Is Cardio Necessary for Weight Loss?
Emily R Pappas, M.S.
One of the most common questions we get at Relentless is, “do I need to add more cardio to my workouts to lose weight?” Our answer is almost ALWAYS, “NO.” When it comes to active females, more cardio does not equate to less body fat and a smaller number on the scale.
The Food Factor
When it comes to the fat loss, FOOD is the primary factor we need to focus on. You may be thinking, “here it comes—more advice to eat less to lose weight.” WRONG. For a lot of females, the real issue is you are eating TOO LITTLE.
What happens when the body does not have enough fuel for extended periods of time? It gets stressed. When the body is stressed, it slows down ALL the reactions in your body so you can stay alive. Slowed reactions = LESS energy needs by your body to just be alive.
If you were to add MORE cardio at this point, you are just ADDING to your level of stress.
Before you can introduce a caloric deficit (aka MORE STRESS) to lose weight, you need to first alleviate some of that stress caused by not eating enough.
Check out our article on what happens if you don’t eat enough for more details on this.
Too many athletes—especially female athletes—are under fueling their bodies, which can be detrimental to their performance, body composition, and more importantly, their health.
For guidance on the types of food you need to best fuel your workouts, check out this article, too.
How FOOD Drives Fat Loss
In order for your body to LOSE MASS (body fat), you need to expose it to a caloric deficit. This means you are eating LESS energy than your body demands. For the female athlete looking to keep their performance on the field or in the gym HIGH while losing some body fat, this caloric deficit should come from a drop in added fats.
Unlike carbs, fats have a very small role in high intensity performance. For this reason, females need to keep their carbohydrates HIGH and slowly decrease fats in order to meet their fat loss goal!
Females who drop carbohydrates instead may lose weight, BUT at the expense of their performance levels and muscle mass.
Want help with the right way to lose fat for your body? Sign up for a FREE NUTRITION CONSULT with Coach Emily, M.S.
So what about Cardio’s Role
After you FIRST look to your plate to introduce a caloric deficit, low intensity cardio can be added to help INCREASE this deficit.
Why low intensity? Because compared to HIGH intensity, low intensity is MUCH LESS stressful to the body. Remember, caloric deficits are a stress in itself. Training and sport is a STRESS. LIFE ITSELF is a stress. Adding more high intensity cardio on top of this stress is just unnecessary…when you can get the same caloric deficit with lower intensity work.
The key is SLOW and STEADY. Add a long walk, or go for a swim, or even spend time on the elliptical, but don’t go nuts. Move at a pace that feels challenging but where you could still hold a conversation. Adding this type of steady cardio for 30-45 minutes, once or twice per week, will help increase your caloric deficit without adding stress.
ADDED BONUS, this type of cardio will also aid in your circulation and RECOVERY!
That’s not to say that more intense cardio has no place in your fitness life.
If you are a runner, or a competitive volleyball player or swimmer, cardio is going to be a necessary part of your conditioning. Intense cardio has benefits, like improving heart health and keeping you in peak performance.
But if your focus is on weight loss, reevaluate your plate FIRST before you decide to go to a Spin Class