Fat Loss 101

How To Lose Fat? Here Are The Basics.

Fat Loss - Boot Camp Fitness Guide

Good morning class, and welcome to Fat Loss 101.  At a high level, and all other things being equal, gaining or losing body fat is a simple equation.  First, remember that a calorie is a unit of energy.  If you consume more calories than you burn in a day, the body will store that extra energy as fat.  If you burn more calories than you consume, the body will burn stored fat for the energy it needs.

Helpful Rule of Thumb [1]

3500 calories = 1 pound of fat

If you want to lose 1 pound of fat, burn 3500 more calories than you consume.  For an easy example, say you have an average diet of 2000 calories a day and you burn 2500.  You are burning 500 more calories per day than you are consuming.  Your body will burn fat for the energy it needs to make up for the caloric deficit.  If you keep that up for 7 days, you will have burned 1 pound of fat.  Nice job.

Keep in mind that the same principle works in reverse.  If you consume 2500 calories a day and burn 2000, you will have a 500 calorie surplus at the end of the day.  After 7 days of that what did you do?  Yep.  You gained 1 pound of fat. 

This simple model considers how much you eat and how much exercise you decide to do.  It doesn’t go into what you eat.  That’s definitely important, but let’s set that topic aside for now.

One Level Deeper 

Of all of the calories your body uses in a day, about 70% are consumed by your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)[2].  Your resting metabolic rate is a measure of the calories your body burns at rest to keep the vital organs and functions going.  You can get a rough estimate of your RMR based on your height, weight, age, and gender here

Why should you know that?  Because if you do absolutely nothing but consume fewer calories than your RMR, you will lose weight.  Simple math.  You will be burning more calories than you are consuming.

After that, about 20% of the calories you burn come from your activity during the day and another 10% is consumed by the body’s natural generation of heat[2].

You have probably heard how much building lean muscle increases the RMR, and therefore makes fat loss automatic.  Some even say for every pound of lean muscle you gain that you increase your RMR by 50 to 100 calories a day.  Don’t count on it.  It’s more likely that the exercise that you are doing to gain that lean muscle is burning those extra calories[3].

The only way to bump up the number of calories you burn in a day is to exercise.

Fat Burning vs. Glycogen Burning

Glycogen is the source of energy most often used by the muscles for exercise[5].  What is glycogen?  When a carbohydrate is eaten, it is broken down into three sugars, one of them being glucose.  That glucose gets absorbed and used as energy.  Any glucose not used right away gets stored in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen.  

Incidentally, when the glycogen stores are filled up, the rest is stored as fat.

Glycogen is an immediately accessible source of energy for the muscles.  It is needed for short bursts of energy like sprinting and weight lifting.  It is also the source of energy used in the first few minutes of any sport.

Your fat gets broken down and used for energy during longer, steadier exercise sessions.  In addition, fat gets broken down and used as energy when the muscles are low on glycogen supplies (the more readily available energy source)[4].  So what you eat and when you eat relative to when you work out matters.

The take away here is that your body will prefer to get its energy from the food you eat rather than burning the fat.  Knowing that, you can take the right actions to maximize the fat loss during your workouts. 

Having a good supply of glycogen in the muscle is like having firewood right next to the fireplace.  If you need another log for the fire, you just grab it from the easily accessible glycogen pile.  When that pile firewood is depleted, you have to get wood from of the stack that is outside behind the garage.  The outside stack of wood is your fat.

You wouldn’t walk outside to get a log for the fire every time you needed one unless you really had to.  Likewise, your muscles aren’t going to primarily go out and break down a lot of fat for energy if there is glycogen right there in the muscle.   

If you are serious about burning fat, here is some food for though.  Plan your workout for first thing in the morning before breakfast.  Make it a point to not consume any carbs after 7pm the night before.  And whatever workout you choose, whether it is walking on an incline or an intense boot camp, keep moving and keep it up for an hour.

The idea behind that approach is that the glycogen levels in the muscles will be low and the body will need to resort to burning fat for the energy it needs. 

That's the fat loss we are trying to encourage.

The Myth of Targeted Fat Burning

Keep one fundamental truth in mind when it comes to fat loss.  Always remember that there is no such thing as targeted fat loss.  If you want to lose fat, you need to lose it from head to toe.  If you have a relatively high BMI, all the crunches in the world aren’t going to give you six pack abs.  When you think about fat loss, you need to think of the whole body.

The abdominal and core exercises are important for firming and toning the muscles around the mid-section for sure.  When those muscles are soft and flabby they tend to hang over the top of your pants like a beer gut or a muffin top.

So you need to do those exercises, but understand that you can’t “target” the belly fat or the love handles.  When your body needs to burn fat for energy, it doesn’t give preference to those fat cells that are right next to the muscles you are working.

That means fat loss is a full body experience.  The way to get there is with an overall blend of cardio, strength training, and the right diet.

For more information on how to coordinate body weight workouts and your diet for maximum fat loss, take a look at the Bodyweight Burn program.  It’s one of the best programs available for burning fat and building lean muscle, and I highly recommend it.

Over 40? Don't let that be an excuse to set the bar too low for yourself.

Mens Fitness 40 Plus - Over 40? Think you can't enjoy the health & fitness you had in your 20's? Think again! Real exercise strategies, plans and programs for men over 40. Warning - We are NOT politically correct! (to say the least!)


1. Thomes, Thomas. “The Science Behind Burning Fat”. Ezine Articles. 20 July 2011. Web. 31 May 2013.

2. “Basic Metabolic Rate”. Wikipedia. 22 April 2013. Web. 31 May 2013.

3. Finn, Christian. “The Myth About Muscle And Metabolism”. The Facts About Fitness. Web. 6 June 2013.

4. Craig, Jeremy. “Researchers Shed Light On Fat Burning”. Science Daily. 6 Feb 2009 Web. 6 June 2013.

5. Quinn, Elizabeth. “Sports Nutrition – How Carbohydrate Provides Energy for Exercise – Carbs”. About.com Sports Medicine. 26 April 2012 Web. 6 June 2013.

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