Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

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Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by evanya84 » April 14th, 2020, 5:03 pm

First off -- Hello everyone, I’m new here, and I love reading all the really valuable opinions and observations that I see on this forum from long-time rowers and fitness enthusiasts. It’s really inspiring to see people who have stuck with rowing (and fitness in general) for so long.

I just bought a Polar heart rate monitor. For YEARS now I have wanted to start tracking my heart rate, because I’m a fitness nerd, I love HIIT (and have always wondered how close I actually come to maxing out my HR), and of course I like the idea of actually trying to increase my anerobic threshold, and/or just track my cardiovascular health. I don’t know why it took me so long to buy one!!

But I thought to myself “ok, so how do I want to USE the data?” Well, I’ve been trying to lose about 10lbs of fat (or at least convert it to muscle) for about 2 years now, only to find that (perhaps because I’m getting older) it just isn’t so easy anymore.

So, my first thought at the idea of suddenly having heart rate data was: “well, maybe I should stay in the ‘fat burning zone’” … you know, the very popular, OUTDATED idea that working at only 60% of your MHR is supposed to burn the maximum amount of fat. Well, I’ve always thought this was dead wrong from the moment I heard it. I mean, if my heart rate is that low, I feel like a 2-10, on a scale of exertion. There is no way I would work out at that level, at least not on a regular basis (maybe it’s just my personality). I have always preferred HIIT, and to the best of my knowledge (after measuring my pulse with my fingers right after each interval), I estimate that I am actually maxing out my HR (over 90% max HR). But I admit, sometimes it's nice to do moderate intensity stuff for longer periods of time, but even then, it's definitely more than 60%.

So I tried researching this “fat burning zone”. I read this article that (apparently) debunks the “fat burning zone”, and I found one person’s comment on it particularly enlightening, and I just wanted to share it!:

“As a former elite-level Nordic skier, I have long been intrigued at how "the gym" has sucked up basic athletic training strategies and turned them into strategies for cosmetic goals -- like "burning fat." Low intensity workouts -- long, slow distance in that 60-percent of heart rate max zone -- is a foundational block of a ski training program. It isn't to burn fat. The real goal is to push your anaerobic threshold -- the point at which you stop using oxygen to burn glycogen stored in your liver and start burning ATP stored in your muscles -- higher. That's done with interval training, primarily, in which you periodically drive your heart rate up towards 75 percent of max, but back off slightly, recover, and do it again. The higher the anaerobic threshold, the longer you can remain aerobic at higher heart rates. Once you go anaerobic, you're just running off of ATP, and no one can last that long in that state. If you mix your training up among long, slow distance, interval training, occasional speed work, and light strength (lots of reps, lower weights), you'll be able to exercise longer, improve your cardiovascular health, stay strong, and -- yes, burn fat. But as the physiologist in the article says, the fat will take care of itself. It can be frustrating (believe me, I know) when you get older and gain weight and want to just "burn it off," but exercising with weight loss as the primary objective may cause you to miss out on the exercise/training regimen that improves long-term fitness and health. The weight will come off, but not as fast as we ever want it to come off, however, with some patience you'll be healthier and less focused on body composition.”

Do you agree with the article/and or comment?
How do YOU use your heart rate data? :?: :)
35/F, 6'1", 165lbs. Long time fitness enthusiast, beginner rower

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by jamesg » April 15th, 2020, 12:51 am

How do YOU use your heart rate data?
Together with Watts, since HR alone offers no control over technique and style. Ergdata connected to a PM5 shows us length and handle force, as well as Power and rating, so we get a stroke by stroke analysis of causes and effects.

HIIT if long enough (3 x 10 x 10 once a week?) might be able to compensate fat loss with muscle growth, if that's your aim.

LIkely not your case now, but in due time you'll notice that metabolic rate and power output drop with age. There's nothing wrong with fruit and veg. In any case, having given up racing, sooner or later we are exercising enough to maintain fitness; in that steady-state we take account of the first law.
08-1940, 183cm, 87kg. Last seen MHR 162, in 2k (2020-05-16) 8.47.5@24

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by hjs » April 16th, 2020, 4:41 am

Low Hf work is very suited for burning fat, its aerobic, its can be done in high volume, it is easy to recover from. Bodybuilders often just walk in contest prep. Not for nothing.

