The fat burning zone – real or fake?

You’ve all heard it from one friend or another, “if you want to lose weight, you’ve got to get into the fat burning zone”. When I first heard this expression I thought “yes, I do need to get into this magical zone. I do have some fat that needs to be burned”. At the time however, I didn’t question what it meant at a physiological level I just wanted to know how to get in the zone.

The fat burning zone isn’t necessarily phoney baloney, but I just want to clarify a few things. 

When you are working out at a moderate intensity your primary fuel source is fat as opposed to carbohydrate. So in a sense, you are in a fat burning zone. However, when you start putting the pedal to the metal and begin to work at a vigorous intensity, your energy is now coming predominantly from carbohydrate stores instead of fat. Simply, carbs are now your primary source of energy. Thus, you are no longer in the fat burning zone…but aren’t you? Well, I still think you are.

Even though carbs are in the lead at this point, you are still burning more fat than you were at a moderate intensity. For example, at a moderate intensity say you burned 100 kcals from fat and 30 kcals from carb. At the high intensity you are now burning 150 kcals from fat and 200 kcals from carb.   

This is a tricky concept to a) understand but b) write about in a concise way so that you can understand. It did take me some time to get my head around this, but since doing so my workouts have completely changed. I no longer sit reading on the recumbent bike for an hour (*cough, cough, never really lasted that long to begin with) but instead pedal my heart out for 10-15 minutes on the manual “race” bikes in the gym. In that 15 minute span I manage to get my ticker pumping, my breathing rate up, and a very good sweat going on.

Now high intensity exercise is not for everyone. And if sitting at the bike reading is the only way you’ll go to the gym than do NOT let this post deter you in any way. I just wanted to touch on how misleading this zone can be and explain that working at a higher intensity does not mean that you aren’t burning fat. You’re most definitely burning fat, and a lot of it.

This is a common misconception. This can be attributed to the stickers (not sure if they are really stickers but more permanent etchings) on most treadmills in the gym. They provide a recommended heart rate based on your age and the goal of your work out (i.e. to burn fat or engage in high intensity training). I think most of you know of the stickers I speak of.

My advice (and  mine alone) is to ask questions and do some research. I realize that most of us do not have the time to read up on journal articles and be at the forefront of health research – that’s my job as a blogger. But, I do want you to start critically thinking about the copious amount of health information that is basically forced upon you everyday. Not all of it is bad, but a large proportion of it is actual phoney baloney.

Be a smart exerciser. Don’t trust everything you see, read, or hear through the exercise grapevine.



2 thoughts on “The fat burning zone – real or fake?

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