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Why cardio isn’t the answer to fat loss

Why cardio isn’t the answer to fat loss. Whether you fall in the group of people that love or hate cardio, you have to admit there are a lot of health benefits.

But a lot of people do cardio to lose weight, and that is something I want to talk about in this post. Because is cardio really the best way to lose fat? And is it going to give you the results you want?

First I want to clarify once more that I am talking about cardio with the only intention to lose weight. It is great for cardiovascular health and increasing your stamina.

Unsustainable lifestyle

I am not going to lie, I am not a big fan of cardio and definitely not when you only want to lose weight. This is, in my opinion, the most unsustainable and demotivating way to do this. Yes, cardio burns calories but it is extremely hard to out-train a bad diet.

Let’s say your maintenance calories (the calories you need to consume to stay the same weight) are 2000. But on average you consume 3000 calories. You are in a surplus of 1000 calories.

To make sure you are not gaining fat you need to burn these 1000 calories + 200 calories to get in a deficit. Because only then you’ll start to lose fat. That comes down to burning 1200 calories daily.

1200 calories is a lot of cardio to do. However, you can do this a lot easier by consuming fewer calories. Depending on cardio is unsustainable since you’d have to hit the gym 7 days a week to burn 1200 calories.

So don’t make it harder on yourself than you have to. But adjust your nutrition, this way you can make the biggest impact. Then you can add some cardio to burn additional calories.

Losing weight is 70% nutrition and 30% other stuff, including cardio. Focus on what gives you the best and quickest results. A combination of a good diet, strength training, and some cardio is the way to go.

Stress and fat loss

I recently wrote an article about stress and weight loss, that you can check out here if you’d like. But stress is a bigger enemy to weight loss than most of us think.

Too much cardio (or any exercise) raises a hormone in the body called cortisol, better known as the stress hormone (1). Our bodies do not see the difference between cortisol from a stressful situation or from exercise.

So with too intense cardio sessions, your stress levels will rise. Stress can lead to cravings and hunger (2). Especially when in a calorie deficit this sucks.

It is extra hard to ignore these feelings and way easier to give in. Ending up eating all those burned calories (plus some extra) right back on.


Atrophy, the breakdown of muscle mass. When you are doing cardio your body needs energy, it will start taking this by burning the food you consumed, when this is gone it will eventually go to your fat stores.

This sounds pretty good, right? Burning off the fat in your body, well it does not only take energy from your fat stores. It also takes energy from your muscles by breaking them down.

Making sure you consume enough protein can fight this to a certain extent. Consuming a high protein diet has many other benefits when it comes to your health and weight loss, which you can read about here.

It is important to know that consuming a high protein diet does not harm your kidneys, liver or cause bone loss (3).

If you’re trying to build muscle it is important to do some resistance training as well. To start this you can check out this article about beginner muscle building tips!

The other downside of this is when you lose muscle your RMR goes down, resting metabolic rate (4). This is how many calories you burn during the day when you are not doing any exercise.

Muscles use more energy in rest than fat does, so to burn more calories even when resting you should focus on building some muscle!

Now don’t think that stepping on a treadmill will make you lose all the hard-earned muscle you gained, but if you take it to the extreme your body has to find an energy source.

Loss of energy

Doing a lot of cardio burns some extra calories but when you take it too the extreme you’re putting your body in a deep deficit. Exercise is meant to give you a boost of energy, but overdoing the cardio will do the exact opposite. (5)

As mentioned before it is a form of stress that you are putting on your body. The first noticeable symptoms of overdoing your cardio are decreased energy levels. This is because your body cannot deal with the amount of stress you are putting it under.

Skinny fat

Most of us lose weight to look better or feel better. But when your goal is looking better cardio might not be the best option for you. Most people that do a lot of cardio to lose weight end up looking skinny fat, if you’d like to read a full article about this you can click here.

What you actually want to achieve is a body re-composition, losing fat while gaining muscle at the same time. This can be best done by hitting the weights, not the treadmill.

As a beginner, you have the luck that you can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, use this ability. To start building some muscle check out these tips! Lifting weights have also many other great health benefits, if you’d like to read about them you can click here.


Many cardio exercises are very taxing on the joints. Running is very heavy for the ankles, knees, hips and lower back for example (6). So listen to your body when something doesn’t feel good, stop doing it. Because ignoring these signals can lead to real injuries that take months to recover from (7).

It is super important to take enough rest and incorporate rest-days into your weekly routine to make sure you are not over-training your body. There are so many reasons why it is super important to give your body the rest that it needs! You can read about that here.


Cardio is great for improving health and overall live quality. But when you are doing it to lose weight you’re making it harder on yourself than necessary. Start off by checking your nutrition.

When you use cardio to improve health, use it as a warmup, or to increase stamina make sure you take enough rest. Especially in combination with weight training.