Fasted Cardio & Beyond - Optimal 24h Fatty Oxidation: How It Works, Why It Works & Why It Still May Not Be Worth It
|Photo of a typical disciple of the cult of the "fat burning zone".
Now, I can't tell you whether the above has anything to do with your morning routine. What I can tell you, however, are the long and short on 24h energy expenditure by summarizing and expanding on some of the main findings of a recent paper by Kaito Iwayama and Kumpei Tokuyama, two young scientists from the Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Science at the University of Tsukuba (Iwayama. 2012).
Let's start with the "short", then
I guess you will be familiar with the term "metabolic chamber". That's a small room, where you, as a scientists, lock your subjects up in order to monitor their energy metabolism with your fancy electronic equipment and analytical methods for a prolonged period of time (usually 24h). As Iwayama and Tokuyama point out in their latest paper this technique has long been and in fact still is considered the gold standard as far as 24h energy expenditure measurements are concerned.
"During the last 10 years, experiments with this method have raised interesting observations such as: 1) exercise intensity has no effect on 24 h fat oxidation, 2) exercise has little, if any, effect on 24 h fat oxidation, and 3) exercise before breakfast increases 24 h fat oxidation."Just in case you are one of those guys / gals who don't read quotations, we are going to spend the major part of today's contribution to the SuppVersity Exercise Science Week recapping what "the short" is telling us about your morning, afternoon and/or evening efforts to lose body fat and extend it into "the long" by adding references an examples, so don't worry.
I. Exercise intensity has no effect on 24 h fat oxidation
|If you really want to maximize fatty acid oxidation while do a HIIT session before a lengthy steady state aerobics.You should be aware though, that we are talking about relative increases, here (read more)
If we had a phyiscal model that described what happens in your body down to the level of the individual cell, things would be different. Currently, however, we are missing 99% of that model, so that we have to find other ways to measure the exercise induced and basal energy expenditure - and this is where the metabolic chamber comes in. It allows scientists to measure the energy expenditure independent of any workload calculations and does even allow for a quantitative estimation of where that energy is coming from, namely from fats or carbohydrates (and glyconeogensis). From previous studies, which availed themselves of this amazing piece of equipment, we know already that
- for low-intensity exercise, below 40-50% of the VO2Max the energy supplied is primarily from oxidation of plasma free fatty acids
- for intensities ranging from 50% to 95% of the VO2Max, the ratio of glucose to fatty acid oxidation, the so called respiratory rate is constantly increasing; in that, a RER of 0.8 tells us that we are fuelling 80% of our energy demands from glucose, already
- for intensities in the 100% of VO2max range, the RER approaches 1.0 meaning that our bodies satisfy almost 100% of their energetic demands by the oxidation of carbohydrates (glycogen => glucose)
The notion that what happens after your workout is about as, if not more important than the energy, let alone fatty acid expenditure during a workout has unfortunately not reached public awareness, as of yet.
That's a pitty, right? Well at least as far as the rate of fatty oxidation is concerned, I would not be too sure about that, as previous studies suggested that the amount of fat that's oxidized in the post-exercise recovery period following isocaloric exercise performed at high (65% VO2max for 1 h) or moderate intensity (45% VO2 max for 86-89 min) is identical!
"First, consistent with the literature, fat oxidation during exercise was less for high-intensity exercise than for low-intensity exercise. Second, the increase in fat oxidation during the post-exercise period seemed to be greater after high-intensity exercise, although the difference did not reach statistical significance. Third, the sum of fat oxidation during the exercise and post-exercise periods was not significantly different between the two exercise conditions of different intensity." (Iwayama. 2012)Aside from these fundamental insights, the studies on which this rationale is based on did also provide another intriguing, yet somewhat discriminating insight:
- While women have the edge as far as intra-workout fatty acid oxidation is concerned, their ability to burn fat during rest is low compared to their male counterparts (Hanerson. 2007). According to Iwayama and Tokuyama, this biological fact may also explain why women are typically less successful in achieving their fat loss goals in response to exercise only interventions than men (Ballor. 1991; Donnelly. 2005).
“Given that time is a limiting factor for most individuals, if the goal of exercise is to maximize fat oxidation to better regulate body fat mass, then exercise should be performed at the highest intensity that can be comfortably maintained.” (Melanson: 2002)...would recommend that our female or male readers stick to "training in the zone", only. You will learn why this is the case later in the article. For the moment, I do yet want to address the second and third assertion from the initially cited three-item list, first.
II. Whether you exercise or not has no influence on 24h fatty acid expenditure
At first sight this sounds, bullocks. I mean, it should be out of question that you burn more fat, when you work out, than when you lie around on the couch, right? And in this case you are right - at least, if you include the additional fatty acid oxidation during the workout in your calculation and discard things like standard deviations and statistical non-significance.
"fat oxidation on days with exercise doesn’t differ from sedentary control days when the energy balance is maintained." (Iwayama. 2012)
While the results are anonymous it's clear that they do not support the notion that working out would exert an independent effect on the amount of fatty acids that are "burnt" within the same 24h period the exercise bout was conducted in.
Still, as Iwayama and Tokuyama point out, "statistically not significant" does not equate non-existent. You just have to take another look at the data from the Melanson study in figure 1 to see that there is a definitive trend towards increased fatty acid oxidation in the exercise compared to the control condition.
