Afterburn Effect - Do You Burn Fat After a Workout?

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: November 28, 2023
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You’ve probably heard plenty of times that weight loss depends on how many calories you burn vs. the calories you take in.

And the obvious conclusion would be that your body burns off flabby stuff while you’re working out to fuel the exercise activity.

But what surprises a lot of people is that by carefully choosing your exercises, you could lose weight post-workout as well.

We teamed up with an expert in sports medicine to give us a detailed insight into how your body may increase calorie burn effects even after you’ve left the gym.

Here’s what we learned.

Quick Summary

  • Your body will continue to burn body fat on different parts of the body after you complete your exercise routines.
  • Workouts with the best afterburn effects are high-intensity interval training, strength training, swimming, and sprint jogs.
  • A study published by the National Institutes of Health showed a direct relationship between high-intensity exercise and the length of time the afterburn might last.
  • Personally, I've found that clients who embrace a variety of these exercises tend to achieve more lasting and visible fat loss results.

Does Your Body Burn Fat Once You Finish Working Out?

man cooling down inside a gym

Yes, your body will continue to burn body fat after you finish exercising. But this is largely dependent on the exercise intensity, your overall aerobic capacity, and factors like sleep quality.

In my experience as a health and performance coach, I've seen firsthand how crucial rest and recovery are.

Clients who prioritize adequate sleep not only burn fat more efficiently post-exercise but also experience the afterburn effect, where their bodies continue to use fat for energy long after their workouts have ended.

Adequate sleep enhances the body's ability to efficiently utilize fat as an energy source post-exercise.

What Happens To Fat After Exercise?

woman sweaty after workout, and a man pulling his shirt up to look at his abs

After a tough training session, your body tirelessly works to normalize. My experience with clients shows that calorie burning, muscle repair, and energy replenishment continue beyond the workout.

Research published in the National Library of Medicine shows resistance exercises elevate oxygen consumption for up to 38 hours post-exercise [1]. This increased calorie burn during recovery can lead to noticeable fat loss.

However, this doesn't replace healthy habits; it complements them.

“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.”

-Chantal A. Vella, Ph.D., University of New Mexico

Additionally, managing stress effectively can enhance this recovery process, as high-stress levels can impede the body’s ability to efficiently burn fat post-exercise.

How Long Does The Afterburn Effect Last?

close up image of a woman's toned abs

The afterburn effect can last up to 24 hours after a workout but this may depend on the workout's intensity.

National Institutes of Health research highlights a strong link between high-intensity exercise and extended afterburn duration [2].

Notably, a vigorous 30-minute HIIT session can outperform a standard 45-minute run in calorie burning. Proper recovery, addressing oxygen debt and muscle repair, extends calorie burning beyond 24 hours.

Additionally, maintaining hydration enhances fat metabolism, boosting the effectiveness of post-workout calorie burn.

We also recommend taking advantage of compound movements during training because the more muscles you activate at high intensity, the more glycogen and muscle fibers will require replenishing.

Related: Burning Calories vs Burning Fat - What's The Difference?

What Types Of Workouts Give The Best Afterburn Effect?

Here are the five types of aerobic activities that we recommend to maximize the afterburn and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.

1. High-Intensity Interval Training

woman doing push ups in a gym

In my years as a coach, I've found that high-intensity workouts, like circuits combining jump squats and bench presses, are incredibly effective. Many of my clients have seen significant improvements in their afterburn effects from these types of exercises.

You only have very short rest periods between sets before moving to the next workout. HIIT includes several rounds of the chosen circuit.

HIIT training can produce the highest levels of sustained intensity and thereby maximize post-workout fat burning.

2. Strength Training

woman on a yoga mat doing glutes execercise

Most people look at weight training as something only bodybuilders do.

However, short bursts of intense work and strength training can burn extra calories once you’re done.

It might not be quite as good as HIIT, but it’s a great way to build muscle mass and reduce your BMI.

3. Sprint Jogs

man jogging at a park

One way to avoid the gym altogether is to go for a jog and introduce some sprint intervals.

Your session could include 3 minutes of jogging, followed by 20 seconds of sprinting and repeating it for eight rounds.

It’s a simple way to make one exercise different enough and force you into excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.

4. Swimming

shirtless man standing in a pool

Swimming is a great form of exercise to get to maximum heart rate without causing strain on joints, tendons, and ligaments.

Now, swimming faster will require good technique, so it might be a good idea to get some swimming lessons.

5. Cycling

leg view of a woman using an elliptical

A stationary bike is a simple investment for achieving your fitness goals at home.

Similar to the sprint jog approach mentioned above, you would switch between moderate intensity and high speed for short intervals to burn off extra calories during the workout.

And you’d be surprised what the total calories are if you use an activity tracker.

FAQs

Do You Burn Calories While Sleeping After a Workout?

Yes, you burn calories while sleeping after a workout if the workout intensity is high enough. It’s also a good idea to combine different intensities during your workout to achieve a higher afterburn for a longer period.

How Can You Tell If You're Losing Fat?

You can tell if you’re losing fat mainly by measuring your waist and thighs. The weight itself is not a good measure because you could be building muscle mass and losing fat at the same time, and muscle tissue weighs more than fat.

Can You Be Fat and Fit?

You can be fat and fit, meaning that you can have good cardiovascular health, muscular strength, and flexibility. Fitness is not solely determined by body weight. However, it's essential to recognize that carrying excess body fat can increase the risk of certain health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and joint problems, regardless of fitness level.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11882927/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17101527/
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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