Can you burn belly fat using exercise? The answer to this question is an obvious yes - but with a caveat.
Exercise burns calories. All movement does. When you breathe or blink or scratch your ear, you are burning calories. But burning calories does not mean you are losing fat, or belly fat for that matter.
To lose fat you have to expend more energy than you are taking in. In the world of human physiology, energy expenditure is measured in calories. We can find the energy levels, or calories, of the foods we eat by simply looking at the packaging.
The bottom line is this: to lose belly fat you first have to expend more energy than you take in. This can be accomplished two ways:
- Exercise. Increasing your activity level (exercise) so that it surpasses your daily food intake.
- Diet. Keeping your daily energy expenditure the same (not exercising) while reducing your calorie intake (dieting).
This article will outline the pros and cons of trying to lose body fat using both methods. I will end the article with some diet, lifting and cardio advice.
Before me move on, a note about spot fat reduction.
Spot Belly Fat Reduction - Can It Be Done?
You can't "spot" reduce belly fat by hammering out endless reps of crunches or sit ups. Expended energy, if it leads to fat loss, will trigger fat loss from throughout the body, and not just from your waist line.
Losing Belly Fat - Exercise vs. Diet
Exercise and Belly Fat
For this section we're going to pretend you're a 5'10", 230 pound, 28 year old male who requires 3000 calories per day to maintain his weight. For the sake of example, we will also assume that you lead a rather sedentary life; that you don't get much exercise and your job isn't physically strenuous.
Your BMR, or the amount of calories you would expend if you sat completely still for a 24 hour period, is approximately 2200 calories. Let's assume that you actually burn more like 2500 calories per day. You aren't comatose, and do walk to your car and to the refrigerator occasionally. (Yes, that was a joke)
To help you lose belly fat, let's give you the goal of burning 3500 calories per day. This will put you in a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, or 3500 calories per week. 3500 calories burned equates to about one pound of fat loss per week, or 4 pounds per month.
Achieving this amount of energy expenditure will require you to burn 1,000 calories via cardio each day. To reach 1,000 calories burned, you will need:
- Walking. To walk 10 miles.
- Running. To run 10 miles.
- Basketball. About 2 hours of non-competitive basketball.
- Bowling. Over 3 hours of bowling.
- Hill Climbing. One hour of climbing a hill with 50-60 pounds on your back.
- Cycling. 75 minutes of moderate cycling.
- Golf. 2.5 hours of golf that includes walking and carrying your clubs.
- Stairmaster. About 75 minutes on the Stairmaster.
- Rowing Machine. About 90 minutes of rowing.
- Swimming. About 90 minutes of moderate swimming.
- Sex. Over 3 hours of sex. (dream on!)
So, the bottom line is this: to burn off 50 pounds with exercise alone, so that your belly fat is all but gone, you will need to keep up this pace for nearly a year. Yes, you read that correctly - 50 weeks. This requires hardcore exercise 7 days per week, with no days off.
Now obviously no sane trainer would advocate this type of exercise regimen. Not only is it physically challenging, but it's also infinitely unrealistic. Would you be able to exercise for hours a day, 7 days a week, for an entire year?
Even if you could exercise in this manner, we haven't even addressed the issue of hunger. Remember what your mom and dad used to say: "You're working up an appetite!" Yes, you are. All this exercise will amp up your drive for food, which will most certainly result in an indirect increase in your daily calorie intake. Remember, you're not monitoring calories, so there is no failsafe preventing you from eating just a little but more.
Losing belly fat using exercise alone is a near impossible task. It can be done, but it will take time. A lot of time (a really long time), and some good fortune.
You can't "spot" reduce belly fat by hammering out endless reps of crunches. Expended energy, if it leads to fat loss, will trigger fat loss from throughout the body, not just from your waist line.
Diet and Belly Fat
Whereas belly fat loss is nearly impossible with exercise alone, it can be achieved using no cardio at all if your diet is spot on. This probably sounds rather controversial, so let me explain.
Let's continue using the example of our 28 year old, 230 pound male. If he drops his daily calorie intake below his daily maintenance level of 2500 calories, he can strip away belly fat without cardio. Sure, it might take a while, but if he dials in his calories properly and resists fad diets and starvation diets, this gentleman will lose belly fat without needing to exercise.
Is this the best way to lose belly fat? Probably not, but it is a more forgiving method. To increase your rate of fat loss you can add 3-4 days of cardio per week and won't have to live in the gym. This method doesn't hinge on keeping a perfect exercise regimen, but it will require a strict adherence to food intake.
If our example drops his daily calories to 2200, and performs cardio 3-4 times per week for 20-30 minutes, he would drop about one pound of fat per week. This is the same rate created by not monitoring diet and trying to exercise off 1,000 calories per day.
At the end of the day, dieting is hard. Make no bones about it. Losing weight using diet and moderate cardio does provide two distinct advantages over trying to lose weight by exercise alone:
- You are not required to exercise for hours a day, 365 days a year.
- You are assured of results because you are counting calorie intake.
How To Really Lose Belly Fat - A Nutrition, Lifting and Diet Plan
The following is a list of 3 steps to take that will help you drop your belly fat and body fat. If you have any questions regarding this plan, please leave them in the comments section below.
Step 1 - Determine your calorie intake. Spend a week writing down everything you eat. From this list, figure out your average total calorie intake per day.
Step 2 - Subtract 300 calories. Subtract 300 calories from this average. Eat this amount for one month, ignoring any weight you lose during the first 2 weeks of your diet. Initial weight loss generally involves a lot of water loss, due to decreased carb and sodium intake. If you are not losing 1.5 to 2 pounds per week during weeks 3 and 4, drop your calories by 200 per week for another month and start to add in cardio.
Step 3 - Adding Cardio. Start with 2 sessions per week, at about 10 minutes per session. Don't pressure yourself to be superhuman. Do as much as you can. Build over time until are up to 3-4 sessions per week of 20 to 30 minutes each.
To maximize your results, make sure you are getting a good balance of proteins, carbs and fats. Men will want to eat about 180 to 200 grams of protein per day, or slightly more if they have faster metabolisms and are allowed a higher amount of calories per day when cutting. Women should eat about 100-120 grams of protein per day. Supplement with protein powder if need be to reach your daily intake requirements.
Make sure 20-30% of your daily calories come from healthy fat sources. Remember that there are 9 calories for every gram of fat you eat. Once you have determined your daily calorie intake from fats and protein, subtract this from your daily calorie intake to determine how many calories you can eat from carbohydrates.
Weight Training and Belly Fat
You not only want to dial in your diet and cardio, but also your resistance training sessions. People commonly drop to higher reps and lighter weight when they are trying to lose fat. This is a huge mistake. You must challenge yourself with resistance so that you give your body as much incentive as possible to hold on to muscle while losing fat.
No one wants to end up skinny fat. If you do not use a proper resistance training workout, you will lose fat but also likely lose muscle tissue. This will result in a thinner, but still someone flabby (un-toned) physique.
To help you maximize your gym efforts, I recommend reading the following articles: