If I could invent a magic pill for weight loss… I’d make billions! I’ll be honest though, I’m not trying to find ways to get around adopting a healthy lifestyle, I just love researching ideas and testing out theories for how to help people get the most bang for their buck in the food and workout departments. I, personally, am happiest when I take the Work Out Smarter, Not Harder Approach (which has its basis in my philosophy that Abs are Made in the Kitchen). Because of this, and because my clients are often really busy people who can’t mess around with ineffective workouts or eating plans, I’ve worked hard to understand how a person can actually train her body to burn more fat in general.
You may have already heard that muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn in a day, even at rest. This is true, but there’s more we can add to it to give you more of an advantage. We can train our bodies in a certain way to get the best results. The goal is to increase mitochondrial density in our cells (mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells that create nutrients to energy–the more we have, the more energy we can use/burn), and at the same time, increase fatty acid oxidation (mobilize and use more fat for fuel).
Please note: This post is not here to tell you how to do these workouts—it would be way too long! This advice gives you a starting point. Once you know what to focus on, then you can learn and decide how to make it happen (or hire a trainer to lead you through it).
3 Steps to Train Your Body to Burn More Fat
1. Do Interval Training 2-3 times a week (not two days in a row). HIIT training is especially good for this, and I prefer the lower impact versions of it to protect your joints. This type of exercise causes an increase in mitochondrial density.
2. Do Endurance Training 2-3 times a week. This can even be brisk walking! You will want to get your heart rate up to at least 65% of maxHR for 30 minutes or more (45-60 minutes is better to get this effect). Endurance training has shown to increase capillary density, and increased capillary density helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to mitochondria to be used.
3. Make sure you are consuming adequate protein (especially branched chain amino acids). Fueling your muscles with adequate protein assists in their repair and growth, which works synergistically (in the metabolism department) with your newly increased number of mitochondria and more effective nutrient delivery system (increased capillaries).
more mitochondria + more capillaries + adequate protein = more fat burning
This may look oversimplified, but it’s not. It’s important to blend all three of these things to get the effect in your cells that you want (more use of fat as fuel). Of course, you need to be strategic overall about what you eat–eat real foods that are high in quality, cut out junk, and eat fewer carbs than the US government recommends. Assuming you already have a real food balanced diet, just be sure you get enough protein, and then split your workouts between Interval Training and Endurance Training. You can do CrossFit or something super intense for the interval training part, or you can be more low impact and systematic about it. In other words, you don’t have to be a hardcore athlete or have the ability to jump around and flip tractor tires. Of course, you can do regular old strength training too, and it will help but it’s not as effective as interval training.
Do you work out for specific fat-burning results?
Burtscher, M. et al. (2011). Similar qualitative and quantitative changes of mitochondrial respiration following strength and endurance training in normoxia and hypoxia in sedentary humans. American Journal of Physiology, 301(4), R1078-R1087. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00285.2011
IDEA Fitness Journal, January 2014, p. 37-44
Little, J., Safdar, A., Bishop, D., Tarnopolsky, M., & Gibala, M. (2011). An acute bout of high-intensity interval training increases the nuclear abundance of pgc-1α and activates mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol., 300(6), R1303-10. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00538.2010