To cardio or not to cardio is the question!
In the world of fitness, there is a severe dogma attached to the topic of cardio. On one hand, we have a section of people who look at the cardio section as their go to element in their pursuit of fat loss. On the other hand, there exists a population which looks at a treadmill and cringes at the thought of losing muscles. To make matters worse, there will be legitimate fitness professionals who will attest to either of the ideas and stick to a binary mindset when it comes to THE CARDIO.
Make no mistake; both sides of the argument have some truth to them. However, it is also important to consider the context while making the argument.
Any activity we do requires a combination of free fatty acids and glucose as a source of fuel. The proportion of each of the fuels that get used is decided by the intensity of the activity. In absolute layman terms, we can say that higher intensity activity will use more glucose and less of free fatty acids, while lower intensity will do the opposite, that is, use more of free fatty acids and less of glucose. This might also explain the logic behind the cardio zealots saying that cardio is the best for fat loss. And they are not wrong either; cardio can and will help in fat loss. Low intensity steady state cardio [LISS] can be done for a very long time too. The problem occurs when this group of people royally ignores the muscle loss that comes along with the fat loss by strictly sticking to low intensity steady state activity.
Muscles need to be trained regularly. Strength training ensures that that happens, LISS does not. When you use the muscles frequently, you give the body a reason to hold on to them. It is equally important to feed the muscles with sufficient quantities of high quality proteins. Also, strength training is a slightly more intense activity as compared to LISS. This also means that, strength training will use up more of the glucose than the free fatty acids for fuel. Having said that, it should also be considered that, there is only so much you can do when it comes to strength training until you run out of battery to keep up the quality of the workout.
Moreover, when you are eating on a deficit, increasing the volume of the workout to increase energy expenditure can be detrimental. In an environment, where the resources are limited, there might be a good chance that the body does not have enough ingredients to repair the muscle damage accumulated from the workout, thus affecting recovery along with muscle loss.
At some point, you are bound to hit a plateau in terms of fat loss; NEAT levels, TEF, BMR, and the nervous system output, all of these go down and fight hard against fat loss. Also there might be very little room for cutting calories further. This is where we might have some use for LISS. At the end of the strenuous workout, you can add some cardio to affect further fat loss. If you want to take it up a notch, then you can also incorporate 15-30mins of low intensity cardio on your “Active rest days”. It would also be wise to do a different exercise in each session. Treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, all of these tools works a different movement. Having such variety in your cardio routine can prevent any possible risk to the joint heath due to overuse.
As long as you are getting involved with strength training and have sufficient proteins in your diet, adding in some cardio sessions into the mix won’t hurt. In fact, having a mix of both might complement each other i.e. cardio training might help improve your performance in the weight room and weight training might help improve your timings in the cardio section. There are ways to incorporate both into a workout to improve overall performance, but let’s keep that for another day.
Author credits – Nachiketh Shetty