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Does Cardio Really Burn Fat? The Answer May Shock You!

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Far too many believe that doing endless amounts of cardio is the surefire way to help them lose weight, whether that be running, cycling, rowing, etc.

You've likely seen this yourself. People will head into the gym 6 days a week, do 30 minutes of light cardio each day and then eat whatever they want, however much they want right after the workout.

And if this is currently what your training and diet schedule looks like, we're sorry to have to be the ones to break it to you, but it's not going to get you where you want to be.

You see, far too many believe that cardio burns fat. That it sheds fat directly off the body. However, this simply is not the case. Simply doing more cardio is not going to get you the results that you want.

There are many other factors that you have to take into account, and in this post, we'll be going over what doing cardio actually achieves, some other factors and things that you have to keep in mind, and helping you apply this knowledge into your own exercise program.

Man doing cardio on a treadmill and getting fit whilst burning calories at the same time

What Does Doing Cardio Actually Achieve?

Doing cardio does not actually burn fat. That's a common misconception that too many people share. Instead, cardio burns calories.

If you're not sure what a calorie is, it's basically the amount of energy that an item of food or drink carries. So when you eat a burger that contains 400 calories, you're eating 400 calories worth of energy. Your body will then use and burn that energy for everyday activity and movement.

We naturally burn a number of calories each day simply going through everyday activities. Exercising will help to burn a little bit more. Every person has a maintenance level of calories each day, which means they would not gain nor lose any weight if they were to eat at that number of calories each day.

Eating below this number would cause the person to lose weight, and eating above this number would cause the person to gain weight.

And over time, calories that aren't burned off are stored as fat. Cardio, and exercising in general burns calories. It doesn't directly burn fat.

When we exercise and need to exert force, our body has to use energy to do this. This energy will primarily come from the food and drinks that we've consumed. These are the calories that we're burning.

That's why some people can do seemingly endless amounts of cardio, and still not lose weight. Perhaps they could even gain a little bit of weight. They're eating too much, and it's undermining the effect that their hard work put into exercise has on their ability to lose weight.

So the next time that you see somebody advertising some kind of 'fat burning' workout, they're either straight up lying, or don't really know what they're talking about. Exercising burns calories, not fat. You can look at a reputable source such as Healthline to confirm this.

Now that we know cardio, and exercise in general burns calories and not fat, we can look at dieting and food to help us better understand this concept.


We already mentioned this above. Every person has a certain number of calories that are naturally burned through everyday activities and functions such as sitting, driving, breathing, etc. The number of calories that we burn like this naturally is our maintenance level. Eating at this would cause our bodyweight to remain the same.

In order to lose weight, we have to be burning more calories than we're eating. So in reality, you don't even have to do a single bit of physical exercise to lose weight. You can simply eat below your maintenance level and lose weight that way.

Person eating healthy meal full of salads, vegetables and meat

However, this does not mean that cardio and physical exercise is a waste of time either. Eating too far below your maintenance level of calories can often lead us to feel hungry throughout the day, and feeling like we constantly have no energy.

This is where exercising can come in helpful. It allows us to eat a little bit more than maintenance calories and feel fuller, whilst allowing us to burn those extra calories off and still lose weight. Plus, cardio and physical exercise in general provides you with great benefits that all help to improve quality of life drastically. And you can click here to read free our blog article about that too.

Oh, and by the way, here's a handy calculator by that you can use to work out roughly what your maintenance level of calories is. You simply type in your age, gender, weight, height and activity frequency and it'll provide you with a rough estimate of what your maintenance level of calories is.

So now you can see how cardio can be used in conjunction with dieting to help you reach your fat loss goals as quickly and efficiently as possible.

You can simply pick one of the two methods or approaches that you can take towards weight loss, and apply it into your own exercise/training program.

Applying This Knowledge Into Your Training

We already established that cardio is not truly necessary for fat loss. You can get there by simply eating below your maintenance level of calories each day. But let's just say that you did want to eat a little bit above, and burn those extra calories off through exercise. This is the method that we'd recommend most people do if they can, as it helps us to feel fuller throughout the day and also encourages physical exercise, which is great for most people.

Well, we'd recommend that you eat somewhere around your maintenance level of calories, or up to 200 above that to start with. You could then look to do any form of cardio exercise and make sure you burn at least 300-400 calories extra through your exercise.

The more above your maintenance calories you eat, the more you'll have to burn to continue losing weight.

For most people, a 300-500 calorie deficit is going to be an ideal place to start for fat loss. So if you're eating at maintenance level, you could burn 250-300 calories and lose weight just fine.

However if you're eating above, which can happen on accident as well, you'll need to burn a little bit more to ensure you keep losing weight and stay on track.

Even just rowing or running/jogging for half an hour can get you there if you train intensely enough. This doesn't mean that you have to be going all out every single day That's too hard to recover from. Instead, take it controlled, and plan out your sessions beforehand.

Oh, and also, now that you know cardio (and general exercise) burns calories, not fat, you can make smarter decisions when you pick your workouts and exercise. Don't do the random 'fat shredding' workout that you found on TikTok. Don't listen to the guru that told you doing 300 sit ups a day is going to get you looking cut and lean.

Fit and athletic man doing ab workout on beach getting fitter

No amount of exercise alone is going to cause you to lose fat. You need to be eating the right amount, and carefully planning everything out. Otherwise you risk wasting your time and putting in futile work.


Overall, the myth that cardio directly burns fat has been going around for far too long. Too many people are going around doing too much cardio, when in reality they need to be looking at their diet and how they can alter it to better suit their goals.

It's important that you understand everything in this post, as failure to do so could once again lead you to waste your time doing pointless exercise, or disappointed when all of your hard work comes up to no results.

If you would like to read our blog article that breaks down everything in this post even more, you can click right here.

If you would like to learn more about creating your own workout diet plan from scratch, you can click here to read our article about that too.

Otherwise, we hope you've enjoyed reading through this post, and have found it helpful to you and your training!

If you enjoyed it, remember to share it with your friends so that we can reach more people! We're trying to help as many as possible reach their fitness goals!

And for more, unlimited access to all our blog posts, upgrade your account to Gympulsive Pro and start your free trial today!


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