OK, get ready to throw out old notions you've probably heard time and time again from so-called fitness gurus, or even well-intentioned friends and family. I'm about to debunk a couple of commonly held beliefs about working out.
You should never eat before a workout. Wrong! In fact, you should always eat something within a few hours of exercising. Here's why: your body will pull energy from multiple sources when exercising -- primarily body fat, blood sugar and sugar stored in the muscles (glucose and glycogen). The problem is you can't trick your body into burning only body fat, which many people have believed is possible if you keep your blood sugar very low by starving yourself. In actuality, the exact opposite will occur -- your body will hang on to the fat. To power-through a workout -- especially an intense one (which is the ideal way to train for fat metabolism) -- the body simply needs some energy in the form of sugar. So when your blood sugar is low, your body will tap fuel from your muscle tissue. This is because fat can never be converted into blood sugar, but muscle can. And you want to build muscle -- not break it down!
It's also critical to understand that intensity training is not only ideal for optimal fat metabolism, but also muscle maintenance and total-body conditioning. Working out on an empty stomach depletes your energy, which dramatically compromises your stamina and puts you at risk of feeling dizzy or passing out. So eat something with carbs and protein from 45 minutes to two hours before exercising. It can be a simple healthy snack like a banana, low-fat yogurt with berries or apple slices with natural almond butter. Then you can focus on the task at hand -- getting in a killer workout.
Cardio is better than weight/resistance-training. Not true. The way to maximize the health benefits from your workouts is to incorporate both into your fitness routine. Resistance training with weights or your own body weight is an excellent way to burn fat and boost your resting metabolism. In fact, resistance training will result in one of the greatest EPOC or afterburn effects you'll get from exercising, which means your body will keep burning fat long after the workout is over. In addition, resistance training is great for muscle maintenance and bone density.
Cardiovascular conditioning is also very important. However, steady-state cardio (biking, hiking, swimming, etc.) isn't the most efficient way to train -- especially for fat burning. I recommend this kind of cardio only if you absolutely love it or you need an easy, recovery fitness day. HIIT training (high-intensity interval training) like bike sprints, speed-walking on an incline or doing serious laps in the pool burns a much higher percentage of fat calories than low- or moderate-intensity workouts.
In an ideal world, you'd combine your resistance training and cardio into one total workout. This is called metabolic conditioning. It's essentially circuit training, during which you'd perform one strength-training exercise after the next in swift succession, and then work in HIIT intervals. For example: Push-ups, back squats, followed by one minute of jump rope.
Now that things are all cleared up for you… get to work!