What Cardio is Best for fat loss?
What’s the best type of cardio for fat loss? I still get this question regularly, and there’s two answers that I can support.
Answer 1: It doesn’t matter, it’s about the calorie deficit you create.
Answer 2: One type is better for you when compared with the other options.
Both are correct. Let me explain….
Firstly, we know that to achieve any real, lasting fat loss, we must use more energy (calories) than we consume. I’ve discussed this in depth in previous blogs, such as the simple rules of fat loss. Great, so that’s simple….. whatever burns the most calories is best!
Well, no actually. Let’s start by taking a look at the equation again….
Calories in Vs Calories out
Can you see where the issue is? No, ok let me break it down a little more…
Calories in= The food we eat
Calories out= Our metabolic rate (RMR), our non-exercise related activity, exercise related activity, thermic effect of food
Hopefully it’s becoming a little bit more clear, but let me zone in even further to this…..
Exercise related activity= resistance training, specific mobility work, prehab exercises, cardio
Just in case you missed my previous blogs on fat loss, and are feeling a little lost, here’s the key point. For fat loss, we need to create an energy deficit. Here’s some ways we can do that:
· Eat less Calories (check out my blog on this- it may actually mean eating more FOOD!)
· Do more activity in your day (housework, walk to work, etc)
· Strength training
· Go for a long walk to relax instead of watching TV
· Play a sport
· Add structured cardio to your plan
· Lots more…..
When we look at it like this, it should be clear that although cardio is a factor in the equation (if we decide to include it in the programme), it’s only a small part of the equation. Simply put, although an energy deficit is essential to fat loss, we can create this without doing any specific cardio work. So, when we’re looking at what cardio is best, the MOST IMPORTANT POINT is that whatever type of cardio we consider, it’s not essential for fat loss- particularly during the early stages of training.
That’s not to say it’s not helpful, it can be (and for those looking to get very lean, it will feel almost essential). But understanding that cardio itself is not essential is the first step to understanding what type of cardio you should do!
Now, here’s the bit most people don’t tell you. One Type of cardio IS BETTER FOR YOU!
Not all cardio is created equal. Here’s 3 ways to create a 300 calorie deficit:
1. Walk for 60 minutes
2. High intensity training for 20 minutes
3. Eat 300 less calories
The calorie deficit in this is equal, but the bodies response to each workout is not.
A walk can be relaxing, it can give us space to think, listen to a podcast, spend time with family and doesn’t put a huge amount of stress on our system. But, it takes a long time to get the calories, and from a “fitness” point of view, has little benefit on it’s own….
A 20 minute HIIT session can blast through calories quickly, and can be great to boost “fitness”, but it puts a huge amount of physiological stress on our body, and you need to feel “ready to train”- if not, it’s an extremely daunting prospect, and often is missed completely.
Obviously, these workouts are not created equal.
If you’re looking to get in shape, dropping bodyfat isn’t the only consideration- maintaining muscle should also be prioritised. With this in mind, we need to ensure we are in a calorie deficit, but our training priority is on staying in shape, maintaining strength and muscle mass. If your only priority is fitness, why are you still reading a blog specifically on fat loss?
I’d suggest that you aim to avoid long, intense training sessions like a 10km run… this will burn through calories, but it will be so intense for most people that it will start to impact their ability to recover and maintain strength and lean mass. Rather than shooting for a 750+ calorie workout, maybe just eat an amount that creates the necessary deficit? Don’t run and then have jam and butter butties to recover- just don’t have jam and butter butties?
So what’s best!
This leaves us with 2 realistic options… A variation of a short, intense training session (about 15 minutes, for example a HIIT training such as 6-10x 30s work 60 s recovery) or a long, steady and relaxing low intensity session.
What do you need in your plan? Is fitness a priority? Would you benefit from putting something a little slower in the plan? Are you pushed for time?
Here’s the key points….
Create the energy deficit, and make sure this is the right amount for you. You can do this by reducing your calorie intake, or increasing energy output.
If you decide to increase the energy output and put some cardio in, are you relatively fit, training a few times a week, low stress with muscle to spare? If so, and fitness is also important, maybe adding some HIIT into the plan isn’t a bad idea. If you’re less fit, or already training a LOT on resistance work (5 times a week or more), looking to keep as much muscle and strength as possible, working a high stress job and fitness gains are less important to you, then maybe adding the lower intensity stuff is perfect for you?
There’s a lot of “it depends” on this topic, but find the thing that works best for you!
But before you go away worrying about the cardio, ask if that’s what matters right now? What do you want to achieve? How’s your nutrition? Are you in control of calories? What about protein? How’s your sleep? How’s your training? Are you training enough to support your body composition goals? Have you any idea what the HELL you’re doing?
If not, let me know. Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), DM me on Facebook or Instagram, and I will do my best to help out. If you decide that working 1-1 or in one of our groups is the right approach for you, then great, if not, I will be happy to help you get started in the right direction!
Hope you found this useful! Good luck!
Josh Kennedy, MSc