The purpose of this post is to highlight one of the pitfalls of fat loss, namely, achieving a caloric deficit through mainly cardio, with little or no attention to nutrition – what we call, The Hamster on a Wheel approach.
How Fat Loss Works
First and foremost (despite what the keto zealots will tell you) there’s only one way to lose weight and burn fat – through a caloric deficit. There are, however, myriad ways to create a caloric deficit:
- A large deficit through food intake, which will give you faster results.
- A small deficit through food intake, which will give you slower results.
- A small deficit through cardio, which will give you slower results
- And a large deficit through training, specifically cardio, which will give you fast results.
- A combination of cardio and nutrition.
Weight Loss vs Toning
It’s important to note that none of the above methods will result in a “toned” body without the addition of appropriate resistance training. Resistance training is not going to burn fat fast. What it is going to do, however, is build and preserve muscle, so that when the body fat does come off, you’re not all skin and bone, or floppy. This is how you get the toned look! A caloric deficit through food and/or cardio to strip off the fat, which will account for roughly, 85% of fat reduction, plus appropriate resistance training, which will give you the musculature.
A Hamster on a Wheel
Going back to the various ways to create a calorie deficit, one of those ways, namely, using cardio to burn calories (whether it’s running, cycling, spinning or bootcamps), without properly addressing nutrition, is something we advise because it’s not sustainable. It’s okay being on the wheel, running five days a week to burn calories, but what happens when you stop? What happens when you have to get off the wheel? What happens when you get injured? What happens when you can’t train? In our experience, the usual answer is that people lose the caloric deficit that they create though exercise and end up back in a caloric surplus and, consequently, their weight and body fat levels increase to a level with which they are unhappy.
Another issue is there’s only so far you can run each day. Your body will soon adjust to the increased activity level and, if you’re using cardio as your primary method of creating a caloric deficit, then what happens when you get up to running 10k a day and your progress slows down? What are you going to do – start running a marathon every day? Same question again…where is it going to stop?
A Balanced Approach
We recommend a combination of appropriate nutrition and regular cardiovascular exercise in order to create a caloric deficit. Not only is it healthier, more sustainable and, overwhelmingly, provides better results, you’ve also got a back up when, inevitably, motivation drops.
Struggling to keep your fingers out of the biscuit tin is nowhere near as significant (in terms of weight gain) if you’re running a few times a week (and, preferably, getting faster). Similarly, injuries that prevent you from training are less problematic if you’ve got a handle on the nutrition.
We should add that we recommend that cardio is focused on performance, as opposed to burning calories. It could be argued, fairly legitimately, “What’s the difference?” – we just find that running for performance, rather than a focus on burning calories, tends to yield better results. Of course, it’s possible to link the two together and use calories as a measure of performance, but, you’re asking for trouble if you drill that into your mindset. Trust me – performance is where it’s at! Whether that measure performance is increased distance or times or a combination of both.
To conclude, there’s only so far you can go using cardio alone to lose weight and burn body fat. At some point you going to have to get off that wheel and if you haven’t got a handle on your nutrition, you’ll end up back where you started.