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Afterburn Effect
Do You Burn Fat After a Workout?

Last updated: July 19, 2021

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.

Does Your Body Burn Fat Once You Finish Working Out?

man cooling down inside a gym

The simple answer is yes; your body will continue to burn body fat after you finish exercising.

But this is largely dependent on the exercise intensity and your overall aerobic capacity.

When you push your body into higher intensity levels, your body burns calories at a very rapid rate.

Those calories initially come from glycogen stored in muscles, and after, from blood glucose.

If you train for long enough, your body will have to resort to stored fat and possibly some food left in your stomach as a source of energy.

Once you finish exercising, your body will keep burning fat to replenish your muscle glycogen and blood sugar levels, and we call it the afterburn effect that keeps sourcing more energy.

What Happens To Fat After Exercise?

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

After ending a tough training session, your body will have to continue working to get it back to a resting state.

That means raising oxygen levels, getting rid of lactic acid, repairing muscles, and filling up those glycogen reserves again.

One study in particular identified that resistance exercises can boost more oxygen consumption up to 38 hours post-exercise [1].

When your body works to get back to a resting state, it burns more calories. In other words, the more calories you burn during the rest periods, the more you should notice some visible fat loss from that caloric burn.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can say goodbye to healthy habits and go for a pizza on your way home from the gym.

But the afterburn will go a long way when you adopt healthy habits.

“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.

How Long Does The Afterburn Effect Last?

close up image of a woman's toned abs

Another study we looked at showed a direct relationship between high-intensity exercise and the length of time the afterburn might last [2].

What’s particularly interesting is that intensity seems to be more important than the length of the training session.

If you have a really intense 30-minute HIIT workout, you could end up burning more calories than after a typical 45-minute run.

When you give your body adequate recovery time to fix the oxygen debt and damaged muscle tissue, burning calories may continue for more than 24 hours after a workout.

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

High-intensity workouts involve a circuit of intense exercises, anything from jump squats to bench presses.

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.

Are You Going to Try These Afterburn Workouts?

If you want to lose some weight or are in a cutting phase, we recommend trying out a highly intense exercise such as a HIIT workout.

You can tailor HIIT workouts to fit your fitness needs, as long as you can easily raise the intensity of your workouts.

Think sprints instead of jogging and burpees instead of jumping jacks.

Give it a try for several weeks and see the impact it has on your fat reserves. And don't forget to report back to us in the comments or on social media.


References:

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

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