Should You Do Cardio For Fat Loss and Muscle Tone?

So, you’re looking to lose fat and tone up. This is probably one of the most common fitness goals out there, so you’re certainly not alone on your journey. Many have tried and failed, but many have also succeeded — achieving fitness goals is rarely easy, but the right strategy is definitely a big help. The biggest questions when starting out is whether to work on exercise, nutrition, or both: is cardio or munching on carrot sticks the answer? Well, if you’re wondering about cardio for fat loss, we’ve got the know-how so all you need is the willpower.


Exercise More Or Eat Less?

People are constantