Fitness Articles

The Best Fat-Burning Advice

Get the Facts to Burn the Fat

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Fat-burning tip: Exercise will burn fat stores at any time of day or night. There are several good reasons to exercise early in the morning, if you can manage it. You’ll get it done before other things have a chance to get in the way of your workout. And for many people, an a.m. fitness routine offers a psychological boost that can make the rest of the day much easier.

Exercising on an Empty Stomach

Fat-burning claim: Exercising on an empty stomach will burn fat as fuel. Perpetrators of this theory refer to the body's insulin response, which goes like this:
  • When you eat a meal or snack, your body releases insulin into your blood stream.
  • Insulin's role is to help carbohydrates (glucose) move from your blood stream into your cells, where it is used to make energy.
  • In the process, insulin partially inhibits the release of fat from fat cells, so that it can carry more glucose to your cells.
According to this theory, when you exercise before eating, the insulin response won’t happen; then the body's ability to burn fat as fuel won’t be inhibited; and you’ll end up burning more fat during your exercise.

Fat-burning fact: It's true that insulin inhibits release of fat from fat cells, but not true that exercising on an empty stomach makes you burn more fat overall. Anytime you are burning more fat during a workout, you are almost always burning fewer total calories, which basically defeats the purpose if your goals are weight loss and improved fitness. What really determines whether your body will turn to stored fat or carbohydrates (glucose) for fuel? The intensity and duration of your exercise. In a nutshell, you’ll burn more fat and more total calories when you exercise at high intensity levels. When you exercise at 70% to 90% of your max heart rate, your body can’t turn stored fat into fuel fast enough to meet the demands of your active muscles. But the more intense your exercise, the more total calories you'll burn during your workout and during the recovery phase afterward. When it comes to weight loss, total calorie expenditure is more important than where the calories are coming from (glucose or stored fat).

Fat-burning tip: Real fat-burning takes place during low-intensity, daily activities—not during exercise itself. The more calories (glycogen) you burn during exercise and recovery, the more your body will rely on fat stores to fuel the rest of your day. So instead of trying to figure out whether (or what) to eat before you exercise, choose whatever will help you put the most effort and time into your workout session. Everyone is different. Don't eat if it upsets your stomach to exercise soon afterward, but if you feel lightheaded or fatigued when exercising on an empty stomach, then you should eat a pre-workout snack or meal.
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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

  • BLONDIEREV
    This article was interesting and helpful! - 5/5/2015 4:06:13 PM
  • DIATATREAUX
    This article is helpful and realistic. Explains well, the important balance between exercise and diet, and the need for cardio, strength training and healthy nutritional calorie crunching.
    - 5/5/2015 12:13:25 PM
  • "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

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