I am currently sitting at over 300 lbs, and am in serious need of some weight loss. This probably sounds like more and more people in the world today. It’s easy to gain weight for a lot of us, but losing weight feels like it’s behind a paywall at times. In this series I am hoping to uncover some truths about using my heart rate as a guide to lose weight.
Weight loss is difficult. Anyone who says it isn’t is trying to sell you something. Part of the issue is that the two biggest factors in weight loss, nutrition and fitness, are extremely hard to study. This leads to many theories about the “best” way to work out to lose weight, or the “best” diet for your health. Unfortunately not all of these theories hold up to scrutiny. One of the biggest theories in modern fitness is working out in such a way to keep yourself in the so-called fat burning zone. The idea is simple enough. As long as you keep your heart rate in the fat burning zone, then your body will burn more fat.
The fat burning zone is somewhere around 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. I’ve seen some websites list it as high as 80%, but you get the picture. When your body is in this state, it burns a higher percentage of body fat and less carbohydrates. As you increase in your efforts and your heart rate climbs, the fuel requirements change. The increase of required energy causes the body to break down carbohydrates more than body fat. This is pretty well understood science at this point, so the theory does have that going for it. The theory starts to fall apart if you think about fat being burned as a total in grams instead of in percentages of total calories.
Yes keeping the intensity lower will make a higher percentage of calories burned be from fat, but a higher intensity workout can burn a lot more overall calories. This will almost always mean more fat is burned at a higher intensity all other things considered equal. Lower intensity workouts are still great though. For runners they build endurance. For weight lifters they can help with form and strengthen tendons and ligaments. Athletes use them to work on form and technique. All of these forms of light exercise are great for the heart as well.
As with most things involving weight loss, there is some truth in the theory of the fat burning zone. Unfortunately, just like those other things involving weight loss, it’s just not an end-all-be-all. Nothing is. Calories in versus calories out is still the king of weight loss. Using your heart rate as a way to train is still a worthy tool for weight loss though. In part 2 of this series I will look into a plan to use heart rate training in my attempt to lose weight.