The Fat-Burning Zone – Myth or Magic?

Fat: it’s on everyone’s minds right now. Holiday parties, cookies and milk, too many bottles of wine and big smorgasbord meals all combine this time of year to make it easy to put on the pounds. So people are thinking about A) gaining weight, B) being overweight, or C) that in the new year, they are going to lose weight.

Heart Rate ZonesCome the first week of January, gyms throughout the country will be packed with people on cardio equipment, staring at heart rate graphs and hanging onto the heart rate sensors to make sure they are staying in their “fat burning zone”. This zone – 60-70% of your maximum suggested heart rate (calculated as 220 minus your age) – will keep you doing low to moderate intensity exercise, and it’s true that more of the calories burned will come from fat stores. Will that help you drop the pounds? Let’s discuss.

From a cellular perspective, a lower intensity workout requires a slower supply of cellular energy – read: calories – which is perfectly matched to the slower process of breaking down fat stores. Even the most fit people have higher stores of fat than they do of carbohydrate (which provides cellular energy very quickly), and the high volume of fat stores let us keep moving at a slow-and-low intensity for a relatively long time. And so we loop around to the beginning of the paragraph: Lower intensity generally means slower movement, as well as lower (and therefore slower) energy demands. In plain english, lower heart rate and energy demands equal fewer calories burned over a given period of time. 

Let’s look at what happens with higher energy demands: Once your heart rate rate starts edging about that 70%, you’re getting into the “aerobic zone”, or if you’re really hustling, into your “anaerobic zone”. Since your heart rate is higher, your cells need more energy, pronto, to keep you moving. During periods of high energy demand, our bodies don’t have time to break down fat stores. Instead, they make quick energy by breaking down sugars (our stored carbohydrate) and other cellular molecules. But we only have these in limited supply, which is a big part of the reason that sprinting and other high-intensity activities can’t be sustained for more than a minute or two. The body is infinitely clever though. When we have to stop, gasping for breath, our bodies immediately go into recharge mode, creating more energy-providing molecules for our cells to use. In plain english, higher heart rate and energy demands equal more calories burned over a given period of time, but you won’t maintain the highest intensity for the entire period of time. 

So we have Option A – burning fewer calories, but primarily from fat stores, or Option B – burning more calories, but from non-fat sources, and only able to do it for a short time. Does it sound like either is a clear winner? Maybe not.

But here’s the magic: While we might love the little graphs that neatly divide our heart rate ranges into “fat burning” or “anaerobic” training zones, the body doesn’t work with such strict segments. In fact, the fuel you use during any given workout comes from a combination of stored cellular energy-providing molecules, stored carbohydrate, and stored fat. High intensity interval training is actually now the most recommended fat-loss workout. This method combines short bursts of high intensity exercise with short periods of recovery, and maximizes calories burned (and fat lost!) in three ways:

1) The high intensity periods (your aerobic and anaerobic zones) burn A LOT of calories for the duration of the interval.

2) The recovery periods drop your heart rate into your “fat burning zone”. You may burn fewer calories during this interval when compared to the high intensity, but you’re still burning them at a higher rate than if you’re sitting on the couch, and the recovery period allows the body to prep for another high intensity burst.

3) Possibly the most useful calorie burn is after your interval workout is over. After a high intensity workout, your body will continue to burn calories at a higher-than-normal rate as it repairs muscle, replenishes cellular energy stores, and makes you a little stronger, faster, and fitter for your next workout. Depending on the amount of time you spent at high intensities, your post-exercise calorie burn can remain elevated for up to three days. And because this is all happening in a “behind the scenes” sort of way, your fat stores are helping fuel this recovery as well.

So is the fat burning zone a myth? Definitely not – fat is your primary fuel source for any low to moderate intensity exercise. The real question is will it actually result in more weight lost overall, and that is a whole different story! While there are definite reasons to stay working in the low-moderate exercise intensity zone, like rehab situations or chronic health conditions, if you’re healthy and looking for fat loss, getting out of your fat burning zone will do you a lot more good.


Holiday Help: Workout Video 13

Workout video thirteen is all about the legs. Kicking off with a little bit shoulder mobility, then working through hip flexor pulses to activate glutes. Once we hit the workout, we’re doing more glute activation, some lower body-based cardio, a squats galore. Time for the fun to begin!


Food Friday: Snapper in Saffron Broth

This time of year is all about the turkeys and hams, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casseroles, gravy on everything… Not to mention 100,000 desserts.

Ready for a break from holiday foods?

I am.

