate exercise that can be performed for prolonged periods of time. The goal is simple: continuing to move, you will burn as many calories as possible.
Typically, aerobic training is done to improve the cardiovascular system, but as the article is devoted to weight loss, it is necessary to stick to the topic.
There are two main forms of cardio:
HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which consists of switching between short periods of intense exercise, and longer periods of low-intensity exercise. A perfect example would be a sprint workout: 15 second sprints followed by 1 minute walking or jogging.
LIT – low-intensity training. It is typical for the gym cardio shape – long boring sessions in the gym on the treadmill, static bike, eliptical machine etc.
HIIT is considered the more effective form of aerobic training, because it allows you to burn more calories in a shorter period of time compared to low intensity cardio sessions. It is more attractive and even fun. However, a short and intense HIIT session, will cause more stress to the joints and the body overall, so it can be quite difficult for overweight or older people.
Based on this info, let’s consider an example of consumption of calories during low intensity cardio session.
What is the calorie consumption during low intensity cardio ?
Here are some energy expenditure stats for a 200 lb man doing 30 minutes of low-intensity cardio :
Hiking – 325 kcal;
The stairmaster – 325 kcal;
Swimming – 325 kcal;
Walking – 151 calories.
Let’s say you decided to run on a treadmill four workouts per week of 30 minutes each. The energy expenditure will be around 600 kcal per week (to lose 1 lb of fat you need to burn 3500 kcal ). If you do this for a year, you will burn around 30K to 35K calories (consider that you will miss a few workouts), and as a result will lose only 16-25 lbs of fat. This is the result of 100 hours spent on the treadmill.
So cardio can HELP fat loss, it’s also good for your health, but not effective as a standalone method for weight loss. So, to lose fat you need to deal with food.
Cardio, nutrition and fat loss
A good meal plan is the main requirement if you want to lose fat. What you need to do is to fine tune the calories consumed as well as balance the macro-nutrients precisely.
The first thing that most people (coming to the gym to lose fat) will do, is to attack the cardio equipment, when in fact they need to concentrate in their diet.
Cardio training without a reasonable eating plan is like a time bomb. If you do not control your diet, then aerobics is likely to increase appetite. It may even lead to the point where you don’t lose fat at all. Without control of the daily caloric content, you can easily exceed 200-400 kcal. On the other hand, a good diet alone can help you lose 4-10 lbs of fat a month.
How can cardio help you lose fat ?
Cardio can actually help to lose fat when the diet results slow down. You can gradually increase the time you spend doing aerobic workouts while you concentrate on nutrition.
For example during the first week you can add two aerobic sessions not longer than 10-15 minutes. From there you can increase the length of the sessions during week 2 to 15-20 minutes. Week 3 : you can add another 15-20 minute cardio session. Week 4 – increase the time to 20-25 minutes. Week 5 increase the time to 25-30 minutes.
When you reach a plateau, try to slightly increase the time, for about 5 minutes. See if this helps to get the ball rolling. You can either increase the time or reduce the caloric intake. Monitor your progress and if your body weight doesn’t change in two-three weeks, you need to do some change.
How to make cardio more effective ?
A good way is to combine cardio with strength training. You can add a session after your weightlifting workout or on rest days. I personally think that cardio after a weightlifting workout (when the glycogen is completely depleted) does more in terms of fat loss. You just need to take in consideration that a combination of strength training and cardio has a negative impact on strength and muscle mass.