I see it all the time. People who run regularly, daily even, but who have a higher body fat percentage and/or complain that they want to lose weight. You would think running would burn calories and lead to weight loss, right? Wrong! It’s one of the most believed myths in the fitness space. Cardio does not equal fat loss. Here’s why.
When you perform a cardio activity, such as running or a high-intensity circuit or any other activity that gets your heart rate up, you do burn calories. But it’s not as many as you think. If you’ve ever used a cardio machine at a gym, for example, the machine will provide a reading based on your height, weight, and age. When you think about how long you are on that elliptical or treadmill versus how much you burn? It’s not much! Even if it was, it cannot last. This is because our bodies are super smart. They are adaptable. It’s how we can build strength, flexibility, and overall fitness. The more you practice something the better you get at it. The more you lift, the greater your strength and muscle gains. The more you run, though, the less calories you burn. Wait a second, what?
That’s right. Let me say that again. The more you run, the more you will have to run to continue burning calories. This is because your body is made to be as efficient as possible. When you run, you are telling your body to become as lean as possible to be aerodynamic, making it easier for your body to run. And by lean, I don’t just mean less fat. It means less muscle, too. And the more you run, the more you shed that muscle. Have you ever heard of being skinny fat?
You might step on the scale to check your weight, but you may not know your lean muscle mass to body fat ratio. And that is the more important number. You want your body fat percentage to be around 15 to 20% for a male, 20 to 30% for a female, depending on factors, such as age. I’m generalizing this range. The more muscle you have, the more compact your body will become and the more calories it will burn at rest. Some people who are very fit weigh more than they look like they weigh based on the amount of muscle they have on their bodies. And they can eat WAY more calories daily because that muscle helps them burn those calories efficiently throughout the day.
The best way to approach cardio and running is to think of it as a supplement to your resistance training. Always prioritize muscle building first to lose weight and build muscle. If you like to run or are training for a race, that’s fine. But just know at the end of that race, you’ll want to pause and work on building muscle, too. This will keep your heart healthy and your metabolism strong. And, if you’re like me and you can’t run or dislike running, stop worrying that you’re missing out on some magical weight loss activity. Resistance training is king. Focus on that and the results will come.