Fitness Articles

The Best Fat-Burning Advice

Get the Facts to Burn the Fat

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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. Building five pounds of extra muscle is only going to add about 30 calories per day to your resting metabolic rate, but while you are cutting calories to lose weight, it's very difficult (if not impossible) to add five pounds of muscle to your body.

Muscle does burn more calories at rest and at work. But losing weight always involves losing some muscle along the way. If you don't strength train, as much as 30% of the weight you lose could be muscle weight, which works out to about 15 pounds of muscle loss for your 50-pound weight loss. Losing 15 pounds muscle could cost an active person several hundred calories per day in lost calorie burning capacity since active muscles (as opposed to resting) burn 30 times more calories than fat. This is one of the big reasons why people who lose weight rapidly on crash diets (without exercise) almost always put that weight back on later. However, an effective strength training program can reduce that 30% muscle loss figure to 3-5%. That's much better for your fat burning goals and your metabolism.

Fat-burning tip: Even if you're short on time, you shouldn't give up the cardio and concentrate on strength training if you want to burn fat. You'll burn more fat by doing 30 minutes of cardio than you will in a whole day sitting around with five extra pounds of muscle. But don’t make the opposite mistake of thinking you don’t need strength training, either. Both are very important for fat burning and overall health.

Putting It All Together

When you put all this information together, the picture you see is very familiar. There aren’t any gimmicks or shortcuts. To burn fat, the variables are simple. You need to:
  • Be as active as possible
  • Exercise at a moderate (60% MHR) to high (>70% MHR) intensity level when doing cardio
  • Include strength training two to three times per week
  • Keep your total calorie intake below your total energy expenditure (without exceeding a 1,000 calorie deficit per day)
  • Provide your body with plenty of quality fuel from healthy foods
When planning and timing your meals along with your fitness program, find what works best for you in terms of providing the right fuel at the right times, using your Nutrition Tracker and Meal Plans as a guide. Your energy and performance levels will tell you whether you need to eat before exercise, whether you need more or fewer calories, and what ratio of fat, carbs, and protein is best for the demands of your lifestyle. Now that you have the facts, don't let another fat-burning theorist steer you wrong ever again!
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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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