High intensity, does burn more energy, but needs much more glycogen, can,t be done in high volume and takes long to recover from.

And re Fat burning zone. Very well aerobicly trained people, are able to use a high % of fat and thus spare their glycogen reserves for when its needed. This is often trained extra by training early and fasted. Ofcourse the goal here is not directly weightloss. Although cyclist do use this approach in the run up to the big tours, where weight matters a lot, going uphill.

Do not confuse training and weightloss work. Volume is by far the most important factor. Even at 60% effort we burn a lot more calories compared rest levels.

High intensity ofcourse burns a lot more, and also after, but is imo only usefull if you have limited time.

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by Tenshuu » April 16th, 2020, 3:28 pm

hjs wrote:
April 16th, 2020, 4:41 am
Low Hf work is very suited for burning fat, its aerobic, its can be done in high volume, it is easy to recover from. Bodybuilders often just walk in contest prep. Not for nothing.

High intensity, does burn more energy, but needs much more glycogen, can,t be done in high volume and takes long to recover from.

And re Fat burning zone. Very well aerobicly trained people, are able to use a high % of fat and thus spare their glycogen reserves for when its needed. This is often trained extra by training early and fasted. Ofcourse the goal here is not directly weightloss. Although cyclist do use this approach in the run up to the big tours, where weight matters a lot, going uphill.

Do not confuse training and weightloss work. Volume is by far the most important factor. Even at 60% effort we burn a lot more calories compared rest levels.

High intensity ofcourse burns a lot more, and also after, but is imo only usefull if you have limited time.
This seems to sum it up pretty well... Definitely makes sense that a lower intensity, for example 60%, we would be able to work for a longer period of time, and the body could recover because of reduced overall stress signals.

Folks who hike any of the big 3 trails in the USA talk about a phenomenon called "Hiker Hunger". When you are walking 15-20 miles a day, every day, you're not doing anything high intensity, and you're not taking a lot of rest days either on the trail. These folks don't have very great diets, as they often times stop into trail towns every 3-5 days and stock up on non-perishables, and usually pig out on the largest meals they can get their hands on. Most hikers lose 10lbs+ by the end of their 4-6month 2000 mile journey, while carrying an appetite resembling a black hole for the majority of the trip.

That's an extreme example of course, but long slow steady work will be more successful mentally and physically at assisting in weight loss.

But nonetheless, it'll get repeated again - a controlled diet is the major foundation behind weight loss - with exercise being a beneficial way to boost the speed at which you lose weight. Unless of course you're walking 15-20 miles a day and living off of Clif bars, peanut butter, and ramen. If you're slamming your way through terrain in this way, eat what you want when you get hungry, I'm sure you'll be fine.

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by mict450 » April 16th, 2020, 6:41 pm

Evanya, noted that your signature indicates that you love HIIT. I believe there are studies that indicate that moderate exercise boosts the immune response. Conversely, high intensity and/or high volume tends to decrease it. In these challenging times, it might be a good idea to practice moderation in one's physical training regimen. I know, I probably sound like your grandfather!! But then, the wife & I have grandkids who are older than you. Holy cow!! We have a great granddaughter who will be entering high school next term. I feel old. Think I'll lie down now & take a nap.
Eric, YOB:1954
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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by Nomath » April 16th, 2020, 7:18 pm

Over the first half of April, I took part in the April Fools' challenge. To make it easy, I did 5K rowing during the first five days, about 23 mins of exercise at HR=130, which is about 80% of my HRmax. The next 5 days I did 10K, about 46 mins of exercise, also at HR=130 avg. Thereafter 5 days working up to 15K on April 15, taking about 1h10m. All of these exercises were done straight out of my bed; no food or drinks before the start.
I haven't lost more than a few tenth of a kilogram over that period.

The reason is very simple: at home you easily eat whatever you burn during a short exercize.

The only way I am succesfull in losing weight is during exercizes of several hours, which I don't do on a rower but on a bicycle. I only take one bottle with some sweetend juice to keep hydrated. After about 2 hours you start to notice that your legs get tired. That is when the fat burning really makes itself noticeable. It is best to start the ride without taking food in advance, so you know that all the watts you produce are burned carbohydrates and fats lingering in your body. It is also favorable if you return so exhausted that you don't feel hungry for some time.

