There’s many factors which impact your ability to burn fat – from lifestyle and training to nutrition and sleep habits - and there’s clear signs to show you’re getting it right (or not). But we wanted to narrow the window and focus on how to burn more fat specifically during exercise
#1. Watch your intensity
The intensity at which you train is really important if you want to maximise fat burning. It’s simple really: go easy.
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Your carb stores – held in your muscles and liver – are your bodies go-to source of energy during moderate and high intensity training. These carbs are effective at fuelling harder sessions but are limited and will deplete.
Your fat stores are the bodies preferred energy source for low intensity exercise. Even in the leanest of athletes, the number of calories (energy) stored as fat is enormous and plenty to sustain hour upon hour of exercise. Thus, if you’re able to train your body to utilise more energy from fat stores rather than carb stores, you’ll improve endurance. You’ll also decrease your reliance on gels and high-GI drinks to avoid bonking.
An easy ride with a mate is the perfect intensity for optimising fat burning during exercise
In order to promote this usage of fat for fuel, training intensity must be kept low. We’re talking super-easy conversational pace – an effort around 4/10 or less than 70% of your max heart rate. For those of us used to bombing around, it’s hard to be confident training at what feel like too easy an effort, but have faith – it does work.
#2. Ditch the pre-exercise carbs
Get #1 right and you can then move onto #2.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always need to load up on carbs before training. A non-negotiable low intensity effort is needed if you’re going to avoid carbs pre-exercise and promote fat burning.
But if you’re training consistently then chances are the majority of your sessions will be (and should be) done at a low intensity.
You don’t have to pile in the carbs before every session
This is all about mindset. If you’re going for an easy 60-minute swim, bike or run, don’t worry about consuming exogenous carbs. By consuming carbs pre-exercise, you’re telling your body to use these carbs during the session. That’s fine if you’re working hard but if you only need to go slow, these carbs won’t be utilised anyway and will simply be stored as fat.
Some studies have even suggested that eating a high fat meal with few carbs prior to training can also ramp up fat burning.
You can always go one step further on this and give fasted training a try. Training ‘fasted’ usually means getting out for an easy session before breakfast. Research has shown plenty of benefits to fasted training but there’s pitfalls to be aware of too, as we discovered in our conversation with expert dietician Renee McGregor.
#3 Use caffeine strategically
At the right training intensity, caffeine can help increase fat burning during exercise while simultaneously preserving glycogen stores for more intense efforts.
Coffee is the most popular go-to source for caffeine, but green tea is an effective alternative
Caffeine is absorbed into the blood and reaches peak levels about 45-minutes post-consumption. As the nervous system is stimulated, messages are conveyed to simultaneously signal a release of the hormone epinephrine (which encourages adrenaline secretion).
This increase in adrenaline generates a greater demand to break down fat cells for use as energy.
It’s worth remembering that caffeine can be obtained from a number of sources (not solely coffee). Indeed, green tea is the source from which we get most of our caffeine.
How to burn more fat – conclusion
Beyond the factors we’ve listed here, there are many lifestyle, nutrition and training factors that will influence the rate at which you burn fat. Keeping these three controllables in check while exercising will help maximise your fat burning ability.
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