How many times have you heard someone say, “I need to lose weight?”
While that can certainly be a worthwhile endeavor, what they usually really mean to say is, “I want to lose fat.” Though most people use the terms weight loss and fat loss interchangeably, they are not in fact the same, and require different methods to achieve each goal. Here, we explain why fat loss — not weight loss — should be your primary focus, and why the typical methods used for weight loss may not always work for fat loss efforts.
Our bodies are composed of primarily fat, muscle, water, bone and other tissue. All of these things combined make up our total weight. When someone says that they want to lose weight, they usually mean that they want to see a lower number on the scale. Thus, weight loss often comes from a combination of fat, muscle, and water to shift those pounds.
Depending on your fitness level, the average, healthy person’s weight comes from:
- Muscle: 30 to 55% of body weight
- Fat: 10-30% of body weight
- Water (not in muscle or fat): 10-25%
- Bone: 15% of body weight
- Organs and tissues: 10-15%
Fat loss is accomplished when we burn stored fat, while preserving or building muscle at the same time. Fat loss doesn’t always result in a lower number on the scale, but it will change the composition of your body. Some people think that fat can be turned into muscle through diet and exercise. You should be aware that this is a myth.
Most weight loss programs have you do two things:
- Eat no more than 1200-1500 calories per day
- Perform aerobic exercises 5-6 days per week
Any combination of drastically reducing calories and adding aerobic exercise will most certainly result in weight loss. The problem with this is that not all of the weight lost will be from fat. Some of it will be water weight, which is temporary, and some will be muscle. If you lose muscle along with fat, you’ll simply be a smaller version of your previous flabby self.
Aerobic exercises like jogging have their benefits. However, there are better cardiovascular exercises, such as HIIT-style full-body moves (including burpees, jump squats etc.), as well as things like swimming or uphill spinning, that will provide much better fat loss results.
Losing fat without also losing muscle is a bit more complicated than simply losing weight. Fat loss programs involve paying more attention to the types of foods you eat, rather than just focusing on reducing calories. They also includes different kinds of exercises that burn fat and preserve muscle at the same time, like weight-lifting and strength-training moves. This can sometimes lead to higher numbers on the scale, but the end result will be a smaller, more toned shape.
Why Muscle Matters
Muscle burns more calories than fat even when you are doing nothing. This is called your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. One pound of muscle burns 6 calories per day, while one pound of fat burns only 2 pounds.
A study in the April 1999 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition proved the calorie-burning benefits of muscle. The study put two groups of obese individuals on a very low-calorie diet. One group did only aerobic exercises four times per week while the other group did only resistance exercises three times per week. After 12 weeks, the aerobics group lost more weight than the resistance group. However, in the aerobics group almost one third of the weight lost was muscle. The resistance group lost only fat.
Even more importantly, the aerobics group’s resting metabolic rate was 210 calories less than it was before they lost weight. The resistance group’s resting metabolic rate was 63 calories more. What all of this means is that the more muscle you have the more calories you can eat to maintain or even lose fat.
Another important benefit of muscle is that it is less dense than fat. One pound of fat is four times larger than one pound of muscle. That means that someone who weighs 150 pounds of mostly fat will look larger than another person who weighs 150 pounds of mostly muscle.
The Best Way To Lose Fat (And Not Muscle)
- Subtract no more than 500 calories from what you are currently eating
- Add more protein to your diet and reduce refined carbohydrates
- HIIT workouts 2-3 days per week
- Strength training 2-3 days per week
Fat-Burning HIIT Workouts
Any activity that repeatedly raises then lowers the heart rate over a period of time can be considered HIIT (high-intensity interval training).
This can include basic sprints, spinning with sprints and/or hills, pylometrics, Tabatas, or bodyweight HIIT workouts that use a variety of exercises to give you a full-body workout with a cardio boost.
If your goal is to lose weight just to generally see a smaller number on the scale, eat fewer calories and exercise 5 to 6 days per week.
However, If you want to lose fat and build-calorie torching muscle, a combination of proper nutrition, HIIT workouts and strength-training is the most effective way to achieve a smaller, toned body.