Cardio and fat loss: the biggest myth today
written by Philip Stefanov | NOVEMBER 9, 2021
I have nothing against cardio. I enjoy the occasional run or bike ride and understand the profound health benefits of such activities. Plus, who can deny the post-workout high that comes from activities like jogging in the morning?
My problem with cardio is the notion that we must include it in a fat loss plan to achieve any results. But the truth is that we can comfortably shed fat and get lean without doing a minute of treadmill running or anything similar. I will even share a couple of arguments for why cardio might be counterproductive for some people.
The Truth About Cardio And Fat Loss
Aerobic exercise burns calories, which can lead to weight loss. But what many people fail to realize is that we can achieve the same effect without cardio.
Weight loss depends on creating and sustaining an energy deficit (1). Our three primary ways to achieve that are:
- Control food intake
- Increase physical activity
- Combine the two
Controlling our food intake will play the most significant role because it’s near impossible to out-train a bad diet. For example, most people can sit down and eat 1,000 calories with relative ease. But tell these same people to burn 1,000 calories through movement, and most will fail. Even if they manage to do it once, it won’t be a sustainable strategy for them.
Cardio is beneficial because it allows us to create a calorie deficit more easily. As a result, we can eat slightly more food and still lose fat. But cardio doesn’t determine our outcomes, and we can be in a deficit without it.
Two Reasons For Avoiding (Or Limiting) Cardio During Fat Loss
Like any other form of exercise, cardio leads to fatigue that can slow down our recovery and impair our lifting workouts (2). Too much fatigue can lead to more significant muscle loss, which is something we want to avoid.
Research suggests that aerobic exercise leads to compensatory eating in some people (3). In other words, some people feel excessive hunger after doing cardio and eat back the calories they’ve burned, and then some.
For example, a person might do a great cardio session and burn 500 calories. But they might go back home and eat an extra 500 or more calories, erasing their deficit and preventing weight loss.
What I Recommend
If you enjoy cardio and find that it helps with fat loss, keep doing your thing. I’m not against cardio and enjoy the occasional session myself. But if you dread cardio or feel like it interferes with your weight training, focus on your NEAT.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis refers to the calories we burn from all activities outside of dedicated exercise time. Walking to work, playing with your kids, and brushing your teeth are just three of the many ways to burn energy each day.
Increasing your NEAT is a somewhat simple and effective way to boost your caloric expenditure and more easily put yourself in a deficit for fat loss. The most obvious way to do so is by increasing your daily step count. You can download a simple app on your phone and track how many steps you take daily. I recommend aiming for at least 10,000 per day. Doing so will help you burn extra calories without putting much stress on your joints or causing fatigue.
Here are a few simple ways to bump your steps when trying to lose fat:
- Take an evening walk after dinner
- Get a cheap treadmill for your home and log ten minutes of walking each morning
- Take the stairs when possible
- Leave your car at home and walk instead
- When commuting by bus, go off one stop earlier and walk the remaining distance
There are plenty of ways to sneak more steps into your days, so long as you look for them.
Until next week,
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