Why Traditional Cardio Can Be A Bad Idea For Fat Loss

If you’re spending time doing cardio on the elliptical or doing HIIT training for fat loss you could be wasting your time. There is some research indicating that Cardio can cause you to reduce your caloric expenditure via NEAT levels. 

FYI: NEAT = Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: The number of calories you burn from non formal exercise. Think (fidgeting, walking around, standing, stairs etc).

Meaning if you do cardio you may be expending less calories throughout the day which can leave you on a similar calorie expenditure to if you never did the cardio at all. Very interesting hey… 🤔

NEAT can vary calorie burn by up to 2000 calories per day! Thats more than you can burn in a cardio session.

The extend of this down regulation in metabolism and behavioural response varies between individuals. This explains why some people who do cardio really don’t get any more fat loss than if they didn’t do cardio.

So what can we take away from this and how can we make sure that the cardio we do will have an effect on our results.

1. We need to stop looking at isolated times of the day and start to take the whole day into consideration when looking at energy expenditure and activity. If you are doing cardio in the morning and not tracking the activity you are doing for the rest of the day this is a recipe for disaster because after the cardio you may be sitting more than usual, doing less steps and be more inclined to take the elevator instead of the stairs for instance. This is why tracking NEAT via steps is a much better approach than simply doing cardio. Having a NEAT goal for the day and periodising that is the best approach. If you need to do cardio to reach that NEAT goal than that is fine but at least it’s part of the bigger picture and the whole day of activity is considered. This will stop you from lowering your NEAT levels throughout the day and having that compensatory effect that cardio can have.

2. Consider the type of cardio you are doing. High intensity cardio is most likely going to leave you smoked and therefore you are more inclined to do less for the rest of the day. (Continued in comments👇🏽)

  • strength.lab

    It is also more likely to have a greater impact on your allostatic stress load which will hinder recovery and cause negative adaptations. My advice is to opt for the lowest intensity form of movement (walking) while keeping activity/NEAT up throughout the day instead of trying do it in one hard hit.
    3. Also may want to look at the timing of your cardio sessions. Fasted morning cardio seems to be a big thing but if you’re exerting yourself first thing in the morning that leaves the greatest part of the day left for you to fidget, move and be all around less active. moving cardio to the last part of the day may be beneficial as you are going to sleep very soon after and have a better chance at recovering and optimising NEAT levels for the following day. 
    We are not against cardio but it should be looked at as a smaller part of a big picture which is NEAT.

  • _jkham

    I run on the tread 3-4 times a week for half an hour, go for plenty of walks on lunch breaks, always use stairs where possible and make sure I stand for at least 30 mins throughout the day. This method has been working wonders for me!

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