This recipe for Snapper in Saffron Broth is my perfect remedy. Another find on the askGeorgie website, this dish is delicious, packed with veggies, and a serving won’t leave you feeling like you ate a ton of bricks. Even if you go back for seconds.

Georgie uses a spiralizer to create veggie “noodles”, but that’s one kitchen gadget I don’t have, and it worked out just fine. In fact, I’ve made it both by peeling the veggies for wider, flatter noodles, and by running them through the julienne blades on my mandoline. All of these options work equally well, so don’t hold back. Don’t hold back at all. Make this tonight!

Snapper in Saffron Broth – Click for Recipe

Snapper in Saffron Broth with Vegetables

Food Friday: Pumpkin Pie Loaf (Grain and Dairy Free)

Pumpkin Pie Loaf

Photo credit: Nutritionist In The Kitch. Yum!

It’s not fall anymore, but… it’s still pumpkin season! I found a good-looking recipe for a pumpkin pie loaf, added a few twists of my own… and here we are!

The original recipe that I found was the Five-Ingredient Pumpkin Pie loaf from Nutritionist in the Kitch, which was actually adapted from a bread or muffin recipe from Wellness Mama. It caught my eye because I love A) pumpkin and B) coconut flour. Coconut flour is definitely not a grain-flour substitute. It has a totally different texture and huge liquid-absorbing abilities, so you definitely can’t just it as a substitute, and you might need to adjust your baking times as it has a tendency to stay a wet batter for a long time. But follow the recipe and you’ll end up with something delicious!

Pumpkin Pie Loaf

Inspired by Nutritionist In The Kitch and Wellness Mama

5 eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ginger

pinch each of nutmeg and cloves

scant 1/4 cup walnut pieces

generous 1/8 cup dried cranberries

nut pieces and raw sugar for topping (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together eggs and pumpkin. Slowly whisk in melted coconut oil, then vanilla. Set aside.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients except nuts and cranberries until all lumps are gone.
  4. Mix dry ingredients into wet.
  5. Stir in walnuts and cranberries.
  6. Pour into greased 8″x4″ loaf pan.
  7. Sprinkle with nuts and sugar, as a topping (optional).
  8. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until done.
  9. Enjoy!



Motivation When You Need It Most

Thanksgiving is over. Christmas is coming – less than 25 days! Parties, shopping, travel planning… Things are getting serious. This usually means that we’re all a little more short on time and energy. When these things happen, it’s usually our routines that suffer, including our workouts. Don’t let it happen to you!

Instead, take 10 minutes out for yourself, and holiday-stress-2011figure out how you can keep yourself on track. When we are in a routine, we tend to not think much about why we do what we do. Sometimes it’s because we need to (jobs and stuff), sometimes because we want to (Friday night pizza anyone?). Sometimes it’s because it’s just what we do. Most of our everyday activities fit into this category. Our brains create routine and habits because it takes way less brainpower to automatically do something than it does to make every single decision, every single day. Imagine trying to decide every day whether you should go to the gym? Not always a fun decision, right? But if you get yourself into the habit of going straight there after work, you’re going to do it without thinking about it. Less brain stress, better health.

When everything is out of routine though, you end up making those “should I?” decisions all the time. Remembering why you wanted to create your routine in the first place can make a big difference and keep you on track. When you’re low on motivation or struggling to fit in the workout you know you should be doing, think about why you wanted to (or thought you should) get it done in the first place. Some of these motivational tricks might help!

Use A Visual

Post a picture of your goal somewhere you will see it. Heck, post a bunch of pictures. When I was in high school, a cross country teammate of mine put his goal race time on Post It notes on his locker, his text books, the dashboard of his car, and all over the walls on his house. It took about four months for him to reach his goal, but he was reminded every day why he was working so hard.

Join A Group

Whether online or real life, being around people with the same interests or goals will have a positive impact on you reaching yours. You can share stories and information about what works, what doesn’t, how you make progress, and how you stay on track when you get discouraged. These are your people!

Find Your Inspiration

The most important question a coach can ask: Why do you want to achieve this goal? The people who do achieve their goals are the ones that have a solid reason to do so. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what the “why” is, but it’s worth the effort. Once you have the answer, it can become way easier to put in the work to get there.

Fight Back

You know that little voice in your head that tells you everything seems too hard and you’d rather just sit on the couch? Declare war on it! Prepare yourself for those days when it’s tempting to skip a workout by making a list of all the reasons you should be working out. Read back to yourself as needed.

Though none of these tips are a surefire way to stay on track with workouts (or any other habit or routine), remember that simply showing up will help improve motivation for your next session, and will definitely help beat holiday stress. And if they help you finish even one workout that you might have otherwise skipped, it’s already worth it.