By Erica Moe
This new year, it is likely that you have already, or soon will be, entering a fitness center. As you step onto that treadmill, sit on the bike or pedal the elliptical, you’ll have to make some decisions.
First, you will adjust the incline for the treadmill, the seat for the bike or the ramp height for the elliptical. Once the machine is physically set for you, the real brain-teasing begins. Which program to select? Some options include aerobic, interval, rolling hills, mountain peaks, and the all-alluring fat-burning zone program. Who doesn’t want to burn more fat?
Interestingly, your body uses a great percentage fat for fuel when you are less active.
Fact: You are the least active when sleeping, and it turns out that’s when your body uses the greatest percentage of fat for fuel — about 80 percent. At a lower exercise intensity, which has been coined the “fat-burning zone,” the percent of fat for fuel is still high — approximately 70 percent. However, the overall total calories burned can be less than a more intense workout, which will use about 50 percent fat and 50 percent carbohydrates for energy.
Let’s do the math:
- Sleeping 30 minutes burns approximately 25 calories, with 20 calories coming from fat energy.
- Walking at 2 mph for 30 minutes burns approximately 100 calories, with 70 calories coming from fat energy.
- Cycling moderately for 30 minutes burns approximately 250 calories, with 125 calories coming from fat energy.
Fact: In the three options above, both A and B burn a higher percentage of fat, but yield few total calories used. Therefore, if you want to burn more calories, aim for a more intense workout, which will help you achieve your goal faster.
Fact: This doesn’t mean that you should throw out your walking shoes. Walking, or other low-intensity exercise, is a great place to start a fitness regimen. For beginners, it may be a comfortable starting point and allow for a longer exercise session when building a fitness base. However, if and when it is feasible to find ways to increase intensity, it is well worth the effort to go beyond the fat-burning zone.
Fact: When moving your body, burning calories (fat or otherwise) should not be the first and definitely not the only measurement of success. Instead, focus on increased cardiovascular endurance with longer exercise sessions or increased strength and flexibility as beneficial health rewards, not just the readout on the screen.
Fiction: Selecting the fat-burning zone workout on a machine at the gym will help you lose fat more quickly. Selecting that program will burn a higher percentage of fat and that is where the confusion starts. To lose weight, it is imperative to understand that it is a balance of calories in (nutrition) and calories out (exercise).
If you need assistance understanding this more, or learning which program will help you get to your goals more efficiently, contact your local YMCA.
—Erica Moe, M.S., is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist who writes on behalf of the Mission Valley YMCA where she is fitness director.