Is There a “Fat-Burning Zone”?

Tanja Djelevic by Tanja Djelevic | July 20th, 2011 | 12 Comments
topic: Fitness

Woman at a spinning class

My clients often ask how they can reach the optimal “fat-burning zone.” I recently came across an interesting article that explains some of the science and suggests strategies for burning fat, information that I’m excited to share the next time someone asks.

In “How to Burn Fat Faster & More Efficiently,” professional running coach and fitness consultant Jason Karp explains that our bodies use both fat and carbohydrates for energy during exercise. Low-intensity exercises, such as walking, use proportionately more fat, while high-intensity activities, such as running or bicycling, draw more heavily upon carbs.

However, the assumption that low-intensity exercises keep you in the “fat-burning zone” is incorrect. At a higher intensity level, Karp explains, “the rate of caloric expenditure and the total number of calories expended are much greater than they are when exercising at a lower intensity, so the total amount of fat used is also greater.”

Want to maximize your fat-burning potential? Karp offers two strategies:

1. Work harder during interval training.Interval training burns lots of calories in a short amount of time and keeps clients’ metabolic rates elevated for hours following the workout,” Karp says.

2. Go longer during runs and bike rides. Long runs or bike rides deplete muscle glycogen. “In response to this threat, muscles ‘learn’ how to use fat more effectively and over time become better fat-burning machines,” Karp says.


  1. Thanks for bringing this point up. I always tell my clients that if you want to burn the highest percentage of fat then why not just sleep. I am a firm believer that high intensity exercise like interval training is the most efficient way to get in shape fast and get rid of unwanted weight.

    Interval Training Guy | July 27th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. Your right about that Tanja. I just want to add that exercising slowly can also do great especially on burning fats. The impact of it’s intensity is more greater than regular exercises.

  3. It may also be interesting to some readers that the consumption of some chili, or rather the substance that gives chili it’s burn, capsaicin, one half hour before exercise will increase calorie burning during and after the exercise routine.

    Burn fat fast | September 22nd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. I heard there is a “fat burning zone” if you have a stable blood sugar… And you can get that balanced blood sugar when you eat frequent meals and avoid refined sugar.

    John | September 28th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. Great article, interesting and helpful

    carmen | December 6th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  6. I totally agree with working harder in interval training. IMO it’s best to do hard bouts of high intensity training combined with the right diet and the slower cardio exercise to help tone the body.

    Dan | January 31st, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  7. It is great that the ‘best’ way to burn fat is high intensity interval training, but to routinely offer or suggest this does a disservice to those individuals who can not work out at a high intensity due to physical limitations but who may also want or need to lose weight, stay or get into shape and burn fat. I would like to see articles for these individuals.

    ann | July 21st, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  8. Hi Ann,

    Interval training is a great method for losing weight, but certainly isn’t the only way! Check out our Weight Loss Solutions Guide for tips on determining your healthy weight, weight-loss nutrition and exercise tips for any fitness level:

    Other articles you might find helpful (I’ll just list a few, but if you search for “weight loss” on our website you’ll find plenty more:
    How to lose weight with Pilates:
    How to lose weight with yoga:
    Walking weight loss workouts:
    Trudie Styler’s Chair Yoga Workout (great for those just getting started with weight loss or who have trouble with traditional exercises due to weight, flexibility, etc.):

    Weight loss DVDs: (again, just a fraction of what we offer on our product website:
    Trudie Styler’s Weight Loss Yoga:
    Balance Ball for Weight Loss:
    Mayo Clinic Solutions for Weight Loss:

    Hope this is helpful!

    Valerie Gleaton
    Assistant Editor, Gaiam Life

    Gaiam Life | July 21st, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  9. I liked the article…

    I actually implement this myself.

    I work hard during interval training and once a week I have my “long” run, this works really well for me.

    I also like the last comment that was meant for “Ann”, very good tips to take a look at…

  10. You’ve done there a very nice article..What a informative discussion! The “fat-burning zone” is one of the many misconceptions that seem to be passed from one exerciser to another. The explanation for the myth is a combination of misinterpreted biochemistry and exercise physiology, inadequate education of many workers in the fitness industry, and a magazine culture that often favors sensationalism over scientific fact. This blog got my attention!

    Burning Fats | November 21st, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  11. I like your tips to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time. Really working harder during interval training and going longer during runs and bike rides are the nice ways to burn your fat. Keep it up.

    natural ways to burn fat | September 27th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  12. I also heard often about the theory that low intensity exercises burn more fat than high intensity exercises. What is important is anyhow to do exercises and not just follow a diet that only concentrates on which foods to eat. Maybe, to be on the safe side, you could combine both low intensity with sometimes high intensity exercises. However, I think that more important is to run the exercises regularly.

    Anonymous | March 1st, 2013 | Comment Permalink

Post a Comment

If you want to show your picture with your comment, go get a gravatar!