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)

Studies

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)

fasted cardio

FASTED VS FED CARDIO

For years, it has been emphasized that fitness and physique competitors should perform fasted cardio for optimal fat loss. Is there a benefit of doing fasted cardio vs fed cardio? In theory, it makes sense that if you perform fasted state cardio, you will use more fat from fat stores during exercise, but this represents a small time frame of 24-hour energy expenditure.

Fasted training will result in greater fat oxidation, but training on an empty stomach will not result in greater fat loss, despite lower insulin levels during fasted cardio. This is similar similar fat loss from intense workout style HIIT training to steady state cardio.

PROS AND CONS OF FASTED CARDIO

There is much debate on discussion boards (i.e., reddit fasted cardio) on whether fasted cardio is best for fat loss. Fasted cardio is like taking a snapshot of fat metabolism rather than looking at the entire day. Being in a caloric deficit is more important for fat loss than the exercise state.

For example, lean men who maintained energy balance (i.e., weight maintenance calories) cycled for 1 hour. The acute exercise bout increased fat oxidation, but the 24-hour fat oxidation did not change. (14) The cons of fasted cardio is that increases in cortisol and the absence of protein may not be the ideal situation for building muscle.

Other researchers have compared calorie-matched and low-calorie diets and the effects of fasted vs. fed cardio and found that when calories are similar between groups, responses of total body mass, fat mass, or fat-free mass did not differ between fasted cardio and fed cardio. (15, 16) In a meta-analysis by Hackett and Hagstrom, their research analysis comparing fasted vs. non-fasted cardio found no differences.

Fasted cardio did not affect body fat, weight loss, or lean mass. (17) These results are similar to the studies comparing high-intensity interval training and moderate-intensity continuous training, where body composition (i.e., body fat reduction) changes were similar. (18, 19) Neat resistance exercise calories burned can enhance weight loss based on the studies.

Intermittent fasting, in which there are long periods of reduced food intake, has a similar fat loss-fed state, with smaller meals throughout the day when calories are similar.

KEY POINTS

  • In sum, 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.
  • Cardio does not make you lose fat, there are plenty of studies showing people can increase cardio and not lose body fat. Being in a caloric deficit drives fat loss.
  • 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.
  • Some people completely compensate for calories after exercise and lose little weight, and, some even gain weight.
  • Resistance exercise has been found to increase NEAT, whereas aerobic exercise has been found to decrease NEAT.

REFERENCES

1.       Bryner RW, Ullrich IH, Sauers J, Donley D, Hornsby G, Kolar M, et al. Effects of Resistance vs. Aerobic Training Combined With an 800 Calorie Liquid Diet on Lean Body Mass and Resting Metabolic Rate. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 1999;18(2):115-21.

2.       Hunter GR, Byrne NM, Sirikul B, Fernández JR, Zuckerman PA, Darnell BE, et al. Resistance Training Conserves Fat-free Mass and Resting Energy Expenditure Following Weight Loss. Obesity. 2008;16(5):1045-51.

3.       Drenowatz C, Grieve GL, Demello MM. Change in energy expenditure and physical activity in response to aerobic and resistance exercise programs. SpringerPlus. 2015;4(1).

4.       Brellenthin AG, Lee D-C, Bennie JA, Sui X, Blair SN. Resistance exercise, alone and in combination with aerobic exercise, and obesity in Dallas, Texas, US: A prospective cohort study. PLOS Medicine. 2021;18(6):e1003687.

5.       Smith BK, Kirk E. Chapter 5 – Resistance Training and Physical Exercise in Human Health. In: Bagchi D, Nair S, Sen CK, editors. Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance. San Diego: Academic Press; 2013. p. 55-64.

6.       Ballor DL, Katch VL, Becque MD, Marks CR. Resistance weight training during caloric restriction enhances lean body weight maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988;47(1):19-25.

7.       Geliebter A, Maher MM, Gerace L, Gutin B, Heymsfield SB, Hashim SA. Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997;66(3):557-63.

REFERENCES

8.       García-Hermoso A, Ramírez-Vélez R, Ramírez-Campillo R, Peterson MD, Martínez-Vizcaíno V. Concurrent aerobic plus resistance exercise versus aerobic exercise alone to improve health outcomes in paediatric obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018;52(3):161-6.

9.       Ho SS, Dhaliwal SS, Hills AP, Pal S. The effect of 12 weeks of aerobic, resistance or combination exercise training on cardiovascular risk factors in the overweight and obese in a randomized trial. BMC Public Health. 2012;12(1):704.

10.       Yarizadeh H, Eftekhar R, Anjom-Shoae J, Speakman JR, Djafarian K. The Effect of Aerobic and Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Subcutaneous Abdominal Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Advances in Nutrition. 2021;12(1):179-96.

11.       MacKenzie-Shalders K, Kelly JT, So D, Coffey VG, Byrne NM. The effect of exercise interventions on resting metabolic rate: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2020;38(14):1635-49.

12.       Wewege MA, Desai I, Honey C, Coorie B, Jones MD, Clifford BK, et al. The Effect of Resistance Training in Healthy Adults on Body Fat Percentage, Fat Mass and Visceral Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2022;52(2):287-300.
13. Ruiz-Castellano C, Espinar S, Contreras C, Mata F, Aragon AA, Martínez-Sanz JM. Achieving an Optimal Fat Loss Phase in Resistance-Trained Athletes: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2021;13(9):3255.

14.      Melanson EL, Gozansky WS, Barry DW, Maclean PS, Grunwald GK, Hill JO. When energy balance is maintained, exercise does not induce negative fat balance in lean sedentary, obese sedentary, or lean endurance-trained individuals. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009;107(6):1847-56.

REFERENCES

15.       Gillen JB, Percival ME, Ludzki A, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ. Interval training in the fed or fasted state improves body composition and muscle oxidative capacity in overweight women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013;21(11):2249-55.

16.       Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Wilborn CD, Krieger JW, Sonmez GT. Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2014;11(1):54.

17.       Hackett D, Hagstrom AD. Effect of Overnight Fasted Exercise on Weight Loss and Body Composition: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology. 2017;2(4):43.

18.       Keating SE, Johnson NA, Mielke GI, Coombes JS. A systematic review and meta-analysis of interval training versus moderate-intensity continuous training on body adiposity. Obes Rev. 2017;18(8):943-64.

19.       Wewege M, van den Berg R, Ward RE, Keech A. The effects of high-intensity interval training vs. moderate-intensity continuous training on body composition in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2017;18(6):635-46.

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