Cardio is just a way of burning more calories; some people will diet and use resistance exercise and lose body fat. Some people do zero cardio and use diet and resistance exercise to get in shape for a contest. Fasted cardio does not burn more fat. More exercise can result in a compensation response, although a moderate dose of exercise does not seem to have this effect. Resistance exercise has been found to increase NEAT, whereas aerobic exercise has been found to decrease NEAT.
THE NEAT WAY TO LOSE FAT ARTICLE SUMMARY
- NEAT refers to calories burned outside of the gym.
- Fasted cardio does not burn more fat.
- Resistance exercise has been found to increase NEAT, whereas aerobic exercise has been found to decrease NEAT.
CARDIO VS RESISTANCE EXERCISE FOR FAT LOSS
Aerobic exercise burns more calories during exercise, whereas resistance exercise burns fewer calories but has a greater impact on increasing lean muscle mass. The longer rest periods between sets during resistance exercise result in lower energy expenditure than continuous aerobic exercise. Resistance exercise can also reduce abdominal fat despite lower calories burned during exercise due to increased lean muscle mass. The benefits of resistance exercise are improved body recomposition by improving lean muscle mass while reducing body fat.
WHAT IS NEAT?
Resistance training can increase/preserve lean mass while dieting, whereas aerobic exercise is associated with losses in lean muscle.(1, 2) Another benefit of resistance training is that compared to aerobic exercise, which has been found to lead to a reduction in NEAT. In contrast, resistance exercise has the potential to increase NEAT. This was documented in a study in which differences in 24-h energy expenditure and daily physical activity levels were assessed after 16 weeks of aerobic training and resistance exercise using a randomized crossover design.
Both activities resulted in an increase in 24-h energy expenditure on exercise days. On exercise days, total daily energy expenditure increased more on aerobic days by 443 kcal/d and 239 kcal/d for resistance exercise. However, on days that the subjects were not exercising was a different story. On non-exercising days, NEAT levels decreased in the aerobic group, and the subjects burned -148 kcal/day, whereas, on non-exercising days, NEAT levels increased, and subjects burned more than +216 kcal/day in the resistance exercise group. The researchers concluded that resistance exercise may burn more calories in the long term by stimulating higher physical activity on non-exercising days.
The lower fatigue and lower energy expenditure during resistance exercise may result in less time to recover between exercises and greater physical activity on non-exercise days. Thus, aerobic exercise can cause a compensatory reduction in calories by lowering calories burned on non-exercising days from greater fatigue.(3)
The Benefits of Resistance Exercise for Fat Loss
In a large-scale study of over 11,938 healthy adults, those who performed resistance exercise greater more than two days (i.e., > 180 minutes per week) per week had significantly reduced risks of obesity (i.e., 20-30%) compared to those who did not use resistance exercise, even if they just performed aerobic exercise. A dose-response curve suggested that those who performed a greater amount of resistance exercise had the greatest reductions in % body fat.
The researchers concluded that resistance exercise had a protective effect on excessive fat accumulation and should be promoted in conjunction with aerobic exercise for optimal health benefits.(4) Studies have found that even if you don’t diet and maintain calories, despite weight not changing, resistance exercise can cause an increase in lean mass and a reduction in body fat.(5)
Several studies have found that when comparing diet alone to diet plus resistance exercise, despite weight loss being the same between groups, body composition improves favorably when diet is combined with resistance exercise (i.e., greater reductions in body fat and preservation of lean mass).(6, 7)
A meta-analysis found that a combination of resistance and aerobic exercise was superior to aerobic exercise alone for improving body composition (i.e., lean mass, body fat, % body fat).(8) In a study of obese patients who were not placed on a diet and told to eat their normal diet, a combination of resistance exercise and cardio produced greater reductions in body fat (i.e., -4.4%) compared to resistance exercise alone (-3%).(9)
A 2020 meta-analysis of over 3552 subjects combining 43 studies found that comparing aerobic exercise, resistance exercise, and a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance exercise all led to reductions in subcutaneous adipose tissue. A combination of aerobic exercise and resistance exercise had the greatest reduction in subcutaneous adipose tissue compared to aerobic exercise or resistance training alone.(10)
Resistance exercise and NEAT
Resistance exercise has the distinct metabolic advantage of increasing resting metabolic rate over aerobic exercise. In a meta-analysis, resistance exercise increased resting metabolic rate, whereas aerobic exercise did not.(11) In a 2021 meta-analysis of over 58 studies and 3,000 people, researchers found that resistance exercise alone could reduce body fat by 1.4% or 1.1 pounds of fat loss, which is similar to most studies doing just cardio.(12)
In sum, cardio is just a way of burning more calories; some people will diet and just use resistance exercise and lose body fat. If you look at most competitive bodybuilders, they all use cardio as they are dieting to enhance fat loss, but it’s more of a preference. Some will restrict more calories from their diet and just use resistance exercise as their preferred method of energy expenditure.
CAN YOU LOSE BODYFAT WITHOUT CARDIO?
What if you hate doing cardio? Can you just use resistance exercise alone to reduce body fat? There has never been a study that I am aware of that used resistance exercise alone for going into a contest prep without some form of cardio. However, there are plenty of resistance training studies with diet results in fat loss.
The research clearly indicates that resistance training alone, combined with a calorie-restricted diet, can reduce body fat while preserving lean mass. Most of the research shows a combination of both cardio and resistance exercise for losing body fat while preserving lean mass.
CREATING A CALORIE DEFICIT SLOWLY PRESERVES MUSCLE
In a review of the research titled “Achieving an Optimal Fat Loss Phase in Resistance-Trained Athletes: A Narrative Review,” the researchers noted that the goal should be to enhance fat loss while maximizing lean muscle mass during weight loss.
As noted earlier, losses in lean muscle mass are strongly correlated with metabolic rate and increases in appetite. The review recommended that competitors target a 0.5-1.0% body weight loss to preserve lean mass. Protein intake should be at 2.2-3.0 g/kg/bw (1-1.3 grams per pound of body weight) distributed over three to six meals per day.
Protein intake should also be consumed two to three hours before and after training to maximize the effects. Carbohydrates should be adjusted to your level of training volume (2-5g/kg/bw or 1-2.5 grams per pound of body weight).
After protein and carbohydrate requirements are met, the rest of the calories should come from fat. Supplements that are beneficial during the calorie restriction phase to maintain lean muscle mass while reducing fatigue are creatine monohydrate and caffeine. (13)