Is Burning Fat The Same As Burning Calories?
You may have heard at some point or another that there is a difference between burning fat and burning calories. That difference, according to some, is in how you work out, what intensity you work out at, and what your heart rate is. Have you heard of the fat burning zone? There’s a diagram of it on all aerobic machines at the gym. That’s where this idea of burning fat vs. burning calories comes from. Essentially, the idea suggests that if we work out at a certain intensity so that we keep our heart rate within a certain range of our resting heart rate, we will burn more fat. More fat than what? More fat than if we were to do a very high intensity workout that pushes our heart rate way up there.
And so this idea suggests that if you have two people trying to lose weight, the one who does less intense exercise will burn more fat and thus lose more weight than the one who works out so hard they can barely say a word during their workout. Does that sound strange to you? Well it is.
Burning fat and burning calories are not necessarily mutually exclusive. When we need energy (i.e. when we work out) our body draws on our carbohydrate stores (triglycerides). If, and only if these reserves are used up, our body turns to our fat for energy. It doesn’t matter what intensity you’re working out at or what your heart rate is. If your body has some carbohydrates stored (i.e. every time you eat), it will use them up to fuel your workout…and everything else you’re doing. So what about the fat burn?
Easy! Calories in, calories out. Eat less than you burn and your body will eat up your fat (not quite all of it). If you’re burning more than you’re consuming, your body will not be able to store any carbohydrates that can be used as energy. You’re just not eating enough (or you’re burning too much when working out) for that to happen. But your body needs its fuel, especially when you work out. So in these cases, you WILL burn fat.
Burning fat only comes when the “calories” (aka carbohydrates) are all gone. So if you’re trying to lose real weight and not just water weight, watch what you eat and work out regularly. And keep in mind that if you eat MORE than you burn, your body will store the extra carbohydrates as fat. It uses up what it needs and puts away the rest for future use.
Walk-away point: Calories in, calories out. That should be your focus.