Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Many people want to lose weight. Well, more specifically, people want to lose fat. It's one of the most common goals in fitness shared by people all over the world, alongside building muscle.
In fact, according to Ipsos, a study found that 45% of people all over the world were trying to lose weight in January of 2021. And as the fitness industry grows, that number may continue to rise as people develop healthier and more active lifestyles.
However, while fat loss is an incredibly common topic that many like to discuss and strive for, misinformation about fat loss is widely spread and it can often be tough for beginners to know what's right and what's not.
Many people believe that you have to do hours and hours of cardio each day for weeks on end in order to see results in their fat loss journey. However, we'll tell you right now, this simply doesn't have to be the case.
Fat loss doesn't have to be hard, and you don't have to be a slave to your fitness goals either. You just have to have the right knowledge and get yourself properly educated.
That's why in this post I'll be looking into whether or not cardio is necessary in order to lose fat, looking into some of the science behind it and helping you apply this knowledge into your own training.
Is Cardio Really Necessary?
To tackle this question, it's important that you understand how fat loss works. Many people think that doing endless amounts of cardio will cause you to lose fat. However, the truth is, you could do 10 hours of cardio a week and still not lose weight. In fact, you could even continue to gain weight, even after that much cardio.
The truth is, it's not about how much cardio you're doing. Instead, it's more so dependent on how you're eating and how much you're burning. To lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit. This basically means that you're burning more calories throughout the day than you're eating.
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.
The average person burns around 1800 calories each day, doing nothing. This will vary depending on your age, gender, weight and some other factors. However, we'll use 1800 as an example.
If this person wanted to lose weight, they would need to be eating less than 1800 calories each day to slowly lose fat. The opposite would apply if this person wanted to gain weight an muscle at an optimal rate. He or she would need to be eating more than 1800 calories each day. And if he or she ate roughly 1800 calories a day, bodyweight would not change.
Hopefully that explains how weight loss and weight gain works for the general public. Unless you've got some kind of a disorder, or some other factor, your daily balance of calorie consumption and expenditure is going to dictate whether you gain or lose weight.
To back this, a study conducted by Barbara Strasser concluded that: "This study showed that independently of the method for weight loss, the negative energy balance alone is responsible for weight reduction."
Several other studies have shown similar results as well.
Now that you understand the basic concept of how fat loss works, we can tackle the question of whether cardio is really necessary or not. However, even through common sense, it should be pretty clear that cardio is not necessary for fat loss. As long as you manage your calorie consumption properly, you don't even need to do any form of exercise to lose fat.
Remember, as long as you're eating less than you're burning, you will lose fat. The idea that you have to do cardio in order to lose fat likely stems from the fact that generally, cardio is going to burn the most calories out of any exercise form. Even then, some forms of cardio burn more calories than other.
However generally, 10 minutes of intense cardio is going to burn more calories than any other form of exercise will. This includes weightlifting, sports, etc. That's where the idea that you need to do cardio in order to lose weight like originally came from.
Let's take the 1800 calorie example again. In order to lose weight steadily, the person might want to end at a caloric deficit of around 300 calories each day. To do this, he or she could simply eat 1500 calories each day and slowly lose fat. Or, they could eat 1800 calories and burn off 300 calories through exercise (doesn't have to be cardio).
If you just do the simple math, you'd find that this person would lose weight either way. So the simple answer to this question is: no, cardio is not necessary for fat loss. However, this doesn't mean that cardio is a waste of time either.
Eating less than maintenance calories can often leave us feeling hungry for much of the day, and isn't all too enjoyable to sustain long term. That's where cardio (or exercise in general) comes in helpful. Doing cardio allows us to eat a little more, which will help us feel fuller throughout the day and make us feel less like a slave to our fitness goals.
You might find that you do feel quite hungry all the time eating less than maintenance, and therefore it makes sense to allow yourself to eat a little more throughout the day, and do some exercise to burn those extra calories off to maintain fat loss.
Physical exercise does also bring about some great health benefits, and it's a good idea to start doing some if you aren't already. Working out is great for you.
Some general benefits include:
Increased brain health
Reduced risk of chronic diseases
Improved sleep quality
Increased sex drive
So while cardio is not necessary for fat loss, and you can achieve your goals without exercising at all, it is still often a good idea to do some form of exercise to not only make your fitness journey more enjoyable, but help keep your health in check as well.
Applying This Knowledge to Your Training
Well, like we showed you in the example at the beginning of the previous section, you really have two options if you're looking to lose weight. You can either eat less than your maintenance calories and simply lose weight that way, or allow yourself to eat a little more and feel fuller, but exercise to burn those extra calories off to achieve a deficit.
The method that you choose to go with will come down to your schedule availability, ability to fit meals in and personal preference.
For example, if you don't have too much time to commit to the gym, and would rather spend it on something else that's more important to you (such as working on a business or caring for your loved ones), then it might make sense to simply eat below your maintenance calories. Please note that more often than not, there is something you can give up to make time for working out.
However, if you simply prefer to eat less than maintenance calories, and you don't have the problem where you feel hungry all the time, then that's absolutely fine. Go with that.
However if you do find that you are hungry throughout the day, or you're worried about your health and would like to keep it in check, then it makes sense to eat a little bit above maintenance calories (or at maintenance) and burn some calories off through exercising.
Remember that the 1800 maintenance calories we used above was an example. It will likely be different for you. This will depend on several factors, but it's not really something that you can figure out on your own.
To get a rough idea, we recommend that you use this calorie calculator by calculator.net. This will allow you to get a rough idea of what your maintenance calories are, and then you can work from there.
To start off with, it's recommended by Healthline that you eat in a caloric deficit of somewhere around 500 calories a day. To get a rough idea of the deficit size that you should be in for fat loss, simply subtract 500 from the result on your calculator above. Then, you can choose either of the two methods that we outlined above to get there.
To learn more about creating your own workout diet plan, click here to read our blog article.
Please remember that weight loss, and anything in fitness is more of a marathon, not a sprint. You will not see results straight away. You will not reach your goals immediately. It takes consistent, hard work to get there, and it's up to you to put in the work.
Overall, you don't have to necessarily do cardio, or any form of exercise for that matter fi you're trying to lose fat. However, there are certainly great benefits that come with exercising, and you need to weigh everything when deciding on your approach towards your goals.
Like we said, this will depend on a variety of factors for you. However you need to ensure that the method you choose is something you can sustain, and something that you enjoy.
I hope you've enjoyed reading through this post, and have found it useful! Hopefully you're able to apply some of this knowledge into your own training.
If you did find it helpful or interesting, remember to share it with your friends so that we can reach more people! We're trying to help as many people as possible with their fitness goals!
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