Fact or Fiction: The Fat Burning Zone

So you've heard about the fat burning zone. But the question is - is it real and does it work?
Burn baby burn! Is a low intensity workout better than a high intensity workout for burning fat? Image by Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Burn baby burn! Is a low intensity workout better than a high intensity workout for burning fat? Image by Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Low intensity workouts burn more fat. True or False. 

Everyone who ever visited a gym and mounted a cardio machine in an attempt to fulfil that new years resolution of a new healthy life has seen it: The fat burning zone.

You start peddling and the machine wants you to choose a program and there’s always one option called “fatburn”. When you hit that option the machine gives you an automated low intensity program and claims that it is by exercising in a low heart rate zone that will make you shed those kg.

That might be technically right but when you dig a little deeper and look at the ‘fat burning zone’ claims from all other angles it is in fact INCORRECT.


How did the myth start?

The body has 3 main sources of energy: carbohydrates, fat and protein. Carbs are the best quality fuel, then comes fat and lastly protein.

Since working out on a low intensity level, (70-75% of its maximum heart rate) isn’t that strenuous for the body, the body doesn’t need to use its premium fuel for that type of workout. So it chooses to use fat as energy.

When the intensity is brought up and the body is forced to work harder (80-95% of its MHR) it will choose to use its premium fuel: carbohydrates.

And that’s how the belief that ‘low intensity workout is the “weight loss” workout’ came about.


What are the real facts

Let’s say you want to burn 500 kcal using a treadmill. Working out on a low intensity level you will have to spend approximately 90min on that machine to reach that goal.

In comparison, working out on a high intensity level you will burn the same amount of calories in about 45 min.

So unless you have some kind of masochistic love for treadmill running I assume you prefer to reach your calorie target in a shorter amount of time right?


The benefit of high-intensity workouts

Not only does high-intensity workouts burn more calories per session, they also trigger higher post workout Metabolic Rate and post fat burn. This means that you’ll continue to burn calories and fat for longer AFTER your workouts too.

Visualize this:

You are sitting at home on the couch scratching your bellybutton, watching Bigbrother. While doing this, thanks to your high intensity workout, you are actually BURNING FAT.



– The fat burning zone is a myth and a low intensity workout for fat loss is a waste of your time.

– Working out on a high intensity level will help you reach your target calorie burn faster than when you work out on a low intensity level.

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