The Mythical Fat Burning Zone

burning flameCardio exercise machines can be misleading. 

Those control panels on the machines give you all sorts of information.  They’ll tell you your speed, distance, elapsed time, incline, and more.    They’ll also tell you the number of calories you’ve burned.   They’ve also got pre-designed programs with names like Cardio Blast, Interval, and a perennial fan favorite, Fat Burning.  Hmmm.

Ever wonder how the machine can determine how many calories you burn?   The rate at which each person burns calories is more complex that entering in your height, weight, and age and having the machine come back with a burn rate.  You have to factor in how hard you’re working, your metabolism, your heart rate, body temperature, and more.  Many machines don’t even ask you your height, weight, and age.  How could they possibly be accurate?   

So, what should you do?

1. Stop worrying about being “in the zone”.  If fat loss is your goal, burn more calories than you take in and make sure you’re taking in the right kind of calories.  The more calories you burn, the better.  More activity = more calories used. 

2. A good rule of thumb to gauge your intensity for your steady state cardio work is the Talk Test.  Imagine yourself doing your preferred exercise. Can you still hold a conversation with someone or are you huffing and puffing too hard.  Bring yourself to just below that point where it starts to get difficult to hold a conversation and stay there for the duration of the exercise.  As your fitness develops, you can experiment with other more intense cardio options.

Got questions?  Leave me a comment below.

Why I skip breakfast

Opinions vary widely on this topic and it’s generated quite a bit of controversy. It is widely accepted that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So, what’s this article about? Do I really skip breakfast?

The answer is…sometimes, sort of, and never.

Let me explain how your body uses energy. When you ingest carbohydrate, your body converts that to glucose to use it for energy. Glucose that is not needed for immediate energy is converted to glycogen, some of which circulates through your body and some is stored for later use. Your body uses the circulating glucose for immediate energy and once that’s depleted it goes to the glycogen stores. When you’re sleeping, your body is still using energy and since you’re not taking in any food, your body uses those glycogen stores. If you wake up and do your morning low to moderate intensity exercise without eating, your body goes to the next preferred source of energy which is body fat.

Should you eat breakfast?
Should you eat breakfast?

However, this process can work if the exercise is at a low to moderate intensity. During high intensity exercise your body doesn’t process oxygen and instead prefers to use stored or circulating carbohydrate. In absence of that source and without oxygen, your body isn’t as efficient at burning fat as fuel and instead turns to attacking muscle. High intensity exercise is fantastic and should also be a part of your workouts regularly, but you also need to make sure you’ve got enough fuel to keep yourself going during that workout. Losing muscle is bad news.

I started this article saying I sometimes skip breakfast and I’d like to clarify what this is really about. Sometimes I skip breakfast before my workout, but I always eat breakfast either before or after my workout. Fasted state workouts are a solid strategy for those on a weight loss journey, but one that should be used sparingly. Once or twice weekly is enough. Make sure you eat a real quality breakfast very soon after your exercise sessions to refuel yourself. That means real food with a mix of protein, carbohydrate, and dietary fat. Not a donut or a cup of coffee. That’s not breakfast. On your other exercise days, eat a small meal 45 to 60 minutes prior to your workout to allow time for gastric emptying while giving you energy for the upcoming session. Follow it up with another meal to help your body rebuild effectively. Ultimately, the answer is never skip breakfast.

Give it a try and get ready for the results.