Best Practices in Fat Loss

Endless waves upon waves of good-intentioned fat-loss seekers tie up their running shoes and walk around their neighborhoods, flock to the gym and trod on their cardio equipment of choice, only eat twice a day, and never get their heart rate above their “fat burning zone.” Yet their jeans remain too snug, the zipper gets harder to close, and women and men grow steadily frustrated with how infrequently they eat, how much cardio they do in their low-heart-rate, “fat burning zone,” yet still fail to lose weight.—->What’s the deal?!

…I’ve re-read “The Science of Fat Loss” by Alwyn Cosgrove (only one of the most sought-after fat loss specialists in the industry) and it was a truly invigorating read. I feel passionate about fat loss, and feel compelled to relay and comment on some of his most salient principles for fat loss success…


First of all, let’s talk about energy expenditure. In a day, you may burn, say, 2000 calories. That is contributed in a small way from factors such as the thermic effect of food, lifestyle (e.g. how much do you move in your job? How sedentary or active are you?), and exercise (e.g. 60 min spin class, half hour lifting weights, etc.). The majority of the calories you burn in a day, however, come from how much muscle mass you carry. Your resting metabolic rate is DIRECTLY related to how much muscle you have. Therefore, someone with a lower body fat percentage will automatically be burning more calories at rest than someone at the same weight with a higher body fat percentage.  Do you want to burn fat? Then you want to burn calories, right? So will lifting weights make you “bulky”? No! FOOD can make you bulky- EXERCISE can make you LEAN! Muscle is your fat burning machinery. Lift weights to lose fat!



Check out, for example:

Geliebter A, Maher MM, Gerace L, Gutin B, Heymsielf SE, Hashim SA.

Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects.

Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Sep; 66(3): 557-63.

In a comparison where they burned the same amount of calories during the training session, the strength training group lost significantly more fat than the aerobic training group. Furthermore, the aerobic training group lost significantly more lean body mass than the strength training group (clearly a detriment if muscle is your fat burning machinery).

Why is the myth of the fat burning zone so prevalent? Why do so many women and men think that doing steady state low intensity aerobic training is the way to achieve fat loss? (That’s actually the lowest priority in the hierarchy of fat loss, which I will cover a little later in this entry.) If you look at the chart below, you can see how an individual’s respiratory exchange ration (RER) corresponds to the utilization of either fat or carbohydrate as an energy source for fuel. As you can see, an RER of around .70 or .71 (NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training) uses a maximal percentage of its fuel from fat. So that’s where we want to work out? But an RER of .7 is achieved when we are at complete rest. Is complete rest the way to burn calories and fat? Not so, my friends. If body fat loss is desired, you must expend as much energy as possible. And that doesn’t come from resting.



What are the best practices in achieving fat loss?

1. Proper Nutrition

Eat 5+ meals a day. Limit your consumption of sugars and processed foods. Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables. Drink more water and cut out calorie-containing beverages. Eat lean proteins throughout the day. Save starchy foods for breakfast and/or post workout only.


2. See #1

You cannot out-train a crappy diet.

Remember, the more exceptional the compliance, the more exceptional the results. The better you eat, the better your results.

3. Activities that burn calories, maintain/promote muscle mass, and elevate metabolism.

  • You can do this through metabolic supersets, tri-sets, and circuits. This is characterized by heavy resistance, 8-12 reps (maybe less for more advanced clients or maximal strength goals, and maybe more for deconditioned individuals), 6-8 total body exercises, time under tension of 45-60 seconds (the actual time exposed to the load), and relatively short rest periods (e.g. 15 sec to 1 min). By sequencing the sets with non-competing exercises, it reduces rest needed per body part before you move on to the next exercise, and you are able to do more total work, so you can burn more calories by working ALL your muscles rather than doing a tricep kickback…resting…waiting to recover…doing another set of tricep kickbacks….rest….wait…and again…and maybe again….and then you’re done with your workout and haven’t burned too many calories, and haven’t elevated your metabolism. With metabolic supersets, tri-sets, or circuits, you are initiating EPOC, or Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption. This is the process whereby the metabolic rate recovers to pre-workout levels. This is AWESOME, because it means you are still burning more calories even after your workout!

