Millions of people hit the gym every day and do cardio in hopes of losing belly fat. It might surprise the vast majority to know that cardio is not required for fat loss. Surprisingly, it’s completely unnecessary and can even hurt the overall shape of your body.

How so?

Belly fat can't be burned unless you're in a caloric deficitAfter fat accumulates on the body, there’s only one way to make it go away. You have to create an energy deficit. You must be expending more energy than you are taking in (eating).

Cardio machines are fine for burning more calories and allowing a person to eat more but sadly, most people don’t realize that the deficit is what yields the results.

An average one-hour cardio workout will burn between 500 – 1000 calories, depending on the intensity. If calories are controlled post-exercise, this can be a valuable fat loss tool. Unfortunately, many people feel that a hard workout “earns” them the right to eat more and this typically nullifies all the effects of burning fat.

If your 45 minute cardio session has you heading to Subway for a foot-long immediately after, that’s typically 800-1000 calories and you’re now at a surplus. A McDonalds quarter-pounder? Over 600 calories.

It’s impossible to burn fat when you’re eating more calories that your body is burning. There’s nothing magical about cardio workouts that allows a person to eat more and somehow burn fat. If your body requires 2000 calories a day and you eat 2100, you will not burn fat. It’s the Law of Thermodynamics and it applies to everyone.

What cardio does allow for is eating more and providing more oxygen and nutrients to your system, which can improve overall fitness. If you’re doing it purely for fat loss though, there’s no advantage over simply eating less than your body requires and spending your day in front of the television.

Knowing how many calories your body requires on a daily basis is the true key to fat loss. This is known as your TDEE or Total Daily Energy Expenditure. You need to calculate your TDEE when starting out on your fat loss journey and adjust with the feedback you see on a weekly basis. If you’re losing weight, keep going. If the weight isn’t coming off, drop daily calories just slightly again for the next week and gauge it again.

Do Certain Foods Matter?

A caloric deficit is the most important part of losing weight. The kind of weight you lose is dependent on your food choices. You want to keep protein relatively high when you’re in a caloric deficit. Eat 1 gram p/ 1 pound of body weight. Since a gram of protein is 4 calories, you can multiply your total grams times four to know how many calories you’re consuming.

Fats are essential and eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Eating at a surplus day after day makes you fat. By giving your body plenty of healthy fats, you actually allow your body to become better at burning fat for fuel. Get about 40 grams of fat for every 100 pounds of body weight. Fat has nine calories per gram so multiply by nine to know how many calories you’re getting.

Carbohydrates are most important when exercising while at a caloric deficit. If you’re eating less and lifting weights, a moderate supply of carbs is essential. However, the more body fat you have, the less you want to utilize a high-carb diet as more fat means there’s a degree of insulin resistance and this needs to be corrected through a low-carb diet for a few months before slowly raising carbs high again. Carbs contain four calories per gram.

Eat plenty of vegetables and get fruits too, but no more than one or two fruits a day. There’s simply no vitamin or supplement on the market that comes close to providing the nutrients that fruits and vegetables provide.

Can Too Much Cardio Hurt Results?

Weight-lifting can be performed at three to six times a week. The more athletic and in-shape you are, the better your body will respond and repair itself, with heavy weight workouts.

Man quoting running in regards to a bear chasing himCardio can be done too much. If you hit the cardio machine every day and do a light 45-minute jog, your body will get used to that daily caloric expenditure and it becomes dependent on those calories. If you decide to quit doing this after six months, you’ll see a weight gain.

The other problem with long cardio sessions is that they are muscle-wasting. Glycogen is what fills your muscles and provides energy for long cardio workouts. After glycogen is depleted, you can burn fat rather easily but since the muscles have no glycogen, you’ll also burn some muscle. Your physique simply won’t look as impressive.

For the absolute best results in the gym, lift heavy weights, do occasional cardio and most importantly, eat at a deficit.