Friday, October 05, 2012

Training Your Body To Burn Fat Part 2

Continuation of the Training Your Body To Burn Fat Part 1 published last week, Part 2 this week will focus on the reasons for the fat utilisation instead of burning carbs and protein. To quickly understand the motivation to utilise fat as a primary energy source or fuel is to understand the calorific value stored in the fat. 1gram of carbohydrate or protein contains 4kcal. 1 gram of fat holds 9kcal - that's more than double the amount of energy in the food. On the average, a healthy human body contains anything between 10% to 25% bodyfat, gender dependent (with the higher average being women folks). If you want to see what they looked like. Click here.
Image from Leigh Peele
Being an endurance athlete (or aspiring to be one), it is important to teach the body to use fat as the primary, or the most preferred fuel. There are reasons why most endurance athletes do not have a sprinters' body and never a nibble-like world class marathoner body. The human body is highly adaptive. For short burst of energy that requires power, carbs are utilised; likewise for longer less intense exercise, we will burn more fat. Protein will be utilised, but mainly for muscle repair due to damages on the cells.
Efficiency - the keyword
I will be busting many bubbles when i say this - the biggest misconception that to burn fat, you have to train in "your fat burning zone". So perhaps, the biggest challenge here is not only to make fat the preferred fuel, but to utilise it efficiently. Endurance exercise solely to burn fat is a myth. The  goal of any endurance athlete is to be able to sustain the long distance race faster, stronger - and one that does not require you to pee blood or degenerate the body. How do you then, burn fat efficiently?
It All Starts In The Kitchen
Let's start with the food intake. One reason why your body is not using fat as it's primary food source is the abundance of sugar that will be utilised as fuel. Simple reason why i only drink water during training even if the swim, bike or run are at high intensity for a prolong period. Remember that fat holds more than double calorific value than carbs or protein? It also simply meant that you will need more energy to burn it. The body is highly adaptive and the myth that "spot reduction" can happen is utter BS. Your body would not know where to get the fats from to be burned. Likewise to get those killer abs - sit up does not bring out your abs, your diet and body fat level does.
Most of us growing up in the late 70's and 80's often hear about how (before gym was a fad) people wear leotards and dance to funky music ala Fame. Yes, Aerobic exercises. Aerobic simply meant "with oxygen" aka active breathing.
"Aerobic Exercises" Myth, busted.
I am going to break the heart of those that think the only sure way to burn fat is via aerobic exercises. Here is why.
1. Fat Burning Zone.
Over the years, we are fed with the notion that we should train at our "fat burning zone" which typically falls between 60% and 70% of your maximum heartrate. Fat burning zone do exist, but they are often misinterpreted. This concepts states that when a body is in the "zone", it will burn more fat at lower intensity aerobic exercise than it does at higher intensity. This concept is ok as long as you do not justify that mediocre exercise with more calories (aka food) than you burn.
2. More aerobic work equals higher metabolism.
Metabolism is not dependent on your aerobic work. Your metabolic rate is highly dependent on how much muscle your body carries. Someone with more muscle per body weight will have higher metabolism rate and burn calories even at rest or sleep.
3. Aerobic is the only sure way to burn calories.
So is sleeping, eating (yes, the digestive system uses energy to process the food you eat), walking and sitting down typing this. 
Ketosis - The Art Of Fat Burning
Not really. :) Ketosis is the process of utilising fat for energy. The process produces Ketones and Acetones. While writing this article, an interesting question on Ketosis cropped up and below is an excerpt from the Facebook comments in my Page TristupeSBR
Fat burning =  Ketosis
Further to the sharing, another Facebook friend actually shared an article from which hits the nail squarely on what i am to share in this article. You see, our body is highly adaptive machine and our body reacts in the reverse manner to survive. Deprive the body with fluid and it will then conserves the fluid for survival. Overload the muscle with weight and your body will response by breaking down the cells and building more muscle cells. Likewise, deprive the body of carbs and it will conserve carbs - and look for alternative sources to burn.
Understanding What Energy Food Does To You
When you do aerobic exercises, the body will adapt by slowing down your metabolism to conserve energy. This will then forces the body to store the additional carbs and fats for "future aerobic exercises". Same logic goes to Yo-Yo diet where you starve yourself and deprive the body. You will lose weight for sure, but the body will recognise the next food intake as a trigger point to store the food you ate to counter the possible starvation again - which was why in Part 1, i advises to break meals into smaller portion throughout the day. Stoke the metabolism.
Now, as an endurance athlete, your training time and mileage are for one sole purpose and that is to be very efficient at what you are doing. The more you train, the easier the exercise will be. Soon, you find yourself running at an unbelievable pace. You will then realise that you burn lesser calories (as a function of heart rate and exercise effort being lesser) and you start to plateau and stop losing weight...
Caloric Expenditure
The maths is simple. You must burn more than you eat in order to burn fat. It is a balance that many in Malaysia found difficult with all the rich food and tempting culinary spread available 24/7. The key to burning fat is not in aerobic exercises - rather it is in the anaerobic phase where oxygen is deprived. Every huffed and puffed so hard during your work out? Ever tried sprinting and going all out? A body pushed hard will have the metabolism raised over an extended period of time. That ranges from a few minutes to a few hours (even up to 12hours) depending on the intensity and quality of the workout. For this same reason, a fitter person will need a more intense workout to expend the same amount of energy compared to someone that has just started an exercise regime.
This very same reason explains why someone that was inactive, started exercising and saw tremendous benefit in the weight loss (provided the food intake is controlled).
So, How To Raise The Burning?
What do we do then, to stoke the metabolism? The answers lie in Interval Training. It refers to a series of high intensity workout with minimal rest in between. Training using Interval Training will raise your overall performance over time as the body become more efficient with energy usage. It is also a form of "muscle overloading" and will allow muscles to be built, apart from teaching the body to continuously burn fat even while resting. Training on interval will also quicken your recovery heart rate which will allow you to "push" again after a short "resting" period. I've been a proponent of high intensity interval training or HIIT and it has been a mainstay in my workout. Read about HIIT here. The level of effort is greatly dependent on your personal fitness. I can safely say that my HIIT has been raised by a few bars since i last wrote about it. I've also mixes up all my workout - swimming, biking and running with varying intensity. In fact, for runs, it has been mixed with trails and road running. The intensity has always been kept high and my average pace now is at 4:45 with instances of holding on to 3:15 pace for close to 1km. It is evident with my latest fast 1-mile run that has improved from a mediocre 8 minutes to a new low of 6:19.
And you know what? The timing could only get better as I continue to push myself and get my body and mechanics to work with me to be more efficient.
The key to teaching your body to burn fat starts in the kitchen. You have to learn to eat well, eat clean and eat right. There is no such thing as "spot reduction" and always remember to know your "good fats" from the "bad fats". Rest well and drink a lot of water and at the same time continue to exercise. Once you get this basic right, you will be ready to improve yourself with your fitness. Increased mileage coupled with higher intensity and the ability to understand how your body reacts to food and water you take along the training or race is essential to fine tune your body to one lean mean fat burning machine. Always do your own research and take any health advices (including this) with a pinch of salt - for knowledge will help you go far and prevent possible injuries. Learn to listen to your body and respect the distance
Drop me any questions and i will try to answer as accurately as possible.

