Dr. Gray's Straight Talk

Honest and blunt healthcare discussion and advice.

Frustrated By Your Fat-Burning Workouts?

Posted by Dr. Gray on Thursday, August 6, 2009

Article by Dr. Josh Sonsiadek

The other day a lady came up to me and asked why she was not burning fat. She expressed frustration because she says she rides the bike at the gym, and does the elliptical religiously at least 3 to 4 days a week. I told her that this is something I hear almost everyday.

Instead of telling her what I thought she wanted to hear, I asked her some very basic questions. The first question I asked her was if she was working within her target heart rate for her age. Almost immediately I was given the deer in the headlights look. She had no clue what I was talking about. The second question I asked her was if she works out aerobically in the early morning on an empty stomach or in the evening. She said in the evening.

To understand the process of fat burning, it is vital to understand that it is not simply a matter of reducing one’s caloric intake or riding a stationary bike for 20 minutes. Effective fat burning comes from efficiently planning your meals and understanding what your Fat Burning Heart rate is.

The first thing we must understand is what is referred to as your target heart rate. The target Heart rate is calculated by a simple formula that is written as such. 220 minus your age = target heart rate. For example, a 35 yr old person’s target heart rate would be. 220-35=185

The next thing to understand about target heart rate is the most important key to help burn fat in your workouts. Most fat burning occurs when an individual works between 60% and 70% of their particular target heart rate. For example, if the target heart rate is 185 and multiply that by .6 that would give us a number of 111. What that simply means is that we should get our heart rate up to at least 111 beats per minute during an aerobic activity in order to burn fat. If we wanted to work at 70% of the target heart rate then we would need to get the heart to beat about 130 times per minute. When we work between 60 to 70% of our target heart rate 85 % of the calories that are burned are from fat, 10 % from carbohydrates, and 5 % from proteins.Anytime we work above the 85 % level or below the 60 percent level we risk stopping the fat burning process and move to building up lactic acid. Building up lactic acid will allow proteins to be broken down which puts us at risk of wasting the process of muscle building, which in itself will be damaging to the fat burning process.

The second thing to consider is changing the time of the day in which the workouts are done. Aerobic activity is said to be most effective in the early morning on an empty stomach. Recent research states that approximately 300% more body fat is burned this way because our body is forced to utilize the energy from fat cells. Later in the day the body will tend to burn glycogen (stored glucose) levels first before fat burning begins. It is also very important to drink at least 16 to 24 oz of water before these morning workouts as well.

There are many more technical aspects to aerobic training and working out, but understanding this key concept may help with some of the frustration. It is also a starting point that most do not consider.

Weight-bearing, anaerobic exercise actually burns more fat than aerobic exercise… but more about that in a future post. Keep checking back for more information!

There are many factors to be considered about fat burning and target heart rates. Some medications may alter resting heart rates, so it is very important to consult your physician before any workouts are performed.


4 Responses to “Frustrated By Your Fat-Burning Workouts?”

  1. Tammy said

    What is the reason to drink so much water before working out? If I drink that much my stomach seems too full while working out.Is is ok to do an intense workout like bikeriding 15 miles in the early morning without eating?? I try to eat light before going on a ride like Larabars or an energy bar

  2. Dr. Josh Sonsiadek said

    The reason why you want to drink a lot of water before working out is mostly for hydration purposes for the muscles, but also to give you a sense of fullness. Remember first thing in the early morning your body is still in a state of fasting, so drinking the water helps combat that hunger urge for some people. If you are going to be riding 15 miles, I don’t recommend going without eating. This is mostly applicable for aerobic workouts lasting 20 or 30 minutes. Riding 15 miles will usually take the average person a little longer than 20 or 30 minutes to complete. Eating an energy bar is a good choice in the situation you are referring to.

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