Fitness Articles

The Best Fat-Burning Advice

Get the Facts to Burn the Fat

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Wouldn’t it be great if all the fat-burning secrets you see in magazine ads and TV infomercials actually worked? If sauna suits, cellulite-shrinking creams, herbal wraps, and pills designed to “boost metabolism and melt fat away” did what they claim to, obesity would be a thing of the past.

But they don’t work. And neither do any of those exercise gadgets that promise to reduce the fat in your fill-in-the-blank problem area (i.e. belly, hips or thighs). That’s just not how your body operates. You probably know by now that the only healthy way to lose fat (and keep it from finding you again) is to spend more energy on physical activity than you take in from food. That takes a combination of moderate calorie restriction and increased physical activity–a healthy lifestyle, not a crash weight loss program or other magic gimmick.

But what about some of the less outrageous claims and advice about fat burning that are floating around? Can you burn more fat by exercising early in the morning, or on an empty stomach? Does building up a lot of muscle really make you burn a lot more calories even when you’re sitting still, making strength training more important than cardio? Will you lose more fat if you exercise at a lower intensity for a longer time?

We’ll take a look at each of these claims, and see how they stack up against the evidence that is currently available. Then we’ll put all this information together into an effective fat-burning strategy that will really work for you.

Exercising Early in the Morning

Fat-burning claim: Exercising first thing in the morning will force your body to use fat as fuel. Proponents of this claim say that while you’re sleeping overnight, your body is in a state of fasting that uses up most of the carbohydrates (stored as glycogen) that you ate during the day. Therefore, working out in the morning burns fat because fat is the only fuel available.

Fat-burning fact: Not true! Your body stores glycogen in two places: in your liver and muscle cells. When you sleep, your body turns to glycogen in the liver to keep your brain, nervous system, and other essential operations going while you’re not eating. Therefore, the stored carbohydrates in your liver will become depleted overnight. But remember how your muscles also store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen? This muscle glycogen can only be used by those muscle cells. So, unless you run a 10K race in your sleep, your overnight "fast" will not noticeably affect on your muscle glycogen. This is a good thing, because you’d never make it through the first few minutes of your morning exercise routine if you didn't have any muscle glycogen.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • "At rest, one pound of fat burns about two calories per day, while one pound of muscle burns about six calories. Simply having more muscle is not going to make that much of a difference all by itself"
    Excellent data to remember. We need it all - cardio AND strength training. Don't forget to work on flexibility and balance also. The last 2 are very important as we get older.

    Yes, it is possible to work out 2 hours per day. Lots of people watch TV for that long, so watching while walking on a treadmill or pedaling an exercise bike is quite doable. You can also break it up into segments. That said, the article doesn't say we HAVE to do that much. Focus on what you can do, not what you can't. - 3/2/2015 1:06:34 PM
  • I find the article palatable. There is no get slim quick pill or exercise. It all boils down to burning more calories than you consume and one pound lost is equal to burning 3500 calories more than you consume, no matter how you do it. Eat 500 calories less a day (or if you prefer to say burn 500 calories more than you eat a day), and in 7 days you will lose a pound. Do that everyday for a year, and you will lose 52 lbs. - 3/1/2015 8:06:28 PM
  • DANDYLINES
    This article is both confusing and silly. Really - who can exercise an hour a day or at a high intensity level a lot?
    The guidelines at the end or the only sensible information in the whole thing.
    Also (as usual) assumes that everyone can (physically) exercise like this. It does not take into consideration older adults or those with physical challenges.
    This article needs to get balanced and real. - 3/1/2015 5:27:31 PM
  • I subscribed to some of these thoughts. I do spend a lot of time at the gym, normally 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 mins. I'm a type A personality, lol.

    Geterdone! - 8/31/2014 3:03:24 PM
  • I liked your article but if you don't live in a bubble, the 2 hours of exercise is very unrealistic.

    10-20 min. a day maybe twice a day is achievable to most people, but no real marathon runners unless it's after work.

    It seems the article is putting down those who cannot devote longer periods of time to exercise. Some don't have endurance yet and need to build up to it. Others have health concerns that limit their participation for long periods of time.

    Just a thought. - 8/6/2014 9:30:56 AM
  • BCLEMENT
    Are there really people that have 2 hours a day to spend exercising? Really? Do they have jobs? Do they have a life outside the gym? I'd love to know who has this kind of time, I'll consider a career change. - 5/5/2014 9:29:48 AM
  • DADKAJ
    Just adding a bit to the claim of exercising on an empty stomach or early morning: this has been found to be effective in switching metabolism towards fat burning in athletes, hence sparing some extra glycogen for endurance exercise. Therefore the exercise on empty stomach DOES help to burn more fat but this is of no real value to general public trying to lose weight. - 5/4/2014 4:48:41 AM
  • Love the way this article is written! It makes so much sense in writing....now, to apply the principles in day to day life..... THAT, my friend, is the challenge! - 10/10/2013 10:26:52 AM
  • Thanks for sharing - 9/26/2013 7:06:30 AM
  • PEACENCARROTS
    Glad I know fact from fiction now. - 9/19/2013 10:56:19 AM
  • I have questions and just noticed the comment just above. I want to save this article and share it. I am going to the message boards to ask how. Maybe someone else already has asked. Thank you for this article. - 5/12/2013 9:43:12 AM
  • Balance. It always comes back to that. - 5/12/2013 7:48:39 AM
  • Dean, thanks for this great article. I have had an idea about a few, but as you put it all in perspective it makes so much more sense. I really enjoyed learning more about this. - 4/22/2013 10:22:20 AM
  • PIPSYPOP
    Thank you for clarifying all these points. I appreciate the thoroughness. You have answered many of questions about my fitness routine. - 4/9/2013 11:09:44 PM
  • Really good article. Thank you! - 4/9/2013 9:56:48 PM

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