Is Regular Cardio Making You Fat?

I realize this will be a somewhat controversial topic and opinions may vary considerably, but today I want to explore and discuss how cardio can and just maybe making you fat! This may seem inconceivable to some, but recent research and scientific evidence shows that long, monotonous, slow and steady state cardio sessions actually hinder your bodies natural ability to burn body fat; specifically in your belly! Cardio directly will not cause you to gain fat, but there are situations where performing cardio in conjunction with other behaviors will lead to unwanted weight gain and increased body fat.

If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, and have not been getting the weight loss results you want despite long and frequent bouts on the treadmill or elliptical, please read on as the information within could potentially change your life!

It’s no secret that popular culture suggests in order to lose weight, drop fat fast, and be healthier cardio is the way to go! We’ve all heard of the obligatory “fat burning zone”, and naturally none of us question it due to the fact the fat burning zone is comfortable for us. At this leisurely pace we are able to text, read a book, check our Facebook, or have a conversation with the person on the machine next to us. This “fat burning zone”, like many myths as it relates to fitness and nutrition is taken completely out of context and should probably be re-named to the no results zone, or train your body to store embarrassing body fat zone.

So how exactly does cardio make you fat? To prevent any and all further confusion I would like to cite some key bullet points referenced from exercise and nutrition expert ChalesPoliquin and the Poliquin Group’s editorial staff:

  • In a 2011 review by Boutcher we know that “the effect of regular aerobic/cardio exercise on body fat is negligible.” Sprint and high intensity intervals work far better.
  • Over the long-term, cardio leads to loss of lean muscle mass, which leads to a slowing of the metabolism. Meaning as a result of having less muscle, your body will now burn fewer calories naturally over the course of a 24-hour period. So if one were to NOT reduce caloric intake at the same rate, fat gain immediately occurs.
  • According to a 2009 review conducted by Boutcher, subjects who partake in cardio exercise specifically designed for fat loss had results that were “disappointing”, because results were always less than expected.
  • In another compelling study, a meta-analysis of 493 subjects concluded that changing ones diet was far superior in efficiency and duration in reducing body fat in overweight people.
  • Too many calories burned during a single session can lead to intense hunger over the next 24 hours and increase the probability of over eating immensely. Remember, burning calories doesn’t always equate to burning fat!
  • The body adapts quickly to repetitive aerobic/cardio exercise with the goal of using the least amount of oxygen and energy to perform the greatest amount of work. Clearly, this does not promote fat loss.

***** In layman’s terms: If you are doing a sh*t load of cardio in the same frequency, intensity, and duration, eventually your body will stop burning fat and start eating away at the valuable muscle you’ve worked so hard for. Often times when we hit these plateaus our natural reply is to do even MORE CARDIO and we compromise even more muscle making it even harder to lose fat!

What to Do?

When beginning a cardio routine start with the minimum amount necessary. 3 times a week for 25 minutes is a great place to start and you can expect to see superb results when utilized in conjunction with a well-rounded diet. As you go throughout your journey you can increase the frequency but unless you’re doing a competition or something comparable, there is never any reason to do more than 30 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week.. Also, change it up! Alternate between the treadmill, elliptical, Stairmaster, or take it to the track for some sprints or run the stairs! HIIT workouts are not only fun but will help you drop fat fast in just 10-21 minutes a session. To learn more about this style of training that has changed my life click here.

If you’re not on a structured meal plan you need to fix that. As glorious as it would be to be able to train hard and eat crap all day it’s just not happening. By no means am I saying to starve yourself and restrict your diet to nothing but fish, chicken, brown rice and asparagus, but you need to be eating 4-6 meals a day depending on your goals and level of activity. It’s also mandatory to take in the right quality of food, and make sure these meals are portioned in conjunction with your specific objectives as it relates to your physical body. Most importantly, make sure you are doing both of these things CONSISTENTLY!

If your getting your cardio in and not getting desired results with your body please wake up and understand the cardio may actually be part of the problem. Nutrition is said to be 70% of the equation, one can make an argument for 80%. At this point you may be asking yourself “Is this guy really telling me to eat more, AND do less cardio to lose weight? “ The answer is YES, that’s exactly what I’m telling you to do.