The difference between significant findings and "unreliable" trends reminds me of a previously not mentioned, yet potentially significant disadvantage of an otherwise highly reliable method to measure the total energy expenditure of human beings: The restricted number of participants in studies using indirect calorimetry with a room-sized respiratory chamber. The "trend" in the Melanson study, for example could well have reached statistical significance with a greater number of study participants; and the same obviously goes for the rest of the studies in table 1, as well. Still, as we are going to see in the conclusion, an over-reliance on statistics is not the only reason why "not working out" is not an option. Before we tackle that, I do yet want to address the last point on our check-list.
Exercise before breakfast increases 24h fat oxidation
This third and last of the initially cited assertions does not only take us back to the "breakfast problem" from the introduction, it's also the only assertion that's in accordance with the mainstream understanding of the role of exercise in the process of fatty acid oxidation. "Working out on empty", "cardio in the morning" and so on and so forth - you know the whole spiel and actually you do also know the scientific explanation of why working out like this does actually work out. No idea? Well, I did provide part of the explanation in the previous paragraph, already, when I mentioned the potential impact of fasting and feasting on the experimental results.
|Gluconeogenic as most of them may be, EAAs still increase GLUT-4 and thus glucose uptake by the muscle - a true yet overlooked nutrient partitioner, so to say (read more)
In view of the built-in glucose repartitioning effect of essential amino acids (EAA), this is yet no reason to be worried about... well, unless you are on a ketogenic diet and make the standard mistake of each and every fitness fanatic to turn a high fat diet into a high protein diet without carbohydrates, so that you end up living on the little glucose your liver is able to produce without ever getting even close to real ketosis.
- working out before breakfast reduces the energy expenditure in the time before lunch -- over the whole period the subjects burned about 500 kcal less, when exercise was performed before breakfast
- working out before breakfast burns more glycogen and increases non-oxidative carbohydrate storage during / after breakfast -- with the carbohydrate content of the breakfast being used for glycogen repletion, this does in fact lead to another increase in fatty acid oxidation, simply because the alternative fuel, namely the carbs are not oxidized, but stored
Is maximal fatty acid oxidation even what you should be aiming for during a workout?
I guess you will already have read between the previous lines that my answer to this question is a definitive "no". Moreover, most of you are so clever and have been following the SuppVersity posts for so long that they could come up with their own arguments against an overemphasis of intra-, post and total 24h fatty acid oxidation, when getting lean and healthy is your goal. And probably, some of them are even identical to mine:
- Firstly, and most importantly, burning fatty acids for fuel does not equate fat loss. If you follow a real ketogenic diet (not one with tons of protein in it), you'll burn (almost) exclusively fat, but even under these "extreme" conditions most of the fat will come from the fat you eat, while the small amount that's actually taken from your hips, buttocks and whatever, will be restored unless you are in a caloric deficit, when your fatty acid oxidation will increase anyways.
The "Fat Loss Support Routine" from the Step By Step to Your own Workout Routine guide would be one example of how you can structure your weekly workout regimen to cut body fat.
- Thirdly, working out "in the zone" may burn the most fat but won't have the conditioning effects high(er) intensity workouts have. While obese individuals and people who have been sitting around their whole lives will see improvements in their VO2max (and in the long run their heart-health), anyone who is not totally unconditioned misses out on the structural changes in the musculature, and as you've learned on day one of the SuppVersity Exercise Science Week adipose tissue, as well.
- Ballor DL, RE Keesey. A meta-analysis of the factors affecting exercise-induced changes in body mass, fat mass and fat-free mass in males and females. Int J Obes. 191; 15: 717-726.
- Bielinski R, Schutz Y, Jéquier E. Energy metabolism during the postexercise recovery in man. Am J Clin Nutr. 1985;42: 69-82.
- Dionne I, Van Vugt S, Tremblay A. Postexercise macro-nutrient oxidation : a factor dependent on postexercise mac-ronutrient intake. Am J Clin Nutr69: 927-930.
- Donnelly JE, Smith BK. Is exercise effective for weight loss with ad libitum diet? Energy balance, compensation and gender differences. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2005; 33: 169-174.
- Henderson GC, Fattor JA, Horninig MA, Faghihnia N, Johnson ML, Mau TL, Luke-Zeitoun M, Brooks GA. Lipolysis and fatty acid metabolism in men and women during the postexercise recovery period. J Physiol. 2007; 584: 963-981
- Hill JO. 1992. Physical activity and energy expenditure pro-ceedings: national task force on prevention and treatment of obesity. Physical activity and obesity conference – NIDDK, pp.60-65.
- Iwayama K, Tokuyama K. Exercise in a metabolic chamber - Effects of exercise on 24 h fat oxidation. J Phys Fitness Sports Med. 2012; 1(2): 307-316.
- Melanson EL, Sharp TE, Seagle HM, Horton TJ, Do-nahoo WT, Grunwald GK, Hamilton JT, Hill JP. Effect of exercise intensity on 24-h energy expenditure and nutrient oxidation. J Appl Physiol. 2002; 92: 1045-1052
- Shimada K, Yamamoto Y, Iwayama K, Nakamura K, Ya-maguchi S, Hibi M, Nabekura Y, Tokuyama T (unpublished observation).