Weight Loss: Is the Fat Burning Zone Effective?
A father of a 15-year-old girl asked me to meet his daughter so I could discuss her weight-loss training program and make any necessary adjustments. He was an avid gym-goer and had put his daughter on a regimented cardiovascular training program for three months. Her program included five to six days a week of treadmill running, stationary bike or the elliptical machine for 30 minutes a day. She initially lost five pounds, over the first month, but has gone up and down for the last two months. He believed that cardiovascular training was the best for weight loss and heard that training in the fat burning zone was the fastest way to lose weight.
The Girl: let's call her Sandy
Sandy is 5-foot-5 and weighs 160 pounds. Based on her body structure and BMI, she was a little on the overweight side. She wanted to lose 40 more pounds as quickly as possible. She seemed self motivated, although a little frustrated that the scales seemed to be stuck.
My Initial Thoughts
Based on her bone structure and muscle mass, Sandy's goal of losing another 40 pounds was a little unrealistic. It is possible for her to lose the weight, but at the expense of a loss in muscle mass as well. In the end, this will slow down her metabolism and make it even more difficult for her to lose or maintain her weight. My first goal was to help her set a realistic weight-loss goal.
Sandy's program needed to be updated. The first adjustment was to replace a couple of the cardiovascular days with weight training. Building lean muscle is important for losing and maintaining a healthy weight as muscle burns more calories than fat.
Many weight loss programs promote low-intensity cardiovascular training, since at this intensity (about 50-60 per cent of your maximum exertion) a larger proportion of calories used come from fat. The lower training intensity is referred to as the Fat Burning Zone. What these programs fail to realize is that the total calories burned is less than a higher intensity workout. Losing weight comes down to burning more calories than your body consumes throughout the day. Your metabolism regulates your calories burned. Lean muscle increases your metabolism. This is why eating sensibly, exercising and staying active is the best defense against weight gain.
Sandy's revised weight loss goal is 25-30 pounds. Her new program is as follows:
Monday: Treadmill: high intensity interval running for 30-40 minutes
Tuesday: Weights: Full body circuit training for 30-40 minutes
Wednesday: Elliptical/Bike: high intensity intervals for 30-40 minutes
Thursday: rest day
Friday: Weights: Full body circuit training for 30-40 minutes
Saturday: Treadmill: low intensity running for 45-60 minutes
Sunday: rest day
I told Sandy to follow-up with me after four weeks to ensure she is on the right path. At that point we will make any necessary adjustments to her program. It is also important that Sandy stays active outside of the gym. This includes walking and sports or activities. Another important piece of the puzzle includes meeting with a registered dietician to discuss her eating habits.
I am often approached by parents with the best intentions for their kids. They listen to the radio or read articles online and create a program for their kids to follow. I commend them for their interest in their child's health. However, I believe it is important to go the extra mile and make the investment to seek professional advice. In this case, Sandy got good advice from her dad as a starting block. However, she would not have realized the importance of adding in weight training and changing the intensity of her cardio to achieve her goals. If she continued on her original path, she may have succumbed to her frustration and stopped exercising altogether.