When thinking about muscle building the image that first pops into your head may be of big, beefy body-builders. If you are trying to lose weight, it is easy to focus solely on cardio and ignore strength training. But does gaining muscle help burn fat?
You may not lose more weight on the scales if you incorporate muscle building into your exercise regime, as muscle tissue weighs more than fat, but the number on the scales is not as important to your health and body composition as the amount of body fat you have.
The ‘Afterburn’ Effect
Growing muscle tissue through the creation of proteins is one of the most energy-consuming processes in the body. So, when strength training, you don’t just need to think about the number of calories the exercise itself burns, but also the calories that will be burned by your body through hypertrophy(muscle growth).
After you finish any exercise session, you go into “afterburn”. This is where your body continues to burn calories even after you have finished exercising. The afterburn after strength training can be higher than after other types of exercise because you do more damage to your muscles. Your body then needs to use more energy, and thus more calories, for muscle repair after your session than it would after other types of exercise.
Even at rest, having more muscle mass will help you to burn calories as muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat. In fact, every pound of muscle burns around 6-10 calories per day. This might not seem like a lot but when you realise that it is three times more than the amount a pound of fat burns, you can start to see how this will boost your overall calorie burn. This is known as your ‘resting energy expenditure’ and is important for making sure that you are burning calories as efficiently as possible.
How Does Metabolism Come Into Play?
This resting energy expenditure is also influenced by your metabolism. You have probably heard people talk of how having a high metabolism in linked to being thin, but what is the process behind this? Metabolism is an umbrella term that covers all the processes that are happening in your body all the time and can range from breathing and cell repair, to digestion. All of these processes require energy and anything that uses energy can help you to burn fat. Your metabolism is influenced by all sorts of factors such as your age, gender, and body type. The rate of your metabolism is influenced mainly by genetics therefore, but there are some things you can do to alter it.
There are many myths around metabolism and weight loss, but one factor that definitely influences the speed of your metabolism is muscle mass. People with a bigger muscle mass have a higher metabolism (this is why men tend to have a higher metabolism than women – men tend to naturally have more muscle mass). Research has found that introducing strength training increases the resting metabolic rate and lowers body fat. Having a high metabolism means that you will need to take in more calories to gain weight than someone with a slower metabolism. This will mean that you will find it easier to maintain your body weight/fat or to reduce it.
But Surely Doing Cardio Burns More Calories?
Of course, it goes without saying that aerobic exercise burns more calories when you are actually doing it than strength training. However, cardio training on its own may not be the best way of maintaining weight loss. In fact, it has been found that doing cardio sessions alone can cause you to break down muscle tissue which reduces your overall muscle mass. When you realise that less muscle mass means a slower metabolism, you can see that doing this would lower the number of calories you burn at rest.
So, while strength training may not burn as many calories per session compared to cardio workouts, making sure you incorporate strength training into your exercise routine will help you to maintain a higher calorie burn long-term. This, along with the increased afterburn effect after strength training sessions means that having a good mix of both strength-training and cardio is the most efficient way of losing body fat and burning calories.
One easy way of merging cardio and strength training is by focusing on compound movements, such as squats, deadlifts, and kettlebell workouts. You could also try high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts as these include both cardio and strength training movements. Since HIIT workouts tend to be intense (hence the name!) this will also increase the strength of the afterburn, burning even more calories.
Don’t Forget About Nutrition
It is also important to keep in mind that you won’t lose weight or fat without taking care of other aspects of your health.
While it is definitely not simple to put into practice on a biological level, losing weight really is as simple as ‘calories in versus calories out’. It is often easier to reduce the number of calories coming in than it is to increase the number of calories that you burn so learning about the different calories that are present in the food that you eat and making a conscious effort to reduce them can be just as important as finding the right exercise regime.
It is important not to be caught out by crash diets and their promise of helping you to lose weight fast. These are almost impossible to maintain, aren’t nutritionally healthy, and will leave you with very little energy or motivation to exercise.
A Mix Of Strength Training And Cardio For The Win
Overall, strength training is an often-overlooked, but important, part of losing body weight/fat. While cardio workouts will burn more calories while you are doing them, making sure to incorporate strength training into your exercise regime will make it easier for you to burn calories efficiently and to maintain your weight loss in the long term. Combining this with a healthy and nutritious low-calorie diet will give you all the tools you need to lose weight, feel better, and have more energy.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you struggle to lose body fat through cardio alone and looking for other ways to drop a few more pounds? Would you consider adding strength training to your exercise routines? Or maybe you already do and can testify to the information in this article? I’d love to hear your experiences so feel free to comment underneath and let me know.