Our culture has put a lot of value into exercise as a tool to lose weight. It can be very effective for fat loss, but it’s more complicated than just “exercise to lose weight.”
Exercise and Energy Management
Your diet completely and exclusively controls the fat burning capability of exercise.
A high carb diet, especially one with many meals and snacks, will always limit the fat burning potential of exercise. This is because your body will be using stored or incoming carbs as energy rather than the fat you want to lose. Recall that energy from carbohydrates is always utilized by the body first.
If you’re eating an average American diet (>300g carbs/day), it will take a significant amount of time exercising to exhaust your carbohydrate stores and start burning fat, much longer than most people exercise. Increasing the intensity of exercise will decrease the time it takes to start burning fat, but for most people, especially people who are trying to attain a healthy weight, it’s difficult to perform high intensity exercise consistently.
Then, the minute you eat (which for most people is immediately following exercise), your body will prefer to use that energy immediately regardless of whether or not you’re burning fat.
All of that said, there are some things you can do to improve the fat burning effectiveness of exercise. You can do any of these alone, but when you combine them, you become a fat burning machine:
1. Exercise in ketosis (with no stored carbohydrates).
When your body is in ketosis, it will use fat for energy with 100% efficiency. There’s no wasted time using carbs first.
2. Exercise fasted.
This means exercising after a 8+ hour period of not eating. If you have stored carbs, you won’t have as many since you’re body is already using them for energy. This will cut back the amount of time required to drain your carb stores.
Plus, if you don’t have stored carbs, you’re already using stored body fat for energy. Any effort you put in will be rewarded immediately.
3. Don’t eat immediately following exercise.
The minute you eat anything, your body will immediately use it for energy instead of anything stored. If you wait an hour or two to eat after exercising, that’s an extra hour or two you’re using body fat for energy.
Doing these things will make exercise effective for fat loss. However, I don’t recommend that you focus on exercise for fat loss unless you’re at a relatively low body fat percentage trying to reach an even lower one.
Exercise is Overrated for Fat Loss
You may be familiar with the phrase that “abs are made in the kitchen”, and it’s true; small dieting changes are all you really need to see fast progress.
I lost all of my weight with practically no exercise.
Exercise will accelerate the process, but given that 80% of progress is attained through diet, a hardcore focus on exercise is entirely unnecessary. Why? It makes weight loss more mentally challenging:
1. Exercise increases your hunger since you’re increasing your daily metabolic rate. This may cause overeating.
This is completely normal, but this hunger will degrade your limited daily willpower creating the temptation to cheat. If performed every day, cheating/overeating will eventually happen. If you have binge-eating tendencies, be especially careful.
2. It is substantially more difficult to exercise (especially cardio, which burns the most calories) when you’re overweight.
Running is absolutely euphoric when you’re in shape at a healthy weight. It’s miserable, sweaty, painful hell when you’re not. It’s better to do light exercise than put tons of pressure on yourself.
Listen, I understand that calling exercise “overrated” sounds odd. It goes against most things that you’ve been told.
If you’re not convinced that exercise isn’t very significant in the weight loss picture, consider this: we’ve been pushing exercise as the answer to weight loss for years. How well has it worked? How sustainable of a solution was it for contestants of The Biggest Loser?
Exercise Alone Is Unsustainable
Ok, fine. If you don’t want to change your diet at all, you can still lose weight with a ton of exercise, but I guarantee that you’ll have these problems:
1. If you exercise and keep your high carb diet, progress will be very slow, which will lead to low morale and less motivation.
This was always true for me. For example, after an entire summer of exercise at the gym (with a modified, but still high carb diet), I only lost 7 pounds. Compared with weight I lost from diet adjustments later in life, it was an absolute joke.
2. You’ll be hungry all of the time.
See bullet point #1 under the heading above.
3. If you retain a high carb diet, the minute your dedication to exercise stops, so does the weight loss.
And it’s very easy to gain it back if you’ve made absolutely no dieting adjustments. You may have experienced this for yourself. I did lots of times.
But You Should Still Exercise
Exercise is wonderful for your health, so you should do some anyway, but not with the intention to lose weight. If you eat healthy, natural foods and exercise regularly, chances are high that you’ll live a better, healthier life.
Move onto the first guide.