Cardio seems to be the easy entry for anyone wanting to get in shape. While yes, there are a lot of great benefits to cardio, there are also a couple misconceptions I’d like to go over.
Doing More Cardio = Burning More Fat
Yes, cardio may burn more calories than other forms of exercise, but it is short lived. In the beginning, when it is a novel stimulus your body isn’t used to, you will burn a lot of calories. The problem is, our bodies are adaptation machines. Over time, because of survival, our body will actually adapt to burn fewer and fewer calories. So that same cardio you are trying to do to lose weight, will over time, burn less and less calories. You’d end up having to do more and more cardio just to get the same effect.
Also, more is not better in this case. Especially when you are in a deficit, as you keep adding more and more cardio while in that deficit, your body over time will focus on burning muscle over fat (because muscle is calorically expensive to retain). If we know this to be true then guess what a better alternative is? Resistance training! Adding just 2-3 days of resistance training will be more than enough of a signal to retain or even build muscle.
You Need to Stay In The Fat Burning Zone
As losing weight became more marketable, companies started talking about this “fat burning zone” you need to stay in to maximize burning only fat. And while it does burn more calories from fat, doing a higher intensity will burn more calories overall.
Doing HIIT for instance, will burn more calories, and continue to burn more calories after you are done (Excessive Post Oxygen Consumption). I do want to stress not overusing steady state aerobic cardio, or HIIT. Keep in mind these are tools for you to utilize sparingly. I would suggest focusing on increasing your step count through extended walks throughout the day first. Try to figure out your average daily count and increase it by 2,000. When you do get to a point where it’s too hard to hit your step count on its own, then add in direct cardio sessions. Start with some light steady state, and incorporate HIIT sessions for when you are tight on time.
Cardio on an Empty Stomach Burns More Fat
The idea behind this is that, if you don’t have any food in your stomach, then you are burning more calories from stored fat. What this really comes down to, is your caloric output. Sure, it’ll prioritize fat at that moment. At some point, you’re going to consume a meal, and when you do, your body will focus on burning that. So whether you have that meal beforehand or after your session, your body will switch it’s focus to breaking down that meal and burning the fat in your body later.
The overall reduction in calories is what allows your body to spend more overall time focusing on burning fat stores over trying to mitigate the surplus. If you have a preference for doing cardio fasted or first thing, because it just feels better to you, then by all means go for it. Just make sure to have a meal after so you don’t risk being in a catabolic state for too long.
I’d also like to take a final thought to direct your attention to your goals. What is YOUR goal? If it’s to look lean and muscular then you should be spending the majority of your time resistance training not doing cardio. There is a little interference effect you can get if you are trying to build muscle but doing too much cardio. Those are conflicting signals you are sending to the body. So take some time to really focus on what it is exactly you want to achieve at the end of the day.