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Burn Fat

Turn your body into a fat burning machine

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Updated April 09, 2014

I once had a client who asked, "When I eat too many calories, how do they know to go straight to my thighs? Do they have some kind of homing device or what?" I suppose that's one way to look at it since our genes usually determine where we store excess fat and how and where we burn fat. A more important point is that, if we didn't eat too many calories, we wouldn't have any extra calories to store. We have no problem gaining fat but trying to burn fat is another problem.

We all have areas where fat cells seem to congregate and, sadly, thrive. The real challenge is how to burn fat. We hear a lot about fat burning, from working out in the 'fat burning zone' to eating foods or taking supplements that supposedly burn more fat. But, gimmicks aside, what we all want to know is: What's the best way to burn fat? Knowing a little more about how your body works can help you become a better fat burning machine.

The Basics of Burning Fat

If you're trying to lose weight, knowing how your body uses calories for fuel can make a difference in how you approach your weight loss program. We get our energy from fat, carbs and protein. Which one our bodies draw from, however, depends on the kind of activity we're doing. Most people want to use fat for energy, which makes sense. We figure, the more fat we can use as fuel, the less fat we'll have in our bodies. But, using more fat doesn't automatically lead to losing more fat.

Understanding the best way to burn fat starts with some basic facts about how your body gets its energy:

  • The body primarily uses fat and carbs for fuel. A small amount of protein is used during exercise, but it's mainly used to repair the muscles after exercise.
  • The ratio of these fuels will shift depending on the activity you're doing.
  • For higher intensity exercise, such as fast-paced running, the body will rely more on carbs for fuel than fat. That's because the metabolic pathways available to break down carbs for energy are more efficient than the pathways available for fat breakdown.
  • For long, slower exercise, fat is used more for energy than carbs.
  • When it comes to weight loss, it doesn't matter what type of fuel you use. What matters is how many calories you burn as opposed to how many calories you take in.

This is a very simplified look at energy with a solid take-home message. When it comes to weight loss, what matters is burning more calories, not necessarily using more fat for energy. And, the harder you work, the more calories you'll burn overall. Think about it this way: When you sit or sleep, you're in your prime fat-burning mode. But, you've probably never contemplated the idea of sleeping more to lose weight, as lovely as that thought is.

The bottom line? Just because you're using more fat as energy doesn't mean you're burning more calories.

The Myth of the Fat Burning Zone

One thing we know is that exercising at lower intensities will use more fat for energy. This basic premise is what started the theory of the 'fat burning zone,' or the idea that working in a certain heart rate zone (around 55 to 65 of your maximum heart rate) will allow your body to burn more fat.

Over the years, this theory has become so ingrained in our exercise experience that we see it touted in books, charts, websites, magazines and even on cardio machines at the gym. The trouble is that it's misleading. Working at lower intensities isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it won't burn more fat off your body unless you're burning more calories than you're eating. One way to increase your calorie burn is to exercise at higher intensities.

Does this mean that, if you want to burn more fat, you should avoid low intensity exercise? Not necessarily. There are some specific things you can do to burn more fat and it all starts with how and how much you exercise. Read on to learn more.

Next Page: Fat Burning Tips: Burn Fat with Cardio

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