Convinced you were born with a slow metabolism? Good news: you can boost it by building muscle mass and fitness. Here’s our definitive guide to boosting your fat-burning abilities!
How your body burns fat
When you exercise, your body burns glucose first and fat second. Glucose is the energy from carbohydrates that flows into your bloodstream after you eat, and is stored in your muscles as glycogen.
While glycogen provides instant energy, your body can’t store much of it (unlike fat), so supply is limited. The good news? Once glucose runs low, you’ll start burning fat.
To be used for energy, fat has to be broken down into fatty acids and glycerol, which requires time and oxygen. So to get your body to burn some serious fat, you need a pretty serious workout.
“The more intense your exercise, the greater the fire in your fat furnace,” says personal trainer and 12WBT Program Writer Tim Pittorino. “And once you shift into fat-burning gear, you have the energy to swim, cycle and run for much longer.”
Also read: Top 10 Cardio Myths Busted
3 effective fat and glucose burners
With each form of exercise, your body uses a combination of fat and glucose as fuel.
1. Anaerobic Exercise
Short bursts of high-intensity anaerobic exercise – such as sprints and short, heavy sets in weight training – eat up glucose stores rapidly. “During weight training, the primary fuel is glycogen because your muscles need energy quickly,” Tim explains.
12WBT Support Crew Member Lou McDonald says anaerobic exercise will raise your BMR fast. “It’s an extremely effective way of burning fat as it generates the hormones that encourage fat burning, suppress insulin levels and raise the metabolic rate more effectively than other methods of cardiovascular activity.”
2. Aerobic Exercise
“When you’re doing more sustained aerobic work – low-impact jogging or walking – you don’t need the energy as quickly, so your body taps into your fat stores and grabs a combination of glycogen and fat,” says Tim.
“The more aerobically fit you are, the faster you start burning fat and the greater percentage of fat you burn, which also means you’ll have more energy for your workout.”
So is it best to stick to low-intensity aerobic exercise when you’re trying to lose weight in order to tap right into your fat stores? In a word, no. While you’ll initially use glycogen rather than fat as fuel for more intense aerobic exercise such as running, you’ll burn more calories overall during your workout, which will lead to greater weight loss.
3. Weight training
“Strength-training sessions may not burn as many calories during the session,” says Michelle Bridges, “but they have you burning loads of calories afterwards and they build up that lean muscle mass, which turns your engine from a two-stroke lawnmower into a V8 Supercar!”
That’s because muscle is a hungry tissue that requires loads of energy when you’re exercising at a high intensity, when you go back to low-intensity exercise and even when you’re at rest.
Also read: 5 Fast Ways to Burn Calories at Home
How to approach your new plan
Building lean muscle mass is tricky, so you need a plan. “Your weight-training workouts will depend on your exercise history, body type and physical limitations,” says Lou. “In general, the training needs to be intense, with a set amount of repetitions, sets and rest periods as the body adapts to the training” she says.
Tim adds, “There are some gifted people who put on muscle mass quickly, but they’re a very small percentage of the population.”
“The truth is it can take months to put on lean muscle, especially for women,” says Michelle. “You need to push as hard as possible during the training sessions. I want sweat pouring from your brow in at least three sessions per week” she stresses.
But if you stick to it, you will see and feel a difference over time. “Generally, after one to two Rounds, or three to six months, you’ll begin to see real definition,” says Tim.
And if you’re older, don’t use your age as an excuse – resistance training is one of the most important things older people should be doing. It improves bone density, strengthens muscles, protects joints, and helps prevent poor posture and mobility normally associated with age.
The magic formula: toning and cardio!
So what’s the best tactic for metabolic magic?
“Bodybuilders have very fast metabolic rates because they have loads of muscle mass,” says Tim. “And a marathon runner burns a huge percentage of fat even though they have less muscle mass because they’re aerobically fit. So the ultimate weight-loss formula is to carry a good amount of muscle mass and be as aerobically fit as possible, which is why the 12WBT programs have both toning and cardio.”
If you’re one of those people who naturally have a lot of muscle mass, you’re better off focusing on cardio work. And if you’re naturally skinnier, you’re better off focusing on the weights, particularly if you want to tone up.
Also read: What’s a Realistic Weightloss Goal?
How food helps
Your carbohydrate intake has an impact on how much fat you burn during exercise. When glucose concentrations are low, your intense run dribbles out to a walk because you just don’t have the energy to fuel those hungry muscles.
“Attention to detail with nutrition is vital to make sure that the muscles are fed properly, just like filling up your car with fuel!” says Lou.
But that doesn’t mean you should load up on burgers. If your body is flooded with extra glucose from a carb-loaded meal, it will stash more fat.
The best way to make sure your body burns fat efficiently is by following a sensible diet. “Eating regularly gives your body the correct signal to continue to burn fuel at a consistent rate, as it knows that it will receive more of it soon,” says Lou. “Many people confuse not eating with weight loss, when in fact the body then switches into survival mode, holding on to its fat stores.”
Fueling your body properly before a workout is important if you want to get the best results. “Have a small amount of food half an hour to an hour before training,” recommends Lou.
And hydrating is also vital for metabolism. “Drinking plenty of water is essential in assisting the digestive process in breaking down nutrients and processing them effectively. A water-starved body won’t release toxins and body fat efficiently,” Lou explains.
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