Fat burning vs fat loss An essential difference

Scroll this

You read that right: burning fat and losing fat are not automatically the same. And for a successful cut it is important to be aware of the difference between the two.

Key points:

1.   During a day we burn fat at different times, while at other times we store fat. This is done based on the physical activity and the energy source (carbohydrates or fats) that the body prefers on the one hand, and what and how much we eat on the other hand.

2.   If we use a relatively large amount of fat as an energy source during an activity (and therefore burn a lot of fat), the body will use a relatively large amount of carbohydrates (glucose and glycogen) as an energy source at another time.

3.   Whether you lose fat depends on your energy balance throughout the day (calories in, calories out). You only lose fat if there is an energy deficit (which means a negative energy balance).

4.   If you’re not losing weight, you’re not experiencing an energy deficit, even though you may think you are.

5.   It doesn’t matter whether you follow a diet that is high in fat or high in carbohydrates. While there are differences in fat burning and fat storage, the net effect is the same, which is the difference between calories in and calories out.

6.   It doesn’t matter whether you do cardio that burns a relatively large amount of fat, such as cardio on an empty stomach or cardio in the ‘fat burning zone’. At a later moment you will then consume a relatively large amount of carbohydrates. The net effect is the same, namely the difference between calories in and calories out.

7.   With calories in, calories out you have to take the thermic effect of food into account: you consume more energy (more calories out) if you eat food with a lot of protein and/or fiber. And it feels like it makes a difference if you consume foods with a high satiety level.

8.   Nevertheless, a calorie is a calorie, just as a meter is a meter.

FAT BURNING

Fat burning is a physiological process that takes place to generate energy in the body. Fats (either from food or stored in the body) are oxidized (burned, so to speak) and converted into energy. Nothing more and nothing less.

FAT LOSS

Whether you lose fat , however, is determined by the balance between fat storage and fat oxidation: you lose fat if the degree of oxidation is greater than the amount of fat that is stored.

In other words: to lose fat you have to create a negative energy balance over a longer period of time. At the end of that period, you will have consumed more energy than you received through your diet.

We express the amount of energy you ingest through food in calories – kilocalories (kcal) to be precise.

And the period we’re talking about is usually a day, because we look at many things on a 24-hour basis. But to actually lose a lot of fat, you have to maintain such a negative energy balance for a much longer period of time.

WHY THE DIFFERENCE MATTERS

The degree of fat burning is often used as an argument for a certain weight loss method. But if you know that the amount of fat you burn at a given moment says nothing about the fat loss, that argument falls. We give three examples.

LOW CARB/HIGH FAT VS HIGH CARB/LOW FAT

Many diet and fitness gurus recommend following a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet for fat loss. The low carbohydrate intake keeps the level of insulin (the hormone that supplies your body’s cells with glucose) low, making your body easier to burn fat, the argument goes, which is correct in itself.

However: eating more fat also means that your body stores fat more easily. By far the largest part of the fat storage comes from the fats in our diet, because fat storage from carbohydrates is a relatively difficult process i ] .

The other way around: if you follow a high carb/low fat diet, you will burn less fat due to the high insulin level, but at the same time you will also store less fat.

The net result is therefore more or less the same. There is therefore always no hard evidence for the often heard claim that low carb/high fat is more effective for fat loss ii ] . Not the other way around either. A large – scale study lasting twelve months endorses this iii ] , as do dozens of other studies v ] .

Whether you mainly cut carbohydrates or fats in your diet is usually purely a matter of personal preference: you choose the diet that is easiest for you to stick to.

However, bodybuilders in a cutphase will disadvantage themselves if they cut back on carbohydrates too much. Carbohydrates are a much more efficient source of energy for strength training than fats and are also important for those who have bodybuilding goals for other reasons .

As a bodybuilder it is therefore better to consciously choose a certain distribution of macronutrients, i.e. high carb/low fat (with due observance of sufficient proteins). But you do that because it is more favorable for preserving your muscle mass, not because you lose fat faster.

CARDIO ON AN EMPTY STOMACH

Another popular piece of advice is to do cardio on an empty stomach, because you burn more fat that way than when you train on a full stomach.

That last one is correct. After all, on an empty stomach, early in the morning for example, your body has little energy from carbohydrates (glucose and glycogen) at its disposal, so that it will almost immediately use fat mass to get energy.

But we have seen that fat burning and fat loss are two different things. And that is again apparent: if you consume a relatively large amount of fat during a cardio session, your body will use a relatively large amount of carbohydrates (glucose or glycogen) at another time. Viewed throughout the day, for fat loss, it does not matter which energy source you use at what time.

For bodybuilders, morning fasted cardio may even be detrimental, as levels of the muscle-depleting hormone cortisol are highest in the early morning vi ] .

