Body Fat: How to Use It and Lose It

A closer look at body fat: Where does it comes from, why do we need it, what are the best ways to burn it off, and where the heck does it go?

Brock Armstrong
7-minute read
Episode #361

What is the best way to burn fat?

Doing what is commonly known as cardio or aerobic exercise (walking, biking, jogging) is good for you because it reduces heart disease risk, but it's not the best choice if your focus is to burn the body fat. Sure we have all heard of the “fat burning zone” but it is confusingly named and poorly understood.

You may think of weight training as a way to build muscle mass but it has also been found to burn fat more effectively than cardio.

You may think of weight, strength, or resistance training as simply a way to build muscle mass, but weight-bearing exercises have also been found to burn abdominal fat more effectively than cardio exercise.

In just two 15-20 minute heavy lifting sessions per week you can have positive effects on your resting metabolic rate, your blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity. Which all adds up to being a better way to keep that body fat weight off.

My advice would be to combine the two and get the best of both worlds and also throw in this little morning routine. I know it has been mentioned in a previous Get-Fit Guy post but this three-fold combination can really speed things up:

  1. Consuming 100-150mg of caffeine from green tea or black coffee on an empty stomach.

  2. A 30-minute morning, aerobic, fasted, conversational workout with the caffeine in the system (the caffeine mobilizes fatty acids from adipose tissue).

  3. Followed by a hot-cold contrast shower by alternating between 10 seconds of warm water and 20 seconds of cold water, 10 times through (to activate that brown fat’s thermogenesis).

Where does fat go?

When you go on vacation or take a break from working out you probably worry that your muscle will turn into fat. Well, good news—that is not possible. But sadly, on the other hand, fat also can’t turn into muscle. The truth is that fat and muscle are different types of body tissues (fat is adipose tissue, and muscle is protein) and one can’t change into the other.

When you slack off on your workouts and let your diet fall apart it may look like your muscle is turning to fat but that is only because fat is less dense than muscle. An gram of fat takes up more space inside the body than a gram of muscle does.

So where does fat go when we lose it? Well, researchers studying this biochemical process followed fat molecules through the body to hone in on where fat goes when you lose it. Surprisingly we exhale the majority of it.

If you were to lose 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of body fat, 20 pounds (9.4 kilograms) would be released as carbon dioxide (CO2) when you breathe; the remainder would become water that is excreted in our urine, sweat or (hopefully not) tears. So all that hot yoga, it turns out, is not burning as much body fat as we had hoped. You are better off breathing heavy than sweating heavy but I don’t advocate doing that in a small room full of people in tight pants.

I hope you enjoyed this body fat adventure and have a newly found respect for how your body makes, uses, stores and exhales your adipose tissue. It’s easy to write body fat off as evil or at least unwanted but it does play some interesting roles in our life and health and who knows, it could keep you alive one day or perhaps even power your iPad.

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About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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