Update July 31, 2017:
More workout to help Woman burn Fat from Mass Gain Source which could be helpful.

Update March 1, 2018:
A great article on Body Composition from Sports Fitness Advisor to check out.


  1. Hi, Tristupe. Regarding the "Aerobic Exercises" Myth. I agree that fat burning zone could be misleading because it just means that aerobic metabolism predominates anaerobic metabolism in that HR zone. However, can you explain the energy efficiency of the aerobic and anaerobic metabolism?

    From my own reading, the ATP produced from both metabolic are different, >30 ATPs for aerobic vs 2 for anaerobic. Is aerobic metabolism sustainable? because the main fuel utilized is the glycogen and it is limited. Besides, the HR would break the roof and gasping for O2 at the same time.

    1. Hi ChoonShih,

      Good stuff there. What motivated me to write about this and debunking this "myth" was that some people tend to think that if they work around their "fat burning zone", which typically falls (generally) around the 60-70% HRmax rate, they be fine.

      Let me reply in general and for everyone reading as to share knowledge as well. Do bear with me if i am repeating what you already know. Here goes...

      Almost everyone forgot that as we get much fitter, our body will adapt and uses the energy differently. We get more efficient in the energy usage and the HR remains lower despite continous effort.

      1. Energy efficiency of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism - why sugar is prefered fuel?
      You are right that both the energy produced are different. You already answered the question yourself on that. Reason why glycogen are used as primary fuel is just that - they are easily available and easily turned into energy aka per your reading >30ATPs in aerobic/oxygen rich condition aka active breathing. Burning fat is energy intensive, it requires 9kcal to burn a gram of fat as opposed to 4kcal for glucose/protein; which is why glucose are always used up first. Energy are produed from metabolism of ATP, which are primary fuelled by fat and sugar (or carbs).

