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How to Get Your Body to Burn Stored Fat

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The journey to washboard abs and a toned body isn’t as simple as you might think.

If it was, we’d all shred stored fat and be walking around like we were beach ready.

From calorie intake to the best exercise program and supplements – it can be difficult to know where to start.

But working out exactly how to get your body to burn stored fat is the real battle.

Crack the code and you’re on your way to your best physique ever. Fail to prepare and you’ll be left disappointed.

In this article we take a look at how to get your body to burn stored fat.

Read on to find out how…


Calories Matter for Fat Loss

When it comes to winning the war on body fat, it’s very much about the physics of energy.

The way in which your body either shreds or stores fat is all about what happens with your calorie intake and energy expenditure.

Let’s say you treat yourself to a few days of eating whatever and as much as you want. You’ve fed to excess and your body now has a surplus of food energy (calories).

As far as your body’s concerned, this is great.

It has no idea where the next meal is coming from and because it thinks that you’re still a hunter-gatherer on the Serengeti, hunting for your meals with spears and axes, it’ll do all it can to save that those calories for later.

It needs to make a decision – get rid of this excess energy and risk starving, or store it somewhere and give your self a ‘calorie cushion’ in case you struggle to find your next meal.

It’s pretty obvious what your body will do.

It’s all about life preservation.

Your body stores excess energy as fat

Fat is a convenient way for your body to hold energy.

It acts like a reservoir, ready to be dipped into when we need it.

When you have an excess of energy, your fat cells offer a room for the night. They take in the extra calories and let each fat cell swell up until full – and if there’s still excess energy to store , another one begins to fill up, and so on.

This is essentially how you become overweight.

The question is though; if calories are key for fat loss, exactly how do you get your body to burn stored fat?


Slim woman in green sportswear measuring her waist with a tape measure

How do You Get Your Body to Burn Stored Fat?

It’s impossible to lose body fat if you are eating more energy than your body needs.

But on the flip side, it’s perfectly possible to lose body fat if you eat less energy than your body requires.

Referred to as a calorie deficit or negative energy balance, reducing your food intake is how to get your body to burn stored fat.

When you have less energy than you need, your body dips into your fat cells and makes an energy withdrawal. It uses the stored fat to make up the difference, and as a result, your fat cells shrink.

The physiology behind how this works is actually really complex, but all you need to know is this – an energy deficit stimulates the release of two enzymes hormone sensitive lipase and adipose glyceride lipase.

These two enzymes act as minute tap hammers, chipping away at your fat cells to release the energy your body needs. The longer you stay in a deficit, the more fat gets used up.

The technical term for this is ‘fatty acid mobilization’ [1].

Before you know it, you’re buying new clothes and enjoying the sight of your chiselled abs in the mirror.


Getting Your Body to Burn Stored Fat: How Does Fat Loss Occur?

You know now that once you achieve a calorie deficit your body will switch to fat burning mode.

Your fat cells will start to empty and you’ll use up that stored energy to get you through your day.

Before you know it you’ll be a shadow of your former self.

But what exactly happens to the energy you burn?

According to recent research [2], most of it you actually breathe out. That’s right, fat loss leaves your body via your mouth and nose!

As much of 84% of the fat that you hydrolyze, breaks down into a number of byproducts – one of which is carbon dioxide.

Crazy.

What about the remaining 16% fat then?

Well that leaves the body as fluid vapor in your urine, sweat and even your tears.

So the saying ‘sweating is just fat crying’ kind of rings true.


Toned and athletic blonde-haired woman posing in the gym

The Best Ways to Get Your Body to Burn Stored Fat

When it comes to maximizing fat loss, it comes down to just a few hints, tips and tricks. There’s no need for overly-complicated exercise routines and you don’t need to start hitting 5am runs either.

It’s just down to honest persistence and adhering to these guidelines.

Manage your calorie deficit

Without a negative energy balance you won’t lose fat. But if you slash your calories too low you’ll be so tired and hungry that you’ll soon fall off the wagon.

So what’s the perfect balance when it comes to your deficit?

Well really it’s down to individual tolerance. Some people prefer to have a small deficit of around 10% and lose fat slowly but surely.

Others prefer a more aggressive approach and hack 40% from their daily energy needs and drop fat quickly (but with a higher chance of becoming so hungry that they can’t adhere to the diet).

We advocate a moderate deficit of 20% – the perfect balance between minimal and aggressive dieting. And you can expect to lose between 0.8 and 1.3 pounds of fat per week using these numbers.

You can use our calorie calculator here to work out exactly how many calories you need each day if you’re unsure.

Make informed food choices

Once you’ve nailed your calories you need to start thinking about food choices.

The most obvious decision is that you need to add loads of vegetables to your daily eating routine. Not only are they high in fat burning nutrients, they are also low calorie but high in fiber.

This combination helps you feel fuller for longer and reduce food cravings.

Aiming to eat around 0.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight will help you preserve muscle mass while dieting (muscle is a big determinant of metabolic rate). You’ll keep your daily calorie burning ticking over at a higher rate and as the most satiating nutrient, protein will also help you reduce appetite too.

There’s nothing wrong with having the odd treat food, especially if you’ve under-eaten and have a few spare calories left for the day.

Reward foods help with adherence and can keep you on track with your diet.

Just bare in mind that sweets, cakes and junk food are often lower in health-giving nutrients.

Move as much as you can

When it comes to calorie expenditure, your body burns calories in four ways.

  • Basal metabolic rate – the energy you burn just to keep your heart beating, your brain functioning and your muscle mass preserved.
  • Exercise – each time you visit the gym you’re using up energy from calories
  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) – the calories burned by moving. This includes walking, fidgeting, tidying up your apartment and so on.
  • Thermic effect of food – the energy use to digest the food you eat.

Surprisingly, NEAT burns nearly double the calories each day that you’d expend exercising in the gym. For this reason, if you can be on your feet and move more you’ll burn far more calories than relying on the gym alone.

Get your body to burn stored fat by walking, dancing, tapping your feet, cleaning and tidying, and getting some extra gardening done to turn yourself into a fat burning machine.

Lift weights

No, we’re not asking you to sign up for endless hours of cardio here.

In fact that’s probably be the opposite to what you want as it’s as a surefire way of losing muscle mass.

Just 2-3 sessions per week of heavy strength training is enough to help you retain muscle mass while dieting.

To get your body to burn stored fat you’ll need this muscle mass, so plan workouts that maximize results – big, compound exercises that fatigue you within 8-10 reps.

Here’s a sample program that you could follow for fat loss and muscle retention:

Strength Training Program for Fat Loss

Exercise RepsSetsRest Time
Dumbbell Bench Press8360 seconds
Leg Press8360 seconds
Lat Pulldown8360 seconds
Leg Curl8360 seconds
Dumbbell Shoulder Press8360 seconds
Goblet Squat8360 seconds
Seated Row8360 seconds

Summary – How to get your body to burn more fat

  • Achieve negative energy balance – moderate calorie deficits work well.
  • Be on the move as much as you can – NEAT burns lots of calories
  • Hit the gym – lifting weights preserves muscle tissue better than cardio
  • Focus on nutrients – protein, vegetables and fat burning nutrients optimize results

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References

  1. Schweiger, M et al. Adipose Triglyceride Lipase and Hormone-sensitive Lipase Are the Major Enzymes in Adipose Tissue Triacylglycerol Catabolism. J Biol Chem. 2006; 281: 40236-40241
  2. Meerman, R et al. When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go? BMJ. 2014; 349: 7257


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