For the better part of my adult life and all of my life in sports, I always was told that the best exercise was HIIT training and the old school type of using complex, multi-joint movements. This is true, it burns a large amount of calories very quickly and puts your body into a catabolic state where its burning even during rest periods during 48 hours because of the tissue repair it has to do to make up for the intense workout and slight muscle fibres being restored and strengthened. In Taekwondo, I have been very successful in dropping weight like that.
But not anymore. For the first 3 months of my attempts at getting back in shape, all I used was this approach, and its has not made me lose anything. Nada. Nothing.
Time to look at this from another perspective then. I will continue to do HIIT and multi joint exercises but I need help. Looking at the traditional cardio workouts, I realised that there is strong emphasis on something called “The fat burning zone”. And the theory is this:
How Does the Body Make Energy?
Your body relies on fat as a primary fuel. But because the body is a complex machine, it is able to make energy from other fuel sources too–like protein and carbohydrates. Throughout the day, each person uses a combination of carbohydrate, fat, and protein fuel sources to create the energy necessary to sit up, climb stairs, filter blood in the kidneys, make the automatic lung muscles function, help the heart to beat, and even lift a fork to eat.
Fat: the Most Efficient Energy Source
The most efficient energy source is fat. One pound of stored fat can provide 3,600 calories of energy, which is far more than most people burn in a single day. In comparison, a pound of storage protein or carbohydrate provides less than half that much energy. Because fat provides so much energy, the body relies primarily on fat during rest and during relatively slow and easy physical activity. From an evolutionary survival standpoint, that makes sense, since most people can only store about 2,000 calories of carbohydrate on their entire body. If you burned carbohydrate as your primary fuel, you’d have to be finding food and eating all day long. Furthermore, if your burned protein as your primary fuel source, your body would have to break down muscle and other organs to get the protein fuel–or you’d have to be rooting around for nuts, seeds, eggs, and meat all day long.
How the Body Uses Carbohydrates
However, once you begin moving quickly, you suddenly present your body with a fuel paradox. Though fat is plentiful on your body (even a 150 pound individual with 5% body fat has 27,000 calories of stored fat energy!), and provides many calories for exercise energy, it simply doesn’t provide that energy as quickly as carbohydrates. When the body needs to get from point A to point B quickly, or needs to hoist a heavy object overhead, it needs immediate energy, and that’s where carbohydrates come in. They may not provide as much energy, but they certainly provide it far faster than fat.
So as you progress from a standstill, to a walk, to a jog, to an all-out sprint, your body begins to tap into carbohydrates more and more, while reducing its use of fat as a fuel. Of course, during this entire progression, you’re burning more overall calories too. So while the percentage of fat used as a fuel is decreasing, the total fat calories you burn might still be increasing.
What Is the Fat-Burning Zone?
For example, if you burn 200 calories per hour while walking, and burn 60% fat, then you burn 120 fat calories per hour. But if you burn 600 calories per hour while jogging, and only burn 40% fat during that time, you still burn 240 calories of fat per hour, twice as much as when you were walking. Using this concept, the point at which fat burning peaks during exercise is referred to as the peak “fat burning zone”.
How to Find Your Fat-Burning Zone
In most individuals, the fat-burning zone occurs at 45-65% of the maximum heart rate, and that is the typical calculation used by personal trainers. They’ll take the number 220, and subtract your age to find your maximum heart rate, then take 45-65% of that number to find your maximum fat-burning zone.
But this number is highly variable and tends to be erroneous, primarily because the maximum heart rate is highly variable. So here is your quick and dirty tip for finding your personalized fat-burning zone far more accurately:
- Warm up on a bike for 10 minutes.
- Pedal at your maximum sustainable pace for 20 minutes. You should be breathing hard and your legs should be burning, but you should be able to maintain the same intensity for the full 20 minutes.
- Record your average heart rate during those 20 minutes.
- Subtract 20 beats from that heart rate. Add and subtract 3 beats from the resulting number to get a range, and that is your peak fat burning zone.
For example, if your average heart rate was 160, 160-20 is 140, 140+3 is 143, 140-3 is 147, and so your peak fat burning zone is when you have a heart rate of 137-143 beats per minute.
But if you did want a laboratory test to find your personal fat-burning zone, then you would be looking for something called an Exercise Metabolic Rate test, also known as a VO2 Max Test.”
The Carb Backloading theory and practice
In a nutshell, carb backloading is a method of eating, in which you back-load each and every single carb you consume, so that before you workout, you’re not consuming a single carbohydrate at all. Now, at first that may sound horrendous to many of you, as carbohydrates before you workout are what gets you through each session. Well, don’t be so quick to throw in the towel, because before you workout, you’ll be consuming healthy fats and lean proteins, and saving all of your carbohydrates for immediately following your workout.
So, to be clear, before you workout and lift weights, you’ll be eating and drinking NO carbohydrates in the slightest, and will only consume them immediately following your workout. Now, if you’re still not sure, let’s go back to the pizza and ice cream part we spoke about earlier. When we talk about carbohydrates immediately following your workout, we’re not talking about rice cakes, brown rice, boiled potato, and whole wheat pasta, oh no. We’re talking about ice cream, pizza, candy, chocolate, cake, cookies, and much more.
Consuming carbohydrates which consist mainly of simple sugars allows the body to use them to its advantage at a much quicker pace than it would have done with complex carbohydrates. You see, when we consume carbs, they’re broken down into glucose, which the body intends to use for energy. This in turn causes the blood sugar levels to rise, which is when the pancreas secretes insulin in order to control them and bring them back down. To get rid of any excess, the insulin will then transport them around the body into either muscle, or fat cells.
Now, if you’ve been sat on the sofa all day doing nothing, the body will be well rested and will certainly not need to repair or recover, and will transport them into the fat cells, which result in more body fat being produced. However, and this is where things get really important. If you’ve recently exercised and have lifted weights in the gym, say within the last 60 – 90 minutes, they’ll instead be transported into the muscle cells, in order to help the body to repair and rebuild the muscle tissues and refill the lost glycogen. Now, because the rest of the time you’ll have avoided carbohydrates, your blood sugar will remain low, so that means that once the nutrients from the carbs have been transported into the muscles, that’s it, there won’t be any left, so the body won’t be able to store any excess as body fat for a later date, which is ordinarily what it would do if we’d consumed carbs throughout the day.
A typical example
In order to get your body ready for eating in this way, you’ll be required to severely limit your carbohydrate intake, which means for 10 days you’ll only be consuming a maximum of 30-50 grams of carbs a day. You’ll get your nutrition from proteins and fats, which should be moderately clean and balanced, so nothing too greasy or deep fried. You’ll still train as usual, but after 10 days is up, that’s where things really get fun. On your 10th day, no more than two hours following your workout, you should look to consume 1 gram of carbohydrates, per pound of bodyweight, so if you weigh 250lbs, you’ll need 250 grams of carbs, from simple sources such as pizza, cakes, fries, ice cream, cookies, and so on. You’ll go to bed looking and feeling bloated but satisfied, yet upon waking, your bloat will have gone, and you’ll look and feel great.
Now, on days you don’t train, do what you did on the first 10 days, and on days you do train, carb backload like crazy, and not only will you build muscle, you’ll also lose fat at the same time.