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by hjs » April 17th, 2020, 5:44 am

Nomath wrote:
April 16th, 2020, 7:18 pm
Over the first half of April, I took part in the April Fools' challenge. To make it easy, I did 5K rowing during the first five days, about 23 mins of exercise at HR=130, which is about 80% of my HRmax. The next 5 days I did 10K, about 46 mins of exercise, also at HR=130 avg. Thereafter 5 days working up to 15K on April 15, taking about 1h10m. All of these exercises were done straight out of my bed; no food or drinks before the start.
I haven't lost more than a few tenth of a kilogram over that period.

The reason is very simple: at home you easily eat whatever you burn during a short exercize.

The only way I am succesfull in losing weight is during exercizes of several hours, which I don't do on a rower but on a bicycle. I only take one bottle with some sweetend juice to keep hydrated. After about 2 hours you start to notice that your legs get tired. That is when the fat burning really makes itself noticeable. It is best to start the ride without taking food in advance, so you know that all the watts you produce are burned carbohydrates and fats lingering in your body. It is also favorable if you return so exhausted that you don't feel hungry for some time.
A 60 min row at 2.00 pace would (very) roughly burn 1000 cal.
So do this 7 days a week, you would lose 1kg fat, again very roughly, burn plus conversion of the fat.

If at the same time you put anything in your mouth, you get nowhere. Example about cycling or maybe walking which could easily take long. 60 min is not long for very easy work. I walk my dog one hour. At no point I see that as “exercise”.

Disagree about the being tired and not eating. 1 you won,t recover for the next day, 2 you will burn muscle without proper food.

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by Nomath » April 17th, 2020, 10:24 am

I disagree. You cannot sustain a high exercise intensity, say above 65% of VO2max, for more than 2 hours, unless you are a world class marathon runner. Your carbohydrate source will be depleted and you are automatically forced to a much lower intensity. You hit a wall! At the lower intensity level fat burning is the main or only source of mechanical power. Muscle burning at that low intensity level is unlikely. The smell of ammonia is typical for hard work.

I have a lot of experience with 2-3 months cross-continental cycling tours that involve days of 5-8 hours in the saddle with little intermediate intake of food, 6 days or more in a row. Of course you have to eat well at breakfast and at the end of the day, to do that day in, day out. My physical conditions always improves during the first 2-3 weeks and the time I can do without food intake also increases gradually to 3-5 hours. Over those 2-3 months I may shed about 5 kg of weight. It's a good way to loose your tummy!
Last edited by Nomath on April 17th, 2020, 10:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by Dangerscouse » April 17th, 2020, 10:36 am

Nomath wrote:
April 17th, 2020, 10:24 am
I disagree. You cannot sustain a high exercise intensity, say above 65% of VO2max, for more than 2 hours, unless you are a world class marathon runner. Your carbohydrate source will be depleted and you are automatically forced to a much lower intensity. You hit a wall!
When you say 65% of VO2 max how does that translate to HR?
46 HWT; 6' 4"; 1k= 3:09; 2k= 6:36; 5k= 17:24; 6k= 21:09; 10k= 35:46 30mins= 8,428m 60mins= 16,331m HM= 1:18:25; FM= 2:45:49; 50k= 3:21:14; 100k= 7:52:44; 12hrs = 153km

"You reap what you row"

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by Nomath » April 17th, 2020, 10:46 am

I don't know. 65% of VO2max is what I see in textbooks about Cycling Science as the crossover point where burning carbohydrates takes over from fat burning as the main power source. I rarely use a heart rate monitor during these long cycling tours, but my guess is that I can cycle more than 3 hours at 70% of HRmax.
Maybe the article in the Washington Post that the topic poster referred to has a better answer.
---
OK, here is a more considered answer from combining two WP articles written by Scott Douglas in 2018(not freely accessible)
- at rest : 85% fat burning - 15% carbohydrates
- low intensity recovery : not specified - HR below 60% of max
- easy walking : 70% fat - 30 % carbohydrates - HR 60-70% of max
- moderate effort : 50% fat - 50% carbohydrates - HR 70-80% of max
So 65% of VO2max would correspond to 70-80% of HRmax.

