Diet vs Cardio for fat loss.
I know people that spend hours in the gym, but look the same now as they did 6 months ago. They are not getting the results they want. The reason is simple: they have underestimated the importance of their diet. Have you?
Please look at these two pictures and consider this:
- I did not change my training when starting the diet, and haven’t changed it for the last 9 months.
- I did not do any cardio.
- This did this in 7 weeks. (Details here)
I did three, 45 minute sessions a week with weights. That’s it. No morning running, no countless hours wasted on a treadmill.
The only change I made was what I put in my mouth, and when.
Everybody knows the rule for weight loss – Consume less calories than you need for the day and your body will use fat stores for energy. You need to be in a calorie deficit.
Two options are available to create this calorie deficit: 1. Move more. 2 Eat less.
The majority of people understand this too, however I think the problem lies with the overestimation of the effect of 1 (cardio) and underestimating the effects of 2 (diet). Allow me to explain with a couple of examples.
Option 1: Move more. (Do Cardio)
A quick look at the packed out cardio machines in any health club will tell you this is what most people opt to do. I feel that this phenomenon is more to do with the psychological satisfaction of ‘getting a good sweat on’ rather than being scientifically based however, as a quick look at the numbers will tell us.
Case 1: Elliptical machine loving Sally.
An hour on her favorite machine (or sometimes stationary bike, or treadmill) will burn approximately 350kCal. (Moderate pace, 70kg body weight.)
Sally usually pops into Starbucks after her workout to chat with her friends. She orders her favourite White Chocolate Mocha (medium size) which contains 330kCal, almost wiping out her hour of effort.
When looking at the menu, Sally needs to ask herself, “Do I want to spend a hour on a treadmill for this, or should I just get a drip coffee with a splash of milk (~20kCal)?” I mean, she was on the elliptical machine to lose fat right?
Case 2: 27 year-old Bob who has decided to lose fat fast he will run a half marathon, twice-a-week.
Bob, weighing 80kg, will burn a total of approximately 1,700 calories for the entire half-marathon with 1,400 of those calories coming strictly from running. Twice
a week this will equal 2800kCal burned with running. Good work Bob.
So what is that in terms of fat loss? Well, presuming that Bob is smart about his cardio and thus is running during the optimal time for fat burning and thus all of this energy is coming from fat oxidization, he will burn a mere 389g of body-fat (2800kCal / 7.2kCal/g). Bob will be fit in a cardio vascular sense, but perhaps not losing fat at a rate he would like.
If you are a woman (men to a lesser extent) currently doing lots of cardio, you definitely need to read this article on elitefts.com called “Women: Running into Trouble“. It could actually be causing you to gain fat by screwing with thyroid hormone production.
Option 2: Eat less. (Control your diet)
Bob could choose to skip the weekly marathon and eat 2 rice balls less (about 100g of carbs) a day, which will net him a the same 2800kCal (or 389g body fat lost) over a week. Which would you prefer?
Controlling my diet, in 12 weeks I lost 15kg of body-fat*. That is 1.25kg a week, or in terms Bob would understand, the equivalent of running 3.2 marathons a week, 18.7km a day.
(*Negligible changes in strength -measured by the big three lifts – indicate fat loss only.)
The key to diet success is having set portion sizes. Do not eat according to your hunger. As we have seen from the above examples, you cannot out-run your mouth. The mouth will win every time.
Your diet is where you fix things first and foremost. Adding more cardio when your diet is suboptimal is an inefficient and time-wasting strategy that will result in an increased risk of burnout and overtraining. -Martin Berkhan
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying cardio is useless. The NASM recommends a minimum of 30 minutes, 3 times a week for maintaining a healthy heart and cardio-vascular system. I’m merely saying that as a tool to burn fat, it gives a poor return on your time investment.
For details on the specific training & diet plan that I used, details on how to make it fit your lifestyle, and why I feel it can benefit you too, please click here.
Thanks for reading.
I you are interested in more information about cardio, specifically HIIT vs. LISS type, I highly recommend this series of articles by Alan Aragon.