Working Out For Fat Loss? Here’s What You Need To Know

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Hi, tough soul. I’m Alyssa.

Ever wonder why do we workout?

If your answer is to burn more calories. Then you might be wrong. In fact, if you want to lose weight, a workout contributes the least effect on weight loss.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the benefits working out brings to us and will definitely recommend everyone to workout for at least 2-3 times per week. But, I need to clarify that you shouldn’t treat workout as a tool for weight loss.

The Real Purpose of Physical Activities

Most people tend to co-relate working out as a strategy to get smaller. But if we look at how workout emerged in the first place since the ancient greek period, it did not exists with the purpose to help anyone ‘to lean out’.

Most of them workout to prepare for competition or to improve physical capabilities. They called it ‘training’ instead of ‘workout’. Which means, the purpose isn’t to ‘work (to expense your energy)’ but to ‘train’ (to practise and adapt to new ability).

When you look at how different the ancient greek ‘train’ and how the typical modern people ‘workout’. You’ll notice that the ancestor are constantly trying to master new skills or breaking through from their limitation. In modern world, these type of mindset applies to professional athletes. The top gymnasts, the world class power lifter, the ice skiing that able to perform incredible movements.. all of this is done by constantly giving their body new challenges so that they are able to break from past limitation.

In contrast, the typical modern people care less about performance, but aim to exhaust themselves after a workout.

The truth of ‘calories burned’ data

What if I said that using the workout itself as a fat-burning strategy is less effective?

I bet that most of you will disagree with the statement above. Let’s look at a snapshot of how many calories a 47kg female will burn under different activities.

Looks promising at the first glance. But here’s what I suspected on how the data is calculated.

If the data is based on an investigation of a real-life person, I doubt with the fact that they are taking someone to jump rope or continue kayaking for an hour straight. First, because this is time consuming for the research. Second, we aren’t machines. You are probably able to perform explosive jumps that are under 1 minute, but do you able to continous do it non stop for 1 hour? Of course not!

Therefore I ‘err’ on those activities that claimed you are able to burn over 400 calories under an hour. The reality is that the more intense the activity is, you will need more rest between them. Therefore, a more reservative number for you to able to burn within 1 hour of physical activites actually about 200-300 kcal.

Calories burned during exercise is less impressive than you think

So let’s compare a 200kcal workout with the calorie intake of an average female, which is 1800kcal per day. 200kcal is really just a small fraction of it, not even hitting 1/3 of your total daily calories.

Daily caloric distribution

In case you had read my last post that talks about our daily calories requirement, I mentioned that about 30% of our daily calories burned are through our physical activities. This is contradictory and you might wonder how does the 30% come from.

The 30% is actually the total of both your NEAT and EAT. It’s a surprising fact that more than half of them actually came from unintentional physical activities that are not considered as your workout.

TDEE Distribution
Calories distribution of physical and non-physical activities in TDEE

Bonus: Really want to lose weight? A less painful option.

So, for those that try to use some workout to compensate for their body fat, here’s the harsh truth. Expecting to burn a lot of calories in just under one single session is not realistic.

In fact, a workout isn’t the only option if your goal is to lose weight specifically.

Every physical activity need energy therefore it’s true that workout does help burn some fat. When you are sitting, breathing, even tapping the pen or shaking your leg, you are using up the fuel passively. Here is what you can do instead, simply by increasing your NEAT itself, you can get the same burning result without a workout.

The Danger of Using Working Out To Lose Weight

From the discussion above, it seems that any form of physical activity does contribute to weight loss. However, I still don’t recommend you treat physical activities as a fat-loss tool.

Here’s why.

Reason 1: You’ll Compensate Your Effort

We always know someone that started working out because they want to lose weight, however, ended up gaining more. This is paradoxically impossible, but in fact it happens all the time.

Well, there are a few possible reasons they are gaining weight after starting working out. In the best case scenario, they are gaining muscle or retaining water weight due to their body exposing to new stress. However, most of the time, the probability is that they ended up eating more. It is because they subconsciously think that they had used up a lot of energy and it is okay to consume more. Then they ended up undoing all their effort just under a meal.

Therefore if you use working out as your main tool to lose weight, you’ve probably failed.

In contrast, for those that treat a workout with a neutral mindset will less likely to eat more. For them, workout had no relation with food therefore they did not change their overall intake. Surprisingly, these people are those that more likely to notice physical changes when they started workout.

Reason 2: You’ll Rely on Workouts to ‘Earn’ food

If the example above happens to those that are perhaps too optimistic, then this is the exact opposite of it.

These group of people sees calories seriously and always trying to balanced out how much they consume.

As they started to use exercising in order to ‘earn food’, food eventually come with a costs whenever they ate it. At family reunion event, on gatherings, on festivals, they will calculate how much they had eaten and will try to ‘undo’ the food through exercise. Or in another case, you trying to intensify your workout because you know have a feast in the evening.

This seems no abig issue, however, there is a tendency for it to develop into disordered eating behaviour overtime. And might further affect one’s mental health.

Reason 3: Hitting Plateau

For those that think they can kept increasing now much they exercise to burn more fat, you might get disappointed here. Too much physical activities will actually make the body to conserve energy.

Our body have it’s limit on how much output it have, no matter how hard you tried.

Here is a study from Pontzer that investigate the energy expenditure from people with different level of physical activities. These people consisted of scedentary individuals, moderate active individuals and the super active individuals. They tracked these people for 8 days and their level of physical activities versus the actualy energy output through using accelerometers.

The left is what everyone expected. We assumed that the more physical active you are, you’ll have highier energy expenditure.

However, the reality is no matter how physically active one person is, it ends up hitting a limit. The human body will automatically conserve some energy from other sources, possibly by decreasing your resting metabolic rate.

Realising the benefits of working out

It’s a shame that most people place too much focus on the fat-burning effect and forget the real benefits of a workout. There will be different benefits based on different activities, but these are some common benefits of a workout.

Improve Your Physical Capability

Although we do not need to master some incredible skills as world athletes that I mentioned above. We still could apply some goals in our regular workouts. You can aim to build strength, mastering new skills, gain muscle, improve flexibility, enhance body-coordination and so on.

Almost everyone that worked out have the same experience of feeling energized after a workout? This isn’t just an illusion because workout sometimes is your best energy booster (in the case you did not ‘max out’ your energy). Those individuals that workout regularly also tend to suffer less on long-distance walking due to a stronger cardiovascular ability.

Improve Mental Health

Another good thing about workout that is less significant but important– it helps you improve mental health.

I fully agree with this.

In the days when I am stressed out, a workout actually help me feel better afterwards. Almost all the time I’d hit a sudden feel of refreshing after a workout (sounds like an enlightenment moment, but it is). Soon I’ll return to the problem with a refreshing perspective.

Increase metabolism

By increasing your lean mass through resistance training, you’ll increase your daily BMR at the same time (which means you’ll burn more energy in the background). In fact, any type of sport that had incorporate muscular force will promote the same kind of effects.

Aimed to build muscle/strength and put your fat-burning goals aside. Soon as you build an amount of muscle, you’ll lose fat easier.

Final Thought

What I wanted to conclude is that workout does not just exist for the purpose of getting a smaller size of your pants. Focus on ‘building up’ instead of ‘taxing out’. Train yourself as an athlete. And you’ll find that a workout will start appearing more enjoyable to you and you’ll stick to it easier.

That’s all for this post. I hope that this post could possibly help you look at workouts at a bigger picture, and started to acknowledge the true reason for working out.

Let us grow together,


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