This is a question that frustrated me for so long until I found out the truth. Is burning calories the same as burning fat? Not necessarily.
In this article we are going to go over what it means to burn calories and what it means to burn fat.
Before we get started, I recommend downloading our app All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play). You will find that this app helps you shed fat! Our FREE workout plans will keep you on track towards your goals.
The difference between naturally burning calories and exercise
Have you ever tried to exercise while also not caring about your diet? Chances are, if you have, you haven’t had much success.
Most people who start working out for the first time think that they can outwork what they eat. But considering that the average workout burns 180-500 calories, that’s not usually enough to counteract a massive caloric surplus.
And this is the main reason that people give up on working out. They don’t see the results that they are looking for quick enough, and they give up.
Now, you know that exercising burns calories, but is burning calories the same as burning fat?
For starters, when you burn calories, your body is going to start looking for fuel to burn so that it can continue at its current pace. Lucky for us, the first place it looks is our fat stores.
Our body gets rid of them with ease and continues on its journey. Of course, if you are eating too much to begin with, you will soon realize that while your body does burn calories in the form of fat, it is just being replenished by your current diet.
But how do we burn calories naturally? We eat at a caloric deficit. And what is a caloric deficit? It is when you eat less calories than your body naturally burns on a daily basis. In the next section, we will learn how to do that exactly.
This is how people lose fat without even exercising. But of course, I highly recommend working out alongside your deficit, because it is going to maximize your results.
The next section is going to make sure to answer our question, is burning calories the same as burning fat with ease.
Being in a caloric deficit matters
By now, you realize that you cannot outwork what you eat. It is just not going to happen no matter how hard you try. You can workout 5 hours a day and still gain weight depending on what you eat.
The only way to ensure that you lose weight and fat is by eating at a caloric deficit. And the only way to know for certain that you are in a caloric deficit is to know what your maintenance calories are.
I recommend taking the time to read my article – How to calculate my maintenance calories. But here are a few of the main points:
- Track every calorie that you eat on an app like MyFitnessPal
- Weigh yourself
- Track everything for 2 weeks
- Weigh yourself again
- If you haven’t gained or lost weight in those 2 weeks, you have your maintenance number. Simply add up all of the calories you ate for those 2 weeks, and divide that number by the amount of days spent doing it.
So for example, if you discover that your maintenance calorie number is 2,500 calories per day, a good starting deficit would be 500 calories less per day. In other words, start eating 2,000 calories per day and you will be in a deficit.
This will ensure that you burn fat even without working out. Your body searches for extra fuel to make up for the deficit, and it’s first order of business is attacking the fat.
But here is where things get interesting. If you go too low on your caloric deficit, your body is going to start searching for other calories to consume instead of fat. And unfortunately it will consume muscle and other tissue.
This is why I always strongly advise against crash diets.
How to burn the most fat
Crash dieting is a terrible idea. This just means that you are eating at such a large deficit that your body starts to consume other tissue besides fat, like muscle.
But you can accelerate fat loss rapidly by only doing 2 things. Working out and eating at a caloric deficit of course.
I mentioned previously that you can definitely lose weight and burn fat by simply eating at a caloric deficit. You technically don’t even need to workout.
But for maximum results, you are going to need to embrace the workout lifestyle.
Do not be concerned. You literally don’t even need to workout that much. Just 3-4 days per week. But not all workouts are created equal. In our app, you will find 10 HIIT workouts that guide you through the process.
HIIT is short for high intensity interval training, and it is the best known way to workout to burn fat.
If you can’t download our app, you should check out 4 of the best high intensity interval training workouts for beginners at home.
The way that HIIT workouts burn fat is by getting your heart rate up to 90% of your maximum heart rate.
Most cardio workouts will burn between 55-70% of your maximum heart rate. And while regular cardio workouts can be good in some cases, HIIT workouts cannot be replaced when it comes to fat burning.
You should really learn how to calculate your maximum heart rate for exercise. It actually becomes a fun game to make sure that you hit 90% of your max heart rate for each HIIT session.
Main Point: Is burning calories the same as burning fat?
So just like that, we have the answer to our question. Is burning calories the same as burning fat? While it depends, it’s clear that it is not the same.
The main difference being that if you are in a caloric deficit that is too low, your body is going to start consuming other things besides fat, like muscle.
The short answer is no, burning calories is not the same thing as burning fat.
The first thing that your body is going to target however is fat. And we can be certain to take advantage of that by eating at a slight caloric deficit AND working out.
Remember to learn how to calculate your maintenance calorie number. This number is going to really change your life because if you want to lose fat, you have to be in a caloric deficit. Start by eating daily at 500 calories under your maintenance number.
Don’t forget that high intensity interval training is going to be your ticket to accelerating fat loss. Do not be scared of the long name. It is essentially just a way to get your heart rate up to 90% of your maximum heart rate.
At the end of the day, we have determined that burning calories is not the same as burning fat. We know that eating at a massive caloric deficit is a bad idea for health reasons.
The absolute best thing that you can do is eat at a slight caloric deficit, workout regularly, and do this consistently over an extended period of time. Set realistic fitness goals for yourself, and understand that results come slowly.