I believe while cardio should be included as part of a healthy lifestyle ( let’s face it being fit has many advantages), I do think it’s role in weight loss (if one is primarily concerned about body composition) is overblown and in many cases misunderstood.
We’ve all heard that low duration cardio “burns” muscle, which is why marathon and other distance runners have very little muscle. Muscle requires a lot of energy to sustain it, so if your cardiovascular system is constantly being utilised for long periods, your body will see muscle as a dead weight. Not only is it using energy directly (to fuel the muscles) but your body requires more energy to propel it as it increases your total mass.
Imagine now your body is in a state where it’s energy needs are less than the input, and it’s easy to see why it’d utilise muscle in certain situations for energy needs. Turning to the numbers, the explanation can be simply explained.
If you’re wanting to create a caloric deficit (which is necessary for weight loss), say of 1500 kj a day, you can do it two ways.
You can either eat at your base rate ( let’s say in this example it is 8500kj a day) and increase your energy requirements for the day by 1500kj (by doing 45 minutes to an hour of decent cardio), or you can simply miss the cardio and eat 7000kj a day, there in creating the 1500kj deficit another way.
What’s not often discussed is that doing cardio does increase hunger. There’s a common joke about people doing cardio feeling they deserve a reward of junk food after exercise, and in many cases the extra calories of that junk food will be more than what was consumed on the aforementioned exercise!
My biggest issue for cardio was that I wanted to reserve all my already low energy levels for weight training. Doing long gruelling cardio would not only wear me out, but if my strength started to suffer (which it did) the whole process of dieting would be more mentally taxing – as getting stronger is a fantastic motivator (and it’s a motivator I didn’t want to lose).
Funnily enough, the first few weeks I did cardio but soon realised I was never going to reach my fitness goals in a depleted state, so I’d be best off to worry about composition now, and add cardio when my energy levels are at a point where it’s possible. Cardio was negatively affecting my recovery from weights (I felt sore all the time), and I was feeling a bit run down.
By not doing cardio, I’ve been entering the gym feeling fresh and have been able to put maximal effort into weights every session. I do think this is a significant reason why my strength has continued to go up over the last 8 weeks, despite me dropping close to 8kg.
That’s my simple advice though, instead of doing that 1 hour jog so you can consume the extra 400 calories, just don’t eat the extra food.
Mentally it’s has been far less taxing, you don’t sacrifice muscle with opposing aims (which is doubly bad in a deficit) and you will have much better recovery between weights sessions and you’ll therefore hit those weight sessions with more vigour than you would otherwise. Please realise though, this is not health advice as the benefits of cardio are very significant. If you are going through a process of cutting though (whether just getting your weight down or competing as a bodybuilder) it’s definitely an option worth exploring, it has, undoubtedly worked for me.
This advice wouldn’t be suitable for athletes who need to maintain a certain level of fitness for their sport, as low carb diets generally don’t bode at all well for seriously active people.
It does beg the question though, if an athlete had a certain period of time to drop xxx units of weight and to achieve peak fitness (in the case they were competing in a weight class) would they be better off to train heavily while in a deficit (typical approach), or take a more sedentary approach to weight loss – then once body composition goals were reached, eat for maintenance and hit the training very hard?
I suppose that remains to be seen, but certainly my experience had opened my eyes to a different method of weight loss.
I am glad to say I’ve reached my goals now though, so it’ll be back on the bike, the rower and even a bit of running to get fitness levels up.