36 Pittsfield Road
Lenox MA 01240
(413) 637-1414
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Quote: “In order to be wealthy, you must be healthy”

What burns more fat, high or low intensity cardiovascular training?

There seems to be some confusion surrounding this question. First of all there are 2 primary energy sources the body uses for fuel, fat and carbohydrates. When somebody is exercising they will burn a combination of fat and carbohydrates for fuels.  The lower intensity, burns more fat because fat requires oxygen.   When you increase your intensity it becomes anaerobic (without oxygen) when you are breathing rather heavily.  As your intensity increases the body shifts where it draws its energy from ie. walking to running. At a lower intensity the primary source of fuel is fat and the secondary source is carbohydrates. (Ex. Healthy adult walking 3 miles for an hour) When the exercise intensity increases the source of fuel is derived primarily from carbohydrates and secondarily from fat. This is where the confusion can sometimes set in.  Throughout the day one will replenish (eating) and withdraw (daily living) sources of fuel from the body.  While the body uses more energy from fat fuel it will not burn as much calories as higher intensity will when utilizing more energy from carbohydrates.  It does not matter if the calories burned come from fat or carbohydrates the total calories burned will be greater with higher intensity training, thus quicker weight loss.  So, for example if somebody has been exercising 3 -5x a week performing weight training and cardiovascular training and consuming x number of calories than this equation represents their basal metabolic rate. The amount of calories they consume and expend with their activity level to sustain their current body weight.

Now if one wants to lose body fat/weight in simplistic terms they have to do 1 of 3 choices. 1. They can perform the exact same training and consume fewer calories. 2. They can consume the same calories and perform higher intensity/ frequency exercise. 3. Or they can consume a little less calories and a little more exercise. So, as discussed previously low intensity based on time and caloric expenditure may not be your best/first choice, you will have to exercise longer to burn the same calories as you would at a higher intensity. Food consumption for calories can be reduced by choosing lower filled calorie foods, for example 2 cups of carrots 100 calories versus 1 cup of fried potatoes 235 calories. If relative fast safe weight loss is the goal then reduction in calories and/or increased frequency/intensity of exercise should be performed. If an improved quality of life, reducing risk for heart attacks, improved bone mineral density, reduction in numerous health aliments than choosing weight training with either high/low cardiovascular exercise will be very beneficial!

By: J. D. Reber M.S. & B.S. Exercise Science, CSCS &  NASM- CFT

Reference: National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal vol. 14, Number 6, 1992


Remember, eat healthy and live wealthy!

Personal training in Lenox, MA