Q: Okay, I’m confused about cardio workouts and how to use them to achieve fat loss, but to not do them to excess so that I lose a ton of muscle. So should I do cardio before or after workouts? And should I do them only a certain amount of time or a certain number of sessions per week? What’s right?
A: Easy there on the questions…. One at a time, a lot of how you do cardio, what you do and how often, have to do with your body type. Since you didn’t mention what your body type is, I’ll just give you a brief rundown. First, if you’re a mesomorph (ideal athletic body type), you can get away with doing cardio about 3 times weekly at about 20 minutes per session. If you are an endomorph (tendency to hold fat and put on muscle easily), you should do cardio more often and maximize fat burning times, such as first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach and split it up throughout the day. Try to do 30-minute sessions twice daily, 3x per week, and a day or two of two 45-minute sessions thrown in on days you do not work-out. For the ectomorph, who is on the skinny side to begin with, cardio should be done to maintain cardiovascular health, not done for long durations for fat loss. Muscle loss is the biggest risk for an ectomorph, and is not a real threat to those who are a true endomorphic body types. Mesomorphs run the risk of losing muscle and should be careful as well. Unless your morning session is done to maximize fat loss, first thing, on an empty stomach, you should mostly do cardio sessions just following workouts. Take in a little bit of carbohydrate and some protein and then get on with your cardio workout. Vary the type of apparatus you use too – this is important to not burning muscle as well or becoming too accustomed to the workout and rendering it ineffective. If you constantly use the treadmill, and don’t use elevation, an increase or decrease in speed, and you don’t vary the time you are on the treadmill or the resistance level you use, it’s detrimental to your fat burning program. If you tax yourself too much in duration, resistance, or the number of times you do cardio past the point of benefit to fat burning or heart health, you’ll cut into muscle. It’s super important to get some sustenance in your system following a resistance training workout, as I said, and it should contain a little simple carb (not too much) and protein, to feed your muscles just following training. However, you should do cardio for at least 45 minutes following your workout to burn off the simple carbs and get some fat burning in. I also recommend doing some sprinting, though technically not “fat burning”… it actually does work to complement a cardio program and also help preserve muscle in the legs, where men most often lose muscle during cardio workouts. Women, on the other hand, tend to preserve limb muscle during cardio, but end up looking too soft if they’ve overdone it. Hope this helps!