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Burning Calories vs. Burning Fat
What’s The Difference?

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: July 19, 2021

When it comes to losing weight, the terms calories and fat are often thrown around interchangeably.

In reality, there’s a big difference between calories and fat. As a result, it can be frustrating to do what the fitness pros say, only to see minimal results.

We’ve spent hours researching the differences between the two, so you know exactly what to focus on to achieve your body transformation goals.

What Is the Difference Between Burning Fat and Calories?

man holding up a weighing scale and a sandwich while thinking

Compared to burning calories, burning fat requires certain criteria to be met in order to occur.

  • Calories are units of energy extracted from the food we eat. All food groups such as carbs, proteins, grains, and fats contain calories in varying amounts.
  • Fats are a group of insoluble compounds found in fatty foods. Our bodies naturally extract calories from the food we eat to provide us with energy. However, when too much food is eaten, this calorie surplus gets stored in our fat cells and leads to weight gain.

Our bodies constantly burn calories even at rest to provide enough energy for bodily functions, which means you can burn calories simply by laying on the couch.

Fats are another story. As they are stored in the body, the fat-burning process is much more complex and challenging.

To burn fat, your body requires an elevated heart rate for a prolonged period of time, influencing you to take in more oxygen.

That provides your body with a greater amount of oxygen for the fat-burning process, also known as fat oxidation.

Comparatively, shedding calories only cuts down on water weight and does not impact body fat.

What Is More Important If You Want to Lose Weight: Calories or Fat?

man fitting a small jeans for his big belly

When it comes to losing weight, you’ll want to focus on burning fat if you’re looking to achieve tangible results.

As mentioned earlier, shedding calories alone won’t have any significant effect in helping you lose fat. If you want to slim down, you’ll need to focus on getting rid of the excess fat stored in your cells.

The best way to accelerate your body transformation goals is twofold: engage in intense exercise consistently, and manage your calorie intake.

Below are some methods to help you with your weight loss journey.

Aerobic Exercise

a group of women doing aerobic workout

Aerobic exercise includes any form of cardiovascular activity that gets your heart rate up.

Popular choices such as swimming, running, spin class, and aerobics are great choices to accelerate the fat-burning process.

These types of workouts gradually elevate the heart rate and increase the volume of oxygen supplied to muscles. As a result, it provides your body with enough oxygen to facilitate the breakdown of body fat.

When it comes to exercising, your body draws energy from recently consumed calories.

Throughout the workout, your body slowly requires more and more energy, which energy calories alone can’t provide.

As a result, your body burns fats as a secondary energy option, which can only be achieved when there is an abundance of oxygen.

Through exercise, your body has more than what it needs to tap into the energy reserves found in your fats.

High-Intensity Workout

shirtless man doing high intensity workout with a rope

The higher intensity of a workout, the greater the energy demand is on your body.

High-intensity workouts like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) significantly increases the amount of energy your body requires.

Similar to aerobic exercises, calories alone won’t provide your body with the energy it needs.

However, there is another source of energy that’s abundant with even more calories just waiting to be tapped into - your fat reserves.

By engaging in high-intensity training, the body is more than happy to use those stored fats to fuel your intense workout, leading to significant weight loss results.

Additionally, workouts such as weight training have been associated with something called the “after-burn effect”.

It is a process where the body continues burning calories long after you’ve finished exercising, which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours.

“The exercise after-burn, or the calories expended (above resting values) after an exercise bout, is referred to as ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption’ or EPOC. This represents the oxygen consumption above resting level that the body is utilizing to return itself to its pre-exercise state [1].” - Chantal A. Vella, Ph.D.

It means that if you’ve put in enough effort during the workout, your body will continue to shed fat even after you’re done for the day in an attempt to restore itself to its resting state.

Talk about an automated way to lose body fat.

Reduce Your Calorie Intake

woman holding an apple while saying no to donuts

Perhaps the easiest way to shed pounds and lose fat is: to consume fewer calories.

If you’re looking to shed pounds off your waist, the amount of calories you burn must be higher than the amount going into your body.

The simplest way to do this is to watch your diet and ensure you’re living a healthy lifestyle. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

FAQs

Are Fat Calories Harder to Burn?

Fats are more complex than calories and harder to break down. To initiate the fat-burning process, your body requires an abundance of oxygen levels.

As a result, the body only turns to fats for energy as a last resort.

How Do I Burn Fat Instead of Calories?

To burn fat instead of calories, you’ll need to elevate your heart rate for a prolonged duration.

This increases your oxygen intake and allows the fat-burning process to be initiated

How Do You Know You Are Burning Fats?

The effects of fat burning are seen through physical transformations. Over time, you will notice reduced body measurements, less fat on your body, and more defined muscles.

Another indicator that you start burning fat is the ability to work out on an empty stomach, indicating that your body is using fats for energy.

Exercise Hard and Breathe Harder to Burn Body Fat and Get Fit

Shedding body fat is a process that needs certain conditions to be met. Unless your body has what it needs, you won’t be getting fit anytime soon.

By engaging in intense physical activity that makes you breathe hard, you’ll elevate your target heart rate and engage in the fat oxidation process.

This allows your body to torch calories and burn off the energy stored in your fats, shedding pounds and helping you slim down.

Let us know what type of intense exercises you prefer in your workout.


References:

  1. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/epocarticle.html

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