      Depending on the person's current fitness level, Aerobic metabolism varies. It is not sustainable as we can only carry that much of sugar store in our muscle before it depletes. Reason why sports nutrition dictates that you consume their food every 45minutes. Those gels are nothing but sugar (mainly sucrose and maltodextrin). Also reason why we crave for sweet bring as a "pick me up" during a race - but it is not possibly sustainable (fuel wise).

      2. Continous hard effort - HR bursting the roof.
      A conditioned person with good aerobic (aka cardiovascular) fitness would be able to sustain an aerobic metabolism better as the energy efficiency (power output/metabolic power) will be higher; which explained why a fitter person with lower resting heart rate aka bigger "heart rate reserves" will be able to metabolise energy aerobically more efficiently. Lets say a two person, both aged 35, one conditioned and one example would be this...
      Person A : HRrest - 39 HRmax - 185
      Person B : HRrest - 72 HRmax - 185

      A has a reserves of 146bpm as opposed to B with only 113bpm. Numerically speaking, A at 50% effort only requires a 73bpm as opposed to 57bpm for B. What does this meant?

      It simply mean that even at resting, B is already working above his/her 50% effort! Which explain why they could not sustain a long enough aerobic exercise to "reap" the 30ATPs being used for aerobic metabolism! The steady state would not applies to him to obtain the benefit!

      As the article focuses on using fat instead of carb as energy, and as you rightly pointed out, my intention is to educate on using high intensity workout, tapping into the 90% and above, thus further improving the lactate threshold, and getting the person more conditioned so he/she would be able to lower his/her resting heart rate, have higher reserves, and will be able to sustain a longer aerobic metabolism, which in the longer run, burns fat as fuel.

      And of course, being an advocate of clean eating, you have to provide the body GOOD fat in the first place for it to be used readily.

      Please share more, this is turning to be a good discussion! :)

      thanks again!

    2. Hi, Tristupe.

      Great write up. Glad that you are willing to spend time explaining this.

      I'm trying not to mix all variables in this post but I tend to think that running is not just the mechanical movement of the body, there are quite a number of things happen at the background simultaneously, with many factors playing it roles to produce a flawless execution (on the given the condition).

      1. Energy efficiency of glycogen.
      In conclusion, glycogen is not sustainable and it WILL NOT last forever, since there is a cap in our muscle storage. Can I say that the primary fuel that we get from fat burning does not have the same quality as glycogen, in term of efficiency? In a layman's term, do we run slower with fuel from fat burning?

      Since carb and fat metabolism actually happen at the same time, with one predominates over another given the intensity. The most desire thing for athlete is to produce sustainable energy at high speed. Is higher 'fat/glycogen metabolism ratio' the answer? How?

      2. HR bursting...argh...
      I'm 30 with resting HR at 55-60. However, my HR could go as high as 19x. Maybe I have a smaller heart, resting HR did not improve although I put in once a week interval program for months ago. I would go 'KO' if my HR hit 180 in early stage of races because I cannot sustain the high HR for >10km.

      Sometimes, I tend to breathe shallow when the intensity increases and it elevates the HR, very quick. Sometimes, I tend to hold the breathe or slow down the breathing to regain the rhythm, but once the 'imaginary' threshold is breached, there is no way back. Seems like diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing is the only way to supply enough O2, to enable more aerobic metabolism, rather than digging deep for more energy reserves.

      I tend to mix aerobic/anaerobic metabolism, HR, breathing, etc together, hopefully I will not confuse you.

      Thanks for sharing the info.

    3. Good stuff. Guess you already got all your ground covered.

      1. No, energy is energy. What distinct between burning glucose as opposed to protein and fats is because glucose is at the simplest form and ready to be utilised. LIkewise when you take food with low GI, it burns slower as more work needs to be done to break it down to simple sugar/glucose. Energy from FAT is as good as sugar. We have more fat deposit compared to sugar, making it a more "sustainable" energy source. Sustainable energy at high speed depends on a few things and one of the most important is the onset of fatigue aka lactate threshold. In an unconditioned person, the LT comes in at about 55% of their VO2max. and it is expected that they have lower VO2max, hence they "burn out" faster. You will be able to sustain a higher speed (which is a non-steady condition) longer as your body has better ability to flush the lactate build up faster.