CARDIO AND THE FAT BURNING ZONE

Yes, if you’re doing cardio, there’s such a thing as a fat burning zone, or actually aerobic training zone. It is between 65 and 75 percent of your maximum heart rate.

And it’s also true that you burn a relatively large amount of fat in that zone: about 50 to 60 percent of the energy you use by training at this relatively low intensity is supplied by fat. This is because more oxygen is available when exercising at a low intensity. And using fat as an energy source requires more oxygen than using carbohydrates.

Now it is nice and nice if you burn a relatively large amount of fat during that cardio session, but at other times of the day your body will use a relatively large amount of carbohydrates as an energy source. For the total picture, your energy consumption over 24 hours, it makes no difference iv ] . Just like you shouldn’t do at least 30 minutes of cardio for it to have an effect on fat loss – another persistent cardio myth.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with training in the fat burning zone. It’s fine if you can’t or don’t want to train more intensively. In fact, walking is our favorite form of exercise. As you will understand, you also burn a relatively large amount of fat with walking. And during a very strict cut, that fact could still offer specific benefits for bodybuilders, as we discuss in point 1 of this article, but again not with regard to fat loss in a direct sense. In addition, walking also has other benefits for bodybuilders, as you can read later in that article.

Remember: exercise leads to energy expenditure, whether that exercise is long or short, and whether the intensity is high or low. And that energy consumption counts for your total energy balance, so it can contribute to an energy deficit and therefore to fat loss. See further our article on cardiomyths.

CALORIES IN, CALORIES OUT

We have seen that fat burning occurs at different times of the day, depending on physical activity and the energy sources available at the time. However, fat loss only takes place if there is an energy deficit throughout the day.

Is fat loss as simple as calories in, calories out? Yes. And is a calorie a calorie? Yes. Just like a meter is a meter, and a liter is a liter.

Yet one important ‘but’: the number of calories of a food product does not say everything about the actual amount of energy that that product provides you. Food with a lot of protein and/or fiber has an increased thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is the energy your body needs to process food. This can be up to 10% of your total consumption. If you eat a food product of, for example, 200 kcal of which 20 grams of proteins, you will have less energy left than if you eat a product of 200 kcal with only 5 grams of proteins.

Furthermore, the satiety level of food also plays a role: although not for the actual energy supplied, but for your feeling of hunger. If you eat a lot of food with a high calorie density, you make dieting unnecessarily difficult.

“I’M NOT LOSING WEIGHT!”

Increased thermogenesis and other special aspects of energy consumption, such as the afterburn effect during heavy physical exertion, mean that you can never calculate your energy balance completely accurately, even with a calorie app. In addition, your maintenance level is always an estimate, no matter how accurately you try to quantify it.

As a result, it can happen that you do not lose fat, even though you think you have a negative energy balance. Apparently you don’t have that and you will have to cut even more calories to actually lose fat.

Also remember that during a long-term diet your maintenance level decreases under the influence of metabolic adaptation. This means that in the long run you will have to eat even less and/or exercise (even) more to maintain the energy deficit.

In short, if you do not lose weight, you are not in an energy shortage. Instead of insisting that this is the case at high and low, it is better to adjust your diet and/or start exercising more.

IN SUMMARY

During a day we burn fat at different times, while at other times we store fat. This is based on the physical activity and the energy source (carbohydrates or fats) that the body prefers on the one hand, and what and how much we eat on the other.

If we use a relatively large amount of fat as an energy source during an activity (and therefore burn a lot of fat), the body will use a relatively large amount of carbohydrates (glucose and glycogen) as an energy source at another time.

Whether you lose fat depends on your energy balance throughout the day (calories in, calories out). You only lose fat if there is an energy deficit, or a negative energy balance.

If you’re not losing weight, you’re not experiencing an energy deficit, even though you may think you are.

It does not matter whether you follow a diet that is high in fats or high in carbohydrates. While there are differences in fat burning and fat storage, the net effect is the same, which is the difference between calories in and calories out .

It doesn’t matter whether you do cardio that burns a relatively large amount of fat, such as cardio on an empty stomach or cardio in the ‘fat burning zone’. At a later moment you will then consume a relatively large amount of carbohydrates. The net effect is the same, namely the difference between calories in and calories out.

With calories in, calories out you have to take into account the thermal effect of food: you consume more energy (more calories out) if you eat food with a lot of protein and/or fiber. And it feels like it makes a difference if you consume foods with a high satiety level.

Nevertheless, a calorie is a calorie, just as a meter is a meter.

REFERENCES

  • i ] https://examine.com/nutrition/will-carbs-make-me-fat/
  • ii ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6224925/
  • iii ] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29466592/
  • iv ] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23313101/
  • v ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3530364/
  • vi ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3475279/

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published.