4. Activities that burn calories and elevate metabolism.

  • high intensity anaerobic interval training
  • high intensity aerobic interval training

5. Activities that burn calories but don’t necessarily maintain muscle or elevate metabolism.

  • steady state high intensity aerobic training
  • steady state low intensity aerobic training


Most importantly, you must have a clean diet.  With regards to exercise, resistance training that creates as massive a metabolic disturbance as possible provides you with the most bang for your buck. If you have additional time, go ahead and add some intervals (as hard as you can). If you have even more time, go ahead and bang out some steady state higher intensity cardio. If you have even MORE time to spare, then lastly go ahead and implement some low intensity steady state cardio. The moral of the story is- staying in the “fat burning zone” (e.g. RESTING) is NOT the way to go! Ladies and gents, go out and move with the most vigor you can! Lift heavy weights and WORK! Build your fat-burning machinery- your MUSCLES! The more lean muscle mass you possess, the higher your metabolism will be, and therefore the more fat you will burn!  Follow this strictly and expect to see amazing changes in your physique~

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  1. april  March 8, 2010

    I. LOVE. THIS!! And I love you and your site!! LOL. I hate steady state cardio.. HIIT all the way! And even then I much prefer lifting! If you have time, you should check out my workouts and see if they are adequate for increasing my EPOC!

  2. admin  March 8, 2010

    lol April and I love you too! I am glad you liked the post. I think we are on the same wavelength, bc I prefer lifting, too, then HIIT, then steady state cardio. It is always more exciting when you feel you are escaping death in the form of weights or intervals, rather than being bored bored bored. Thanks for letting me know you like the post! 🙂

  3. Deb (Smoothie Girl Eats Too)  March 11, 2010

    Hey! I loved this post. I had an interesting scenario. I lost a bunch of fat and got pretty lean. then I started to lose muscle (hydrostatic testing). The guy asked if I did a lot of high intensity training and I said that it was ALL I did, plus weights. He said that this was the reason: I was catabolizing. And I was over-training. So he recommended doing steady (kill me now) state cardio with a FEW HIIT bursts each time (above my measured LT). I went back after dieting and doing this and I lost fat but gained muscle. so it seemed to work, as I should have lost muscle too with the dieting. My lament is that I LOVE hiit and hate having to keep my HR less than 144 for the bulk of my workout! Thoughts would be appreciated!

    • admin  March 11, 2010

      hey girl! thanks for sharing. You need a certain amount of calories (aka energy) to maintain and/or gain muscle. Even if you ARE weight training and eating protein, and all that…you can lose muscle if your body needs to tap into those stores to recover from a workout. Sounds like you were expending a LOT Of energy, so you didn’t have sufficient energy to sustain your muscle mass. I am betting that you are not expending enough energy now with your routine change to catabolize your muscle. Hence, maintaining or gaining muscle. HIIT is super effective at scorching fat. But if you do HIIT all the time, that’s too much (overtraining). By doing that, you did “too good” of a job at scorching scorched muscle too! I love working hard, too, but make sure you don’t overdo it if you want to maintain your workouts in the long run. Stick to HIIT maybe twice a week. Hope this explains your phenomenon 😉 Have a wonderful night!

  4. Deb (Smoothie Girl Eats Too)  March 12, 2010

    Thanks! Sounds reasonable. Yes, I can tend to do too much of a good thing 🙂 If I’m not jumping around and sweating up a storm (or sore from weights) I feel like it was a waste of time!

    By the way, I wanted to click a button to receive follow up comments but I don’t see one? Let me know if I’m being lame 🙂

    • admin  March 12, 2010

      I hear you, Deb. I love sweating bullets. It’s nasty but so much fun! 😉
      Thanks for the heads up about following the comments. You are not being lame. I am just being a newbie blogger with a new website. I will handle that. Thanks!

  5. Jocelyn @ Peace.Love.Nutrition  March 14, 2010

    Great post!! I have heard that its 60% what you eat and 40% exercise. What you eat is so important for your health!!



  6. Tyson F. Gautreaux  March 22, 2010

    Hi there, I loved your entire post. You supply allot of awesome tips about getting in shape. Anyone seeking to shed fat wil gain allot from your advice. Found your website on google and have saved this for future reference.

    • admin  April 3, 2010

      Thanks so much!! I checked out your site- are you still in California?


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