7 - The Unfortunate Math Of Fat Burn - Why Many Are Having Trouble With Fat Loss

An excerpt from my article written 4 yrs ago for Core 3 Training At Lifetime Fitness:

“We sit down at a desk with a blank sheet of paper and a pen.

“First of all, Bobbie, know that you’re not alone. Many people like yourself are frustrated and a bit confused about why their math just isn’t adding up. If you’re burning so many calories and eating so few, why is the weight not coming off? Right?” I assume if she’s so concerned with her workout calories, she’s also tracking her calorie intake.

“Right. According to myfitnesspal, I should be 20 pounds lighter than I am right now, and that is simply not true.” A shadow of self-deprecation flashes through her eyes.

I’ve always been one to focus on the positive. “Well, I would first like to say ‘well done’ on your consistency. I believe with a few tweaks to your program, you can begin to see progress again. Let me show you why it’s not the CALORIES that matter in your burn but the TYPE OF CALORIES your body chooses to fuel your workouts.” Again, she looks skeptical, but there’s a bit of curiosity in her expression.


“Whenever you do anything, your body has the option to fuel that activity with either fat or carbohydrates. There are a number of factors that play into which one is burned or how much of each. Bobbie, do you know which one you need to be burning the most of in order to reach your goal?”

“I need to be burning more fat!”

“That’s exactly right! Your body stores only a small amount of carbohydrates for quick energy during stress and intense activity in your liver, muscles, and blood stream. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you need to be burning fat during your workouts. Burning primarily through your carb stores isn’t effective because these are emergency calories, and your body does everything it can to replenish them when they are burned out. Have you ever craved carbs at the end of your workout?”

(Craving carbs post-workout is a common symptom of a metabolism that isn’t tapping into fat stores for fuel.)

“Oh yeah. My worst ice cream cravings are always after a double feature spin and barbell strength class. I’m getting better about only giving in every once in a while though. It’s just hard sometimes.” She has a slightly shameful tone to her voice, and she breaks eye contact.

“I totally get that. I would crave ice cream, too, if my body was nuking through my carb stores for 2 whole hours! And I don’t have the willpower to refrain.” She smiles, happy she’s not alone. “That’s your body showing you that you’ve burned a lot of carbs and that it needs to replenish them. Imagine that tonight when you worked out in Zumba super hard, you burned 1000 calories. However, because of its conditioning and the intensity, your body only burned 5% of those calories from fat. How many FAT CALORIES would that be?”

Her brow furrows as she says slowly, “Five percent of 1000 is 50.”

“Not bad for being worn out from an intense workout! So, if 50 of your 1000 calories came from fat, how many came from carbs?”

“So, 950 calories came from carbs…. That’s not good, is it?” A light bulb comes on.

“Well, this is hypothetical, but based on what you’ve told me, it’s very possible that’s what just happened in your workout. Do you know how many calories are in a pound of fat?” Fun fact.

“No idea. It’s probably not 50! How many?” As much as she’s used myfitnesspal, you’d think the app would readily hand out this information.

“There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat. If we take your workouts in isolation, and only 50 of your 1000 calories each time you work out is from fat, then by our math, it would take you 70 hours of Zumba to burn 1 pound of fat. How do you feel about being here at the gym for 70 hours to see one pound lost on the scale?” I know how I’d feel – depressed, overwhelmed, in the mood to give up….

“I wouldn’t do it. That’s ridiculous! By these numbers, I don’t have enough time in the next year to get to my goal! How do people do it then, Alex?” I am so glad she asked.

“The trick here, Bobbie, is that there are a lot of things you can do to your metabolism through exercise, nutrition, supplementation, lifestyle, and recovery to help it choose to burn fat more often and at higher intensities. If, after understanding your metabolism better and making some changes, you did Zumba again, you may burn 1000 calories, but you could get 50% of them to come from fat. How many calories of fat would Zumba class be worth then?” Her eyes are starting to light up. Maybe she won’t give up on that goal after all.

“Fifty percent of 1000 is 500. That’s 10 times more fat calories than what I’ve been doing!” A whole chandelier worth, not just a bulb, lights her face in an ecstatic “Aha!” realization. She gets it now. “How do I get better at burning fat?”

“Bobbie, the best thing to do is to assess your metabolism with our Active and Resting Metabolic Assessments so that we know what’s going on in your body right now. Then, with those results, your technician can make recommendations about how much cardio to do and how intensely to do it, how much fat, protein, and carbs you should be consuming, whether your body is being negatively affected by stress in your life, and what your pre- and post-workout nutrition should look like in order to get you burning fat like a boss. Does that make sense?” This must be the 1000th person I’ve helped with this, and the excitement of someone being able to totally renew his/her goal never gets old.

“Let’s do it. My body obviously needs something different. It sounds like you can help.”

We schedule her assessments for next Saturday, and she gives me a hug before running downstairs to get her kiddos. With the smile in her eyes and the pep in her step, it’s as if she’s burning more fat already…., “

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