Fitness questions answered
We’ve all heard the myths. Working out before sunrise burns more kilojoules and exercising on an empty stomach is the key to developing washboard abs. But is there any truth behind these tall exercise tales? Here, the experts sort out fact from fiction by answering a few common questions.
1. Is exercising on an empty stomach more effective?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could blast extra body fat and kilojoules by skipping breakfast before you work out? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. According to research published in Strength and Conditioning Journal, your body burns roughly the same amount of fat whether you’ve eaten or not.
Exercise physiologist Neil Russell says: "Exercising on an empty stomach is fine if it’s at a low intensity, however most morning workouts creep up towards the moderate to high-intensity range, especially bootcamps and gym classes. If you’re training at these higher intensities on an empty stomach, there are not enough available carbohydrates (in the form of blood glucose) to meet the energy demands of physical performance. In this situation the body breaks down proteins to produce energy, which would usually be utilised for muscular recovery and development. Not only will your workout suffer, but so will your recovery and results.”
2. Do I need to worry about the ‘fat-burning zone’?
“Your body uses different fuel sources at different intensities of exercise,” explains Auckland-based exercise physiologist Kim Van Der Speck. “It’s thought that effective fat usage for weight loss occurs best at a heart rate of 60 to 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate. But let’s be honest: how many of us calculate and track that percentage when we’re exercising?” So, instead of worrying about heart rate, Van Der Speck encourages doing moderate-to-high-intensity exercises that help burn kilojoules. “As long as you’re puffing and can only just hold a conversation, you’re doing a great job,” she says.
3. Will using a protein powder help me lose weight faster, with exercise?
According to exercise physiologist and dietitian Chloe McKenna, a protein powder could do more harm than good. “It adds unnecessary kilojoules to burn off,” she says. While protein is required for the body to build muscle, it’s easy to meet your protein requirements through diet alone. “Include a variety of protein sources in your diet, such as lean meat, fish, lentils, legumes, dairy and nuts.”
4. Should I judge the effectiveness of my workout by how much I sweat?
No, reveals McKenna. “At certain times of the year in Queensland everyone starts to perspire just by walking outside,” she explains. Like Van Der Speck, McKenna recommends the ‘talk test’, which is working out until you’re slightly breathless but still able to hold a conversation. This gauges whether you’re exercising at a moderate-level intensity, which Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend you do most days of the week, accumulating 150 to 300 minutes of activity, over the week.
5. Is muscle pain a positive?
Whilst some muscular tightness and discomfort can be expected when you’ve pushed yourself or tried something new, “pain isn’t required for a successful workout and can be an indicator that something may be wrong”, warns McKenna. “Listen to your body. If there’s anything that causes you concern, seek professional advice.” Discomfort is one thing. Pain is another. You’re also less likely to stick with an exercise that causes you pain. “Making long-term behavioural changes is better for you in the long run and I suggest choosing an activity you enjoy, that doesn’t cause pain,” McKenna explains.
6. Can I make up for a week’s worth of inactivity, in one long workout?
Exercise physiologist Chloe Davidson from Healthbox in Auckland says it’s best to exercise several times a week, rather than trying to squeeze it all into a single session. “Whenever you exercise, your body makes wonderful, healthy changes in the following hours and days. If you don’t work out again in the next two to three days, your body can start to reverse those gains." Aim for 30 minutes of exercise daily.
7. Will focusing purely on cardio, help me lose weight faster?
“Resistance training is just as important and should be part of any weight-loss exercise program,” says exercise physiologist Sara Slayman. The main reason? Resistance or strength training builds muscle and, compared to fat, it burns many more kilojoules, even when your body is resting. “By improving your body composition, strength training also has the benefit of reducing the risk of chronic disease, including diabetes and heart disease.”
8. I’m too busy to exercise regularly, so what’s the point?
Research published in The Lancet indicates that doing just 15 minutes of exercise each day can have a dramatic effect on health. Slayman agrees: “People are busy, so it’s better to aim for a realistic amount of exercise each week (which may only be three workout sessions) rather than setting your goals too high,” she explains. “For those who don’t have a lot of time for structured exercise, a pedometer is a great motivational tool when it comes to incidental exercise. Achieving 10,000 steps a day has been shown to improve health and manage chronic disease.” And remember that every bit of activity you do counts towards your weekly FitPoints goal.
9. Does the time of day I work out, matter?
McKenna says it makes no difference. “You still burn the same amount of kilojoules whether you exercise in the morning or in the afternoon. The most important thing is that you do it at all, so choose a time that works best for you and your lifestyle. Schedule exercise into your diary, just like you would any other appointment and make a commitment to your health.”
10. If you can’t spot reduce fat, why bother doing exercises for specific muscles, like sit-ups?
“You’ll notice that if you work your backside muscles or your calf muscles, these areas of the body start to look and feel a lot more toned,” says Van Der Speck. “So while a well-balanced exercise program will help lose weight and fat from all over the body as a whole, the only way you’ll ever tone a particular muscle, such as your abdominal muscles, is to use it.”