Cardio Or Weight Training ?
I often get asked which is better, cardio or weight training? Now understand that losing weight really mean losing fat. There is definitely a difference. To start we need to have a basic understanding of the body and how it works. Specifically in how the body uses and stores fat. We also need to look at the fundamentals of weight fat loss. Not to worry, I am not going to bore you with a bunch of overly complicated explanations.
The basic formula that has been the same since the dawn of mankind is calories consumed vs. calories burned. In other words, if your caloric intake is 2,500 calories and your body burns 2,000 calories well clearly you have a 500 calorie surplus that will be stored as fat. On the other hand, the opposite is also true. If you consume 2,000 and burn 2,500 you are at a 500 calorie deficit. Yes, the macro nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and fats play a roll, but let’s stick with the fundamentals. Also while we are on the subject of calories let me dispel a common myth, “you can not get fat eating healthy foods” unfortunately you can. That is because of the fundamental rule I just mentioned, – calories consumed vs. calories burned. I will talk in more detail about the glycemic index and specific carbohydrates at another time, for now, we are sticking to the basics.
Now for some good old fashion math. In a pound of stored fat there is approximately 3,500 calories. What that means to you is if you want to burn off just 1 pound of fat you’ll need to burn off 3,500 calories more than you consumed. Ok another myth, you go to the gym jump on the scale and it reads 200lbs. After a grueling hour of cardio you get back on the scale and is reads 198lbs. Wow, you lost 2 pounds in an hour right? Wrong, you lost 2 pounds of water weight which will be restored as soon as you re-hydrate. Hopefully by now you get the basic understanding here. Truth be told, you can absolutely accomplish your fat loss goals if the basics is all you ever know.
Finally we come to the answer, which is better cardio or weight training for fat loss? Well almost, one more basic that you need to know. How the body burns calories throughout the day. Understand that your muscles and fat require calories to be consumed. Think of your body as complex machine. As a general baseline at rest1 pound of muscle burns approximately 17 calories, and 1 pound of fat approximately 3. What this means is, if you slept for 24 hours that is generally how many calories the body would burn. For example, 10 pounds of muscle would burn 170 calories, pretty simple right? Remember, these are approximate based on your body “at rest”. Clearly you don’t sleep 24 hours a day. So your body is burning significantly higher even if you’re a coach potato. This number is exponentially higher if there is physical activity involved such as exercise.
Ok, now that the basics are covered let’s look at are main question. When you perform cardio the main muscle you are working is you heart. When you weight train you are breaking down whatever muscle you targeted. This means the calories you burn spikes while performing your cardio training. However, as soon as you complete your cardio session that high caloric rate quickly decreases. On the other hand with weight training your caloric rate certainly increases but nearly as much as with cardio. The key difference is unlike cardio your body must now repair all the muscle tissue you broke down during your training, which is referred to as recovery. Your body will continue to burn at an increased caloric rate usually for next 24hrs or more while the body recovers.
What does this all mean? Well, for example if you hop on a bicycle and burn 350 calories in an hour you did help strengthen your heart, you did burn an additional 350 calories, and you have helped stimulate your metabolism. These are all very beneficial and important things to do. With weight training you may have spent 30 minutes training and only burned 150 calories but over the course of the next 24hrs you may easily exceed 500 caloriestotal from the weight training session. Which is better cardio or weight training for fat loss? As you can see they both have benefits but the main rule of thumb is the more muscle you have the more calories your can burn. My recommendation is to have a consistent weigh training program and incorporate cardio as well. You don’t need to have a goal to be a competitive bodybuilder or power lifter to benefit form weight training. In a later installment I discuss the additional benefits of weigh training, like increased bone density, health testosterone increases, and greater overall performance.