The main reason for covering this subject matter is that it is somewhere I want to direct people when I need to put across this message. The Answer is not only a complicated one, but its also counter- intuitive for most people. Surely the more cardio you do, the more calories you will burn and the more weight you will lose? Absolutely NOT. So by having a couple of hours to write this blog I can try and simplify the answers and put it in a coherent way. Rather than having a client stare blankly at me trying to struggle to explain it to them for 20 mins.
It is worth noting, if you enjoy lots of cardio or you do it competitively or even socially, then I would never discourage someone from that. Generally speaking, people that do run competitively or because they enjoy it can run fairly well and they are fairly healthy already. I would hope that these people have a good balance in their exercise and do some weight training/mobility work as well. So carry on, it’s a good way to keep a good energy balance, its good to do any type of exercise and as long as you are compensating with your food and with high protein, then you will be absolutely fine.
The people I am targeting with this blog, are the people that will decide on a few random Mondays throughout the year that the is the time to change their bodies, and then….. decide to fuck their bodies up with a stupid, illogical plan of action-ill thought out and with the advice of Suzie from the office who lost a few pounds doing this last year and then put it back on (but it wasn’t her fault, its actually because Suzie developed an underactive thyroid). Essentially, the people that think that cardio is the most effective way to lose weight.
Effects of excessive cardio on metabolism
This is the bit I find the hardest to explain, because to understand it you need to understand the metabolism. Which itself is not easy. Your metabolism is defined as ‘the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life.’ Now, your metabolism has a strong relationship with the volume of calories you burn in a day. If you have a very high metabolism, you will burn a lot more calories in a day then someone who has a lower metabolism. What is your BMR? Your BMR is the volume of calories you burn in a day, this is worked out by a combination of all the factors that affect your metabolism. What affects your metabolism? Pretty much everything in your environment. The food you put in your body, the amount of activity you do, how long you awake for in a day, how much alcohol you drink, your muscle mass, how much you talk.
So here is where ‘execessive’ cardio comes in. Our bodies are so good at adapting to everything we do, so if you start doing lots of cardio, your body then slows down your metabolism and becomes more efficient with its calorie usage, because it needs to. Suddenly we are giving the body two signals, more cardio, and less food. You need to make sure you use those calories efficiently or your body will eventually die. Sounds extreme, however your body doesn’t know you are in this comfortable environment and can eat food whenever you want.
So what happens when you become more efficient with calories? Your metabolism slows down
What happens when we are doing excessive cardio and dieting and don’t have sufficient protein the maintain muscle, or carbs for energy? Our body starts taking protein from your muscle for energy, and what happens when you decrease your muscle mass? Your metabolism slows down.
So in conclusion to this first question, What are the effects of excessive cardio on your metabolism? The answer is that it slows it down. Why does that matter? It matters hugely. If you slow down your metabolism, then you decrease your BMR which as explained earlier is the amount of calories you burn in a day. If you decrease your BMR, then you have to lower your calories even further if you want to lose weight and this makes things unsustainable and keeps you in the vicious cycle. I will try and explain this in a with two examples.
Has lots of muscle, eats lots of whole foods, works in an active job, doesn’t drink.
BMR is currently 2500, just needs to lose some fat because they have put on 10 pounds as they overindulged on a 2 week holiday.
So if this person now eats 2000 cals a day for the next 2 months, they will lose 500 cals a day. Which is 30,000 cals over two months which is roughly 10 pounds. This is very manageable and sustainable.
Has little muscle through excessive cardio and dieting for 10 years, lives a sedentary life, drinks a lot.
BMR is currently 1100, however has the same goal of losing 10 pounds.
So in order for this person to have the same 500 calorie deficit each day to reach the goal after 2 months, they would have to eat 600 calories a day for two months.
This will NOT happen as its unsustainable. And if it does, then this person will be very unhealthy ad continue the cycle of losing more muscle and becoming more efficient with lower calories and making the cycle worse – slowing down the metabolism further.
Here is the important bit, that every decent (emphasis on decent) Personal Trainer knows – The best and most effective way to get a client to lose body fat is to increase their metabolism, and create a deficit through those means. The reason for this is sustainability, which is something I bang about all the time because it’s so important to achieve long term goals. How do we increase metabolism? EAT, BUILD MUSCLE, BE MORE ACTIVE. It can take a long time to do things like build muscle, and change your eating habits, but sorry, if you want to look good then these ARE the long term strategies that you need to implement. And trust me you wont regret it, I am at a stage now where I can eat 3500 cals a day and stay the same weight, and if I do want to lose weight I can start off by just going down to 3000, obviously as I then start to lose weight my metabolism will slow down and I will have to keep coming down but still, how nice is that? To start a diet on 3000 cals and never have to go below 2500. Its all relative however, I’m 100 kg and 6 foot 2, your numbers will be relative but can still improve hugely.
I know my blog is nowhere near perfect and rambly at best, however the information in this blog is the most important thing you can know for fat loss. Read it, digest it, go and do your own research. And please ask me any questions or challenge me. I welcome this as it helps all of us. DM me suggestions for subjects you want me to write on as well.