      2. HR is tough one. I am 36. My current HRrest sits at 37bpm. I say it can be lower if i consistently train systematically. I have written about HR training and how you can utilise certain band ( improve. I've noticed that i alternate a lot of recovery/slower run after every hardwork out. Perhaps, the elevated heartrate and effort could be one way that the body is trying to get accustommed to the exercise load that you are putting on. Once it reaches equilibrium, i believe, you will see much improvement.

      Many mistakes by many of us (myself included) is that we tend to push too hard, too fast and expect results in shorter time.

    4. Can you further explain "In an unconditioned person, the LT comes in at about 55% of their VO2max."? Is the VO2max = to 90% or 100% of one's max HR?

      Talking about lactate threshold, sometimes when I do the 800m strides + 400m jog interval training, I could feel that something is going on my calves. Some people say it is due to the lactate build up, some people say it is due the muscle damage. Kinda confusing...

      I ran the Shape Run 2012 at Putrajaya with average HR of 190. I was on my feet the whole day before the run, the route is hilly, it was humid and I was pushing to run at sub-5 min pace. Not sure whether that's a good thing to do. After that, I tried to improve the breathing rhythm, start up pace, etc to control the HR at 17x.

      Since I'm self coaching myself, or I should say plan the training myself, I must have had overlooked many things, because I am not trained for it. So, need a bit of reading here and there to learn more, that's why I ended up here :P

      Thank you.

    5. CS - VO2Max need to be measured separately. But a rough indication are usually the 1.5mile run timing. You will need to read up on VO2 article to know what they are. your 100% HR is not your VO2 max as it actually denotes the person's ability to transport oxygen to the muscle during exercise.

      2. Feeling something funny in the calve is not muscle damage. It is certainly lactic acid build up. Lactate threshold is again, something different from lactic acid build up. Again, speciic test can be done to find that out. It usually corelates with the VO2Max reading and athlete that knows these will work near these limits to maximise their body for energy and power.

      3. i am also learning, and that is why it is wonderful - sharing. I am self coached as well and it is ok to share and learn, as we won't live long enough (or train enough) to learn everything ourselves.:)

    6. Hi, TriStupe.

      Thanks for your sharing. VO2max and lactate threshold are not something that could be measured easily, at least for me. Lactate threshold, probably those with a little mathematic background could draw a correlation to one's training performance over a period of time. However, I do see professional athletes actually track their training progress by doing the VO2max test from Youtube.

      You mentioned about the body natural reaction to sugar, which could be misused. However, during your 50km run, is it time trial run or just a regular training to assess your fitness level or maybe your body ability to burn fat as fuel? I believe one could run 50km on plain water, I believe salt is essential depends on the salt concentration in one's perspiration.

      I believe it would cause some debate here since most people are looking for 'more speed' rather than to burn more fat, or for health/fitness. In my opinion, consuming the sugary drink is obviously the easiest way out there for them to achieve the 'higher' and 'constant' speed, given that there is a constant supply of sugar.

      I have trained on >30km in my LSD, I must take breakfast and banana every 10km stop/rest to restore some energy, else the pace keep dropping as the fatigue sets in.

    7. Bro. LT can be measured accurately using a device that look like a glucose meter. I've seen it being used by some coaches.

      I've not ran 50km one shot but perhaps up to 42km yes. Never ran an ultra. And those are races that i will rely mostly on water only. Salt is essential yes, but not compulsory. It depends on your body and also your diet. Taking salt itself will not solve any problem.

      Problem with athletes nowadays is that they look for speed, like you said, without understanding why they are "speeding". consuming sugar drink is easiest, and also most fatal to an athlete's performance if he/she is in an endurance race where mental strength is as important as physical abilities. tricking the brain with sugar food will only cause you to burn out and turn in to more sugar food to sustain without actually needing them.

      My article on this is that we learn to utilise fat as the preferred fuel rather than sugar as the primary fuel.

      By the way, one banana has enough energy and calories to allow you a 90minutes exercise. you might be overcompensating on your race nutrition if you take one banana/10km. Looked like we have something psychology here where the reliance on food (in this case banana) determines or allow you/trick the brain to say that "i have the fuel now, until the next 10km".

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Actually here in below link some easy home exercises are given. I want your suggestion
    Is these exercises are really works or just a time waste. I do not want to do any hard exercises because doctor has recommend me only easy one. Hope you get my problem.