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DEMO VERSION Exercise intensity and fat utilisation


The best way to burn fat is much debated. Often, people are advised to exercise at a low intensity for a longer duration, and cardiovascular machine manufacturers recommend the so-called ‘fat burning’ zone of low intensity (usually around 60–70% MaxHR, the equivalent of a brisk walk).


At a low intensity, the majority of energy burnt will be supplied by fat rather than glycogen (stored carbohydrate). If the intensity is taken higher (eg, a run), then more of the energy will come from glycogen, and therefore the body is no longer ‘fat burning’. However, this approach fails to take into account the total energy expenditure, another important factor in weight-loss programmes.


Fat is our largest store of energy, distributed around the vital organs and as adipose (fatty) tissue. Fat is used all the time as the energy source for normal metabolic functions, such as breathing, digesting food and keeping warm, regardless of whether any exercise is being done. Everything we do is ‘fat burning’, including sleeping and watching television which burn a high proportion of fat compared to glycogen.


This calls into question why so many people are overweight. The answer relates to the total energy expenditure (or calories burnt).


©YMCA Awards 2015


The graph shows energy expenditure and fat utilisation with increasing intensity (adapted from Romjin et al, 1993).


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