Are You Burning Fat Or Just Calories?

Are You Burning Fat Or Just Calories?

Dr.Neeraj Mehta profile Authored by Dr.Neeraj Mehta on 6 Aug 2015 - 14:39.


Most of us are battling with lifestyle diseases or obesity and shedding those few extra kilos to get that “lean muscular look” although some others lik exercising simply to stay well and fit. To most people reducing weight means cutting down calories. While this is partly correct, there are myths and facts to losing fat and just burning calories.

There is an obvious need for energy to perform physical work. Lifting a load against the force of gravity is work performed and involves expending energy to perform that work.

Understanding calories: Before wanting to shed calories it’s important to get an insight into calories – it benefits and adverse effects. A calorie is a form of chemical energy which enables our bodies to perform our daily activities and also helps our internal organs to perform their respective functions.

Therefore a human body is constantly burning calories even during rest and sleep, due to these innumerable chemical processes going on inside of us. The food we eat gives us calories from its various sources i.e, carbohydrates, proteins and fats, of which, fat has the highest calories (9kcal/gm), and carb’s and proteins have 4kcal/gm each.

What happens when our caloric intake far exceeds our daily requirement? It gets stored in our bodies as fat. And, then the alarm bells ring, “calories, calories, calories”! So we reduce our calories and we run and run and the weight seems to drop down yet that horrible store of fat, just doesn’t seem to get rid of us.

Body Fat Scenario:

Let us examine a situation which many of us may have come across, where two men having the same weight and height appear totally different, even though they may have near to same caloric intake. One looks leaner than the other who may yet have visible flab. What is the reason behind this difference? It is the Body Fat content.

Then is it really the reduction in calories or the “fat loss” that makes their bodies look so different? I am not saying that one can go all out and gorge on those brownies and sodas and yet look in shape. But what I vouch for, is that it is the “fat loss” which is of key importance than cutting down calories. And yes, certainly caloric control is a boosting factor in maintaining weight, losing fat and looking fabulous. But one should know that we require calories for energy and it is used in the body differently  for a lay man.

Energy expenditure in various parts of the body

The total energy expenditure by different organs of the body are:

Skeletal Muscles  22%

Liver: 21 %

Brain: 20 %

Kidneys:  8 %

Heart : 9 %

Adipose tissue: 4 %

Remainder:16 %

How can we achieve this ideal picture of maximum fat loss, resulting in burning of calories and preserving lean muscle tissue, leading to strength gain and a toned body? The answer is effective exercise and a healthy diet.

Effective Exercises: To understand effective exercises one needs to be acquainted with its two forms namely:

a)      Cardiovascular or aerobic and

b)      Weight training or resistance training.

Aerobic training involves use of oxygen during exercise and is done over a long period of time at a low intensity. The need for oxygen is high, with involuntary breathing and this supply of oxygen meets the energy demands for cardiovascular exercises such as walking, jogging, marathon, dancing.

Anaerobic exercises: This refers to the use of resistance in the form of weights to build muscle and fat burning. For eg., weight training, sprinting, uses one’s own body weight. The body does not rely on oxygen for energy and hence these activities are intense lasting from seconds to few minutes. It builds muscular strength and endurance. And one should aim at increasing muscle ratio, because this is where the fat burns effectively.

As mentioned earlier, our bodies are constantly burning calories but this type of exercise helps us to greatly improve our metabolism, leading to much more calories burned even at a resting state. This happens because our muscle breaks down fat to recover and repair itself post workout.

An intense session of strength training will help you burn fat for the next 24 hours, whereas during aerobic exercise one does not burn fat, post the workout session. Adding to this our body does not end up looking saggy but, is more toned and attractive, which boosts one’s confidence and makes one feel good.

Aerobic exercises has its own benefit – it improves blood circulation, lungs work efficiently as it allows for maximum uptake of oxygen, helps in conditioning the heart, aids in reducing blood pressure and manages diabetes.

Hence, to burn maximum fat and calories one must go for high intensity exercises while making cardio a part of one’s exercise program.

There are numerous ways to hit the intensity, for example:

  • Going for an all-out sprint which will leave you breathless after say 40 seconds,
  • Using higher weights with less repetitions not allowing one to go beyond 5 to 6 reps, or
  • Using moderate weight with maximum repetitions. Another effective way is to take less rest between sets.

Coming to the diet aspect, one may feel increased hunger as the intensity of workout increases and the need for energy is more. So how do we meet that energy demand?  Well, by increasing calorie intake! After an intense workout session, our body requires calories to recover it, repair the muscle fibers and replenish its energy store, so that our organs can work efficiently.

Athletes, sports persons or ballet dancers consume much higher calories and yet look the way they are. Think of Hillary Swank in ‘Million Dollar Baby’, she had to triple her caloric intake to look that ripped and muscular. Hence, it is about how well your calories are utilized and what is your activity level. Calories are not our enemy. Just as anything in excess, is harmful so are excess calories!

Your 1 gram of muscle require 7 calories to retain, but only 2 calories are needed for 1 gram fat  holding in your body.

Regulating calories is the key to the fat locked in our bellies! Choose the right food at the right time. So calorie burning is fat burning, but you need to understand and workout accordingly.


*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.