If exercise is already part of your everyday life, you are one giant step ahead of the game when it comes to keeping healthy. Read on to brush up on some key tips to make sure you’re optimizing your time staying fit.
Whether you are a pro exerciser or a newbie to the fitness world, it is helpful to learn the optimum ways to get the most out of your workout.
Bear these 5 tips in mind to enhance your sweat session even further.
1. Staying in the “fat burning zone” may actually not be the quickest way to lose weight.
The body uses two main sources of fuel for our muscles: glycogen and fat. Glycogen is a less dense form of energy compared to fat, making it more easily broken down and readily available to fuel our muscles when needed.
When we exercise, especially at high-intensity, our body needs a quick source of fuel and relies first on glycogen for energy. Fat is burned when glycogen stores are depleted.
The “fat burning zone” concept, therefore, suggests that we burn more fat with lower-intensity exercise because the body does not need that quick energy that glycogen provides, and can instead target the fat stores for fuel as well.
But there is no reason to give up your high-intensity workout. It is true that low-intensity exercise burns more calories from fat and that high-intensity exercise leads to glycogen burn at first, but high-intense exercisers deplete glycogen at such a fast rate that fat is eventually burned as well.
It is possible to lose weight at low-intensity. You will just need to spend a lot more time doing it.
Many more total calories are burned during high-intensity, and ultimately when it comes to weight loss, the total number of calories you burn is what matters.
2. Learn your zone: there are 4 training zones, and each provides its own benefits.
If you want to lose weight as part of an exercise regimen, it is worth paying close attention to your heart rate while working out.
Your heart rate, as measured by a heart rate monitor, tells you exactly how intensely you are working out and corresponds to a specific training zone. Each zone offers its unique benefits.
First, calculate your maximum heart rate. This is the number you get after subtracting your age from 220. So a 40-year-old will have a maximum heart rate of 220 - 40 = 180, or 180 heartbeats per minute.
Next, begin your workout and watch your heart rate to determine your zone at any given time as follows.
Healthy heart zone: 50-60% maximum heart rate. This zone is safe and comfortable, and is used for increasing muscle mass and heart strength while reducing body fat and blood pressure. This zone is used for warming up and cooling down before and after higher-intensity workouts. This can include brisk walking.
Temperate zone: 60-70% maximum heart rate. Up to 85% of the total calories burned here are fat, leading some to call this the “fat burning zone,” but more time must be spent exercising here to burn a greater number of total calories. This type of activity can be slow jogging.
Aerobic zone: 70-80% maximum heart rate. Here, fat and glycogen are burned at around the same rate - 45% of the calories burned are fat - but a higher number of calories are burned overall. Running easily is a good example of an aerobic activity.
Anaerobic zone: 80-90% maximum heart rate. This zone is the most intense, and it is unlikely you will be able to stay in this zone for long. After a short time, the heart is unable to pump enough oxygen and blood to the muscles and the muscles fatigue, but a significant amount of calories are burned. In fact, your body continues to burn more calories even after the workout is completed, known as the “afterburn effect.” Exercising in this zone can include fast running.
3. Do not favor one type of exercise over another. Both cardio training and strength training are equally important.
A well-rounded, effective exercise routine will include both cardio training and strength training activities for the unique benefits they each offer.
Cardio activities, like brisk walking, jogging, riding a bike, or playing tennis strengthens your heart by getting it to pump faster and improves your lung capacity by pushing you to breathe harder. Exercising this way improves our sleep quality and boosts our immune system.
Strength training includes lifting weights or using resistance bands, yoga and pilates, and body weight-centered exercises like planks and push-ups.
Training our muscles in this way obviously makes us stronger and more fit, but it also helps us to complete our everyday tasks without injury.
Gaining strength also protects our bones by keeping them dense and increases our muscle mass, which is critical for bone, joint, and muscle health as we get older.
4. When it comes to exercise, when you eat and drink matters.
Making sure we eat enough of the right foods is a no-brainer when it comes to fueling our bodies for a workout, but often we forget to consider when we should be eating for best results.
One study compared exercise performance after eating 3 hours before exercise with eating 6 hours before a 35 to 40 minute bout of moderate to high-intensity exercise, and found that the subjects who ate 3 hours before performed better by taking longer to fatigue and burning more fat than glycogen.
This shows that not only does the content of our food matter when it comes to fueling our active bodies, but the time between when we eat and when we work out can affect our performance as well.
What about hydrating? We know that we lose fluid during a workout through breathing and sweating, and that replacing lost fluid during exercise is key to avoiding dehydration which can negatively affect both performance and health.
While there is no hard fast rule for hydrating generally, the American Council on Exercise recommends those who exercise to ingest 17 to 20 oz of fluid 2 to 3 hours before exercise and another 8 oz 20 to 30 minutes before starting the workout. During exercise, 7 to 10 oz of fluid should be ingested every 10 to 20 minutes. Finally, drink 8 oz of fluid 30 minutes after completing the exercise.
5. Learn from the pros.
Even seasoned gym goers can stand to benefit from learning from the best in the fitness field.
Below are practical pearls of wisdom from two professional athletes on how they best prepare for their grueling workouts ahead.
“Although I know that there are always things that will be out of my control, staying hydrated is one thing I believe I can manage effectively during this super hot summer. Not only will I be monitoring and supplementing as needed, but I will also work foods into my diet that have higher water content. Adding to the ultra-hydrating summer staples of watermelon, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, and celery, I’ll be enjoying strawberries, zucchini, and cauliflower to help me keep my hydration levels topped off. So, even if you aren't in the Sonoran desert for the next few months, make sure you keep tabs on your hydration to avoid headaches, dizziness, low blood pressure, and more serious long-term effects of chronic dehydration like kidney stones.” - Pro Triathlete, Ben Hoffman
“Going into a hard session, whether it be a long session or a quick one, I try to make sure I’ve been hydrating and also incorporating electrolytes. The weather has been warmer than usual and this is a must in order to perform at my best. It’s smart to eat a good amount of carbohydrates the night before so one can have fuel for the next day’s training. Some people like to train first thing in the morning, but I prefer to have a light breakfast before I go out to train to ensure I don’t tap too much into my energy reserves. Find what works for you and stick to it.” - Olympic Track & Field athlete Brenda Martinez