I was recently interviewed for an article by Men's Health Magazine on how to target the lower aspect of the abdomninals.
A recent New York Times piece cited my recent paper on fasted cardio, summarizing my findings in an article titled Really? An often overlooked fat-burning aspect of cardio is its effect on excess-post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
Some researchers and fitness pros, however, have questioned the applicability of EPOC in promoting fat loss.
Here is a link to an interesting radio interview where Layne Norton PhD is interviewed about my recent review paper on fasted cardio. Do you drag yourself out of bed first thing every morning to perform cardio before breakfast in hopes of jacking up your fat burning capacity? The fact is, performing cardio on an empty stomach does little to increase fat burning over exercising in the fed state. 1) When exercising at moderate to high intensity, the body breaks down substantially more fat than it can burn for fuel. 3) As much as 50% of the fat burned during exercise comes from intramuscular triglycerides (fat stored within muscle). 4) Last, and perhaps most importantly, fat burning must be considered over the course of days—not on an hour-to-hour basis—to get a meaningful perspective on its impact on body composition. A recent study by Brown and colleagues (1), however, provides evidence that this might not be the case. Set foot in any gym and you’ll no doubt see cardio machines that have charts to help you train in your ‘fat burning zone’.
You see, the human body is a dynamic organism and constantly adjusts its use of fat for fuel. Ideally, the activity that maximizes calorie burning is interval training, where short bouts of low intensity exercise are interspersed with high intensity bouts.
Here’s the catch, though: EPOC is intensity dependent—the harder you train, the more calories you expend following training.
Although people tend to associate interval training with treadmill exercise, virtually any cardiovascular activity can be employed, including machines such as the stair climber, elliptical machine, and stationary bike.
As noted in the article, the benefits of interval training have been borne out by research. The concept behind interval training is simple: intersperse bouts of high-intensity cardio with lower intensity cardio. Brad Schoenfeld has a brilliant combination of technical expertise and in the trenches field experience. While I love hitting the road and running for miles and miles and miles, I know that many people prefer to get their runs done as quickly as possible. My first article for the site critically analyzes the strategy to perform cardio on an empty stomach.


Simply stated, EPOC is the number of calories you expend after the completion of a workout to return your body to its homeostatic state. A recent NY Times article quoted an exercise physiologist as saying the metabolic effects of EPOC are negligible.
Namely, low intensity exercise has a minimal impact on EPOC, with an afterburn of only a few minutes. Layne is a pro natural bodybuilder and all around astute guy (he has his doctorate in nutritional science). I recently wrote an article for the NSCA Strength and Conditioning Journal titled, Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss? This belief seems to be supported by various books and internet sites that post charts showing a greater expenditure of calories associated with the treadmill when compared to similar time spent on alternative cardio modalities. Eighteen subjects (9 males and 9 females) were assessed while either exercising on the treadmill or the elliptical trainer. As long as you train at a comparable level of intensity, the differences in fat burning between modalities will be negligible.
The theory behind the concept is based on studies showing that the percentage of fat used as an energy source is optimized when you train at an intensity between 60 to 80 percent of your target heart rate. This process is governed by a host of factors (including enzyme levels, substrate availability, internal feedback loops, etc.).
Interval training not only heightens fat burning during the activity itself, but also increases the amount of calories you burn after the workout is over! That’s why you need to push yourself as hard as you can during your high-intensity intervals, going as close to all-out as possible. I was quoted in the current issue of More Magazine as stating that it’s the most effective cardio technique for slimming down.
Studies repeatedly show that it has significantly greater effects on reducing body fat levels, producing up to a nine-fold reduction in skin fold measurements. Good to see that mainstream publications are taking the lead in debunking some of the myths that pervade the fitness industry. It’s a less technical version of the research review I did for the NSCA Strength and Conditioning Journal.
Others have echoed similar sentiments, claiming that the only relevant impact of cardio on fat loss is the number of calories burned during the workout. As I’ve discussed before, high-intensity interval training is an excellent strategy to ramp up fat burning. Here he does a great job of articulating the specifics as to why fasted cardio produces little if any benefit with respect to fat loss, and why it actually might be detrimental to body composition. The upshot is that performing cardio while fasting blunts fat burning following the exercise bout, which potentially can add up to a substantial amount depending on exercise intensity. Thus, even if any additional fat was burned during the bout by not eating, the effects on body composition would be far less than simply looking at the total amount of fat burned.


As a general rule, if you burn more carbs during a workout, you inevitably burn more fat in the postexercise period and vice versa.
But while increasing the percentage of fat burned for fuel sounds like a great way to get lean, it unfortunately doesn’t translate into burning more fat on an absolute basis. If you expend more calories than you consume, your body will shift to a fat burning mode and mobilize excess adipose as a source of energy.
Best of all, interval training requires about half the workout time compared to traditional steady-state cardio training. For example, you can choose jogging as the low-intensity cardio and running as the high intensity cardio.
Researchers found that when exercising at the same rating of perceived exertion (a measure of how hard one is training), there was no significant difference in the number of calories burned between the two modalities. The most important aspect of shedding body fat is the total amount of calories burned—not the percentage of calories from fat—and therefore a higher intensity cardio routine is the better choice. Thus, from a fat loss perspective, high-intensity exercise burns more fat calories on an absolute basis than lower intensity activities. In final analysis, you’ll exert a good deal more effort in your training, but the results will be well worth it! 20 to 30 minutes a session, three days a week is all you need to do to see terrific results. Interval training is more efficient than steady state cardio (going out and running at a comfortable pace for an hour). Push yourself to train above your lactate threshold, at least for portions of your exercise bout. Moreover, there is an associated increase in the secretion of both growth hormone and noradrenaline—hormones that are integrally involved in the fat burning process—resulting in an increased utilization of fat of fuel. It also burns more fat and calories, allows you to preserve muscle mass, and increases your metabolism. A recent study (1) showed that a 45 minute bout of cardio performed at approximately 73% of VO2 max increased post-exercise caloric expenditure by a whopping 190 calories! All told, there is both a greater total amount of calories expended as well as a greater amount of fat oxidation following training. The high-intensity nature of the routine can easily lead to overtraining if you’re overzealous.
This represented an additional 37% expenditure over and above the 500+ calories burned during the workout itself.



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