Burning fat – but how?

The ideal fat burning pace does not mean that you burn the most fat at that speed. Myths and facts about fat burning.

It is easier than you think: With slow trainings the economy of the fat metabolism is trained, with intensive and fast units most calories and therefore the most fat is burned in absolute terms. There are two different forms of training with two different objectives.

No weight loss without a negative energy balance

Let’s start with weight loss. If you want to reduce fat, you have to work on your energy balance. What you put into your body also has to go out again, otherwise the fat pads will swell out of the trousers. Unused calories are stored by the body as fat. The energy balance is therefore the decisive criterion for losing weight. Only when input (calories consumed with the diet) minus output (calories burned) is negative, i.e. the energy consumption is greater than the energy intake, only then do we lose weight.

One can increase the output with increased exercise or decrease the input with a cleverly planned diet. There are two starting points when it comes to contributing to weight loss through sports. Either you can try to burn as many calories as possible in a short time. The motto here is: Whoever wants to burn as many calories as possible also has to put in their maximum effort. Or one increases the duration of sports and adjusts the intensity to become able to sustain a pace for as long as possible, which is possible only with a middle intensity. Here, not predominantly the carbohydrates are needed for the energy supply, but – by means of oxygen – also fat is used.

In percentage terms, the less intense the physical activity, the more fat you burn. Therefore, this intensity level is often referred to as the “fat burning zone”. However, this only applies as a percentage, because due to the low total energy turnover, the absolute amount of burned fat in the fat burning area is still lower than when you are doing intensive trainings.

Fat metabolism for more economy

The training mode in the low “fat burning zone” has another special meaning in endurance sports. The burning of carbohydrates (= glycogen burning, sugar burning) provides about twice as much energy per time as the burning of fat, but the fats burn for much longer and are practically available without limit in the body. The glycogen reserves are only sufficient for a strain of about 90 minutes.

A regular training in the moderate fat metabolism zone is therefore the essential foundation the other trainings can be built on. In addition, less intensive training sessions require less regeneration time and can be repeated more often.

By accessing the fat metabolism, our body improves the more economical of the two main metabolic processes in endurance sports. This can protect the glycogen reserves, which are only available in limited quantities. With the fat metabolism, one can run for hours to days – with the glycogen metabolism in the best case one to two hours without refilling carbohydrates. The better the fat metabolism is trained, the more it helps to preserve the carbohydrates from the start and to maintain the desired speed longer at the end. And the less you will fall into that dreaded “bonk” from one moment to the next.

What are the benefits of metabolic training?

The training of fat metabolism makes sense not only for (marathon) runners, but for all endurance athletes who perform during long trainings. Cyclists and triathletes also explicitly train their fat metabolism during the preparation for the upcoming season. The longer the strain during competition, the more important it becomes. Fat metabolism training improves long-term endurance. The organism forms more blood in order to transport oxygen more efficiently, the number of energy power stations of the muscles (mitochondria) increases, so that the cells can gain energy even better. By adapting the organism, the body can process training strains more quickly. And last but not least, in addition to the muscles and blood, the cartilage surfaces, tendons and ligaments also develop, so that the training can be better coped with and is better protected against overloading.

When does metabolic training start?

The fat metabolism is demanded at almost all intensities. But only when the duration of the strain is long and the intensity is chosen to be low we can actually speak of a classic fat metabolism training. Long units from 60 up to 180 minutes (depending on your goals) should be planned once a week in running. In combination with other extensive endurance runs, this builds the necessary foundation. The extensive units are supplemented by intensive training in a ratio of 1:3. Every third extensive unit is followed by intensive training.

If you want to be successful, you should invest in fat metabolism training all year round. The positive thing about this is that these training sessions are not very intensive and are only challenging due to their long duration. In order to break through the monotony somewhat, it is recommended to do the long round with training colleagues or to do a new round every now and then.

Examples of fat metabolism trainings

  • Long jog: Long slow run up to 3 hours if the goal is to do a marathon. Otherwise you can also do “only” 80 minutes up to 2 hours. Motto: The slower, the better!
  • Long run: Long, brisk run (90% of the marathon speed) up to 3 hours or a maximum of 38 kilometers in the specific preparation for a marathon. In the case of shorter distances up to 2 hours or a maximum of 28 kilometers.
  • Cross-training: Long strains in one or more alternative sports with low intensity. Example: 3 hours cycling or 5 hours hiking. Ideally, a short running workout of 30-45 minutes is added at the end to enable the transfer to the target discipline (running).

The two metabolic systems fat metabolism and carbohydrate metabolism are always both involved in endurance strains, but not to the same extent. During intensive exercise, carbohydrate metabolism is primarily used; with increasing training duration and a lower pulse rate, fat metabolism makes up the largest proportion of the energy supply. Training in the ideal fat burning area does not mean burning a maximum of calories (more calories are burned during intensive training than during loose training) but improving the economy of the fat metabolism with low intensities so that it can also participate in the energy supply during more intensive training.

This blog post by Andreas Gonseth was provided by Fit for Life. Fit for Life is the Swiss magazine for fitness, running and endurance sports.

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