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by hjs » April 17th, 2020, 1:05 pm

Nomath wrote:
April 17th, 2020, 10:46 am
I don't know. 65% of VO2max is what I see in textbooks about Cycling Science as the crossover point where burning carbohydrates takes over from fat burning as the main power source. I rarely use a heart rate monitor during these long cycling tours, but my guess is that I can cycle more than 3 hours at 70% of HRmax.
Maybe the article in the Washington Post that the topic poster referred to has a better answer.
---
OK, here is a more considered answer from combining two WP articles written by Scott Douglas in 2018(not freely accessible)
- at rest : 85% fat burning - 15% carbohydrates
- low intensity recovery : not specified - HR below 60% of max
- easy walking : 70% fat - 30 % carbohydrates - HR 60-70% of max
- moderate effort : 50% fat - 50% carbohydrates - HR 70-80% of max
So 65% of VO2max would correspond to 70-80% of HRmax.
Fat burning very much depends and training fitness and food, fast versus slow % muscle fibers. Etc.

A long distance athlete who is adapted to keto would burn very different compared to a sugar “junk” :wink:

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by Nomath » April 17th, 2020, 1:49 pm

You may be right!
But I don't think that people who pose questions on this forum about losing fat are knowledgeable about keto adaptation. Or being long distance athletes.

If you want to lose weight through exercise, the most straightforward way is to bring your body in a mode where it mostly has to burn fat because the carbohydrates are exhausted. That is necessarily a low intensity exercise. In addition, ensure that afterwards there is not a quick and plenty compensation of carbohydrates, but a frugal one. That teaches the body to be economical.
This is not a recipe for performance athletes but for losing fat.

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by hjs » April 17th, 2020, 4:27 pm

Nomath wrote:
April 17th, 2020, 1:49 pm
You may be right!
But I don't think that people who pose questions on this forum about losing fat are knowledgeable about keto adaptation. Or being long distance athletes.

If you want to lose weight through exercise, the most straightforward way is to bring your body in a mode where it mostly has to burn fat because the carbohydrates are exhausted. That is necessarily a low intensity exercise. In addition, ensure that afterwards there is not a quick and plenty compensation of carbohydrates, but a frugal one. That teaches the body to be economical.
This is not a recipe for performance athletes but for losing fat.
Nmr 1 is diet. Get that in check, you can,t outtrain a crappy diet.

Nmr 2 is just doing work at low intensity, simply burn energy without making yourself tired.

You don,t need to exhaust your carbs, our body prefers to burn fat, and preserve carbs (glycogen) for our brain and anaerobic work.

More serieus training should not be aimed at weightloss, but at fitness, or strenght, speed etc.

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by Nomath » April 17th, 2020, 5:03 pm

See https://medium.com/gethealthy/exercise- ... 8a949068cf
Nothing about burning muscles!

Why is exercising for weight loss less serious training than exercising for fitness? Many people, including myself, exercise a lot for fitness, but don't lose weight. See my observation on the April Fools' challenge. It needs a different approach.

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Re: Regarding the “fat loss zone heart rate” myth, and possible advice for people trying to lose fat

Post by hjs » April 18th, 2020, 4:15 am

Nomath wrote:
April 17th, 2020, 5:03 pm
See https://medium.com/gethealthy/exercise- ... 8a949068cf
Nothing about burning muscles!

Why is exercising for weight loss less serious training than exercising for fitness? Many people, including myself, exercise a lot for fitness, but don't lose weight. See my observation on the April Fools' challenge. It needs a different approach.
You obviously are doing things wrong. If it does not work. Almost always its the eating.

Training for weightless, is just getting less energy in compared to us getting it in. Never said it was not serious, its very serious for an athlete to get a right weight.

Only said, training for fitness is aimed at fitness, just loosing weight will not make you fitter. Being anorectic will make you loose weight, doing lots of low intensity cardio will. but its just aimed at weightloss, not fitness.

Re loss of muscle, ANYBODY below a certain bodyfat % will lose muscle and strenght, NO EXCEPTIONS, when we are dieting down. Only drugs can prevent that. To counter that, you have to train your muscle. The less we do so, the more muscle we loose.
Both a sprinter and long distance runner is lean, but muscle wise there is a big difference.
Cyclist, a track sprinter is massive, a climber tiny, both lean though. Difference? Training.

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