How much cardio do you really need to lose weight?
The more the better, right?
Not so fast…
This is something I see very often from women who are trying to lose weight, especially when they are trying to shrink their lower body or lose fat from around their midsection.
It seems logical to reason that since a high intensity form of cardio (like running or cycling) is a high calorie burner, that doing more of it automatically means it is an effective exercise for fat loss – and that adding it to your barre workouts can only speed up your fat loss.
But all cardio is NOT created equal. And worse yet, too much cardio can completely derail your fat loss efforts.
There are a couple of problems with doing this type of cardio for fat loss:
1. ENDURANCE-TYPE CARDIO (LONGER THAN 30 MIN) CAN MAKE YOU HUNGRY AND CRAVE CARBS
Do any of these expressions sound like you:
…I am utterly RAVENOUS after a cardio session. Today I did 35 minutes on the stepmill and 20 mins on the recumbent bike. I was starving as I was exercising and afterwards had to eat everything in sight. I must have consumed about 3500 calories today, which is way too much for a 5 ft. 3 in woman trying to lose 20 lbs. The thing is it wasn’t even cravings that drove me to eat everything in sight- it was pure stomach growling hunger…
…I did 45 minutes of Cardio last night and was ravenous afterward… It was like I couldn’t get enough food….
…I have started running most days for up to an hour, and now find that I need to eat more calories than before. Well, I am also even hungrier now, and find myself over eating for the past couple days! It’s all healthy stuff, I just find that I get so ravenous…
The operative word here seems to be “ravenous” 🙂
It’s true that anything over 30 minutes is burning lots of calories, and that’s a reason for the increased appetite. But long cardio sessions also deplete your glycogen stores – which in turn causes an increased need for carbohydrates.
Endurance athletes eat lots of carbohydrates, as they should, because they need it for fuel to make it through those long runs.
Long cardio sessions encourage fat storage and lead to muscle loss.
Longer cardio sessions are NOT the right activity for fat loss.
“…your body quickly adapts to steady state aerobic activity, decreasing the amount of calories you burn with each walk/run, making you more and more efficient at the activity. This is the goal if you’re training for an endurance event – to be super-efficient using the least amount of energy (calories) possible to complete the distance. You want just the opposite if you’re trying to lose fat.” (source)
In past years, I erroneously thought jogging for 45 minutes a day was the way to get lean.
It didn’t work.
I was not able to control my carbohydrate cravings – which I know now totally derailed all of my hard work.
I never got truly lean until I was able to lower my carbs and started incorporating interval training. My appetite, especially for carbs, decreased significantly after changing my cardio.
Metabolic interval training is the key to fat loss.
Not only does interval training lower the appetite (as studies show), but it causes caloric expenditure for hours and even DAYS after the workout.
Long steady-state cardio does not do this.
Interval training creates an oxygen debt. When there is an oxygen debt, your body becomes unstable and has to work very hard to restore itself back to its normal state. The longer it takes for your body to return to normal, the more energy it uses, and thus the more fat it burns in the process.
This is what barre workouts are made of.
…and this is the reason why you typically do not need to do any extra cardio on your days off.
Allowing your body to return to normal without extra cardio is very important. It’s during this recovery that fat burning takes place. If you don’t allow your body to recover properly, you can seriously hinder your results.
2. LONG CARDIO STRESSES THE BODY CAN CAUSE EXCESSIVE ADRENAL HORMONE PRODUCTION, SUCH AS CORTISOL
This is a problem for MANY women today, and it is a direct cause of abdominal fat.
It’s also something that I rarely see addressed by most fitness trainers.
It’s quite sad, because it’s a real problem and one that can really set you up for failure if it’s overlooked.
Trainers everywhere say “no pain, no gain” and tell you that you need to push hard for results.
This would be fine in a perfect world – one without stress, nutritional deficiencies, mineral depleted food, pesticides, chemicals etc.
However, what these trainers fail to realize is that ALL of these things alter your body’s biochemistry, negatively affect the way your body functions, and keep your cortisol levels chronically elevated.
Now more than ever, we see an ever increasing amount of conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, hypothyroidism, various autoimmune diseases, and obesity.
Intense exercise is just another stress that causes cortisol levels to stay elevated, which really aggravates these conditions and make it difficult to lose weight.
Your Nervous System: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic
In a healthy person who has a good level of energy and who is relatively free of stress will respond to intense exercise in a healthy way.
This is how it’s supposed to go:
1. A person exercises intensely, the body shunts blood into the working muscles and limbs, and away from the digestive tract. The sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is responsible for this response.
2. As a person recovers from his or her workout, the parasympathetic system (responsible for repair and rest) takes over and gets everything back into balance.
The problem today is that our bodies are not functioning in this way, largely due to the high amounts of stress and toxic food I mentioned above.
The stresses of daily life alone are enough to keep the sympathetic system (fight or flight) dominant or activated in many people.
What’s wrong with this?
“The stress response un-regulates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the dominant stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol not only increases insulin which can inhibit weight loss and actually increase belly fat, but also disengages your brain circuitry. An increase in cortisol dampens your ability to receive pleasure and satisfaction from food…” (DrHyman.com)
Another article says this:
“…if done to excess or without sufficient food, aerobic exercise can be physically stressful and induce adrenal hormone production which causes the body to deposit rather than burn fat. [But]if done without eliciting the release of adrenal hormones, it promotes weight loss very effectively because it boosts your metabolic rate for about 36 hours after exercising, thus causing you to use more calories regardless of your activity for the next day and a half. (2) If your insulin levels are low and stable during that time, those burned calories can come from stored body fat.” (source)
Gentle to moderate exercise (such as walking) actually activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
This is why moderate exercise is enough to make you lose weight, and sometimes is a better choice than running, as this article at MetabolicEffect.com explains:
“Walking lowers the stress hormone cortisol, does burn some calories (not very many), and when it is leisure based walking, it keeps us from eating. Leisure walking may be the only activity that does not create significant compensatory hunger reactions for most people.”
I also like what this man said about walking vs. running:
“I’ve been a runner for 20 years…6 miles 5 days per week. About a year ago I started to get minor pain in my feet, knees, and calves, so I started to walk. I’ve been walking for a year now and I have to say it is better for my body and surprisingly better for weight loss! I never lost much weight running…which I thought was strange since I burned 3 times as many calories. My eating habits didn’t change either… Anyway, the #1 thing for weight loss is eating habits/portion control…#2 walking…I ran hard, but fat never came off. I always tell people to watch what they eat first if they want to lose weight. You don’t have to exercise at all and you will lose weight…my conclusion for weight loss exercise is that walking is much better for weight loss than running…this, to my surprise, was my personal results.”
There are lots of so-called “experts” out there who would disagree with me on this point.
It’s true that running burns more calories than walking.
But fat loss is not just about calories burned.
Should You Add Extra Cardio to Your Barre Workouts?
Usually it’s not necessary, especially of you are consistently doing one of these workouts. However, if you feel you need a little extra boost, walking is the way to go.
Just be careful, and always remember to listen to your body – more is not better in this case :)!