Weight Loss Debate: Burn More Calories or Reach the Fat Burning Zone?

| Fitness

woman running on treadmill

There is such controversy and mysticism surround the fat burning zone it should be renamed the Bermuda Triangle. Especially if you are in your 30s or older and your metabolism has seemed to have mysteriously vanished like mine.

Dr. Len Lopez, Clinical Nutritionist, Chiropractic Sports Physician, Strength and Conditioning coach, and author of To Burn or Not to Burn, Fat is the Question, believes he holds the key to the mystery. He believes that burning calories doesn’t always mean you are burning fat. He poses a good question to ponder, “Throughout the day, is your metabolism predominantly burning carbohydrates and proteins (lean muscle) or do you burn calories from the breakdown of fats fats for energy?”

He explains, “You can burn calories until the cows come home...but if your metabolism is constantly burning carbs and lean muscle, instead of burning fats, you will always struggle with fatigue, weight gain, cravings, mood swings, etc. Just because the elliptical machine said you burned 300 calories doesn't mean you burned 300 calories from stored body fat! Burning the wrong fuel (carbs and lean muscle) is the biggest contributor to cellulite.”

metabolism comparison image

Dr. Lopez uses the metaphor of a fire to explain metabolism. “Think of your metabolism like a fireplace. To create heat and start a fire you need twigs (carbs), small branches (proteins), and big fat logs (fats). You can create lots of heat with a blaze of fire by burning twigs and small branches, but you quickly need to replenish the fire with more twigs and small branches (carbs and proteins). Whereas, when you burn those big fat logs, it produces lots of heat (energy) and you don’t need to feed the fire (body) as often to keep your metabolism stoked.”

Brian Durbin Med, CSCS, and owner of Fitness Together in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, disagrees with Dr. Lopez. He believes that fat loss and weight loss really have more to do with burning more calories than worrying about just burning fat. He urges his clients to “stop worrying about your “zone” and start worrying about how [they] can burn the most calories in any given chunk of time. This involves a delicate balance between exercise intensity and duration.”

woman doing cardio on stationary bike at the gym

What do you think? For fat loss is it better to burn more overall calories or burn less calories but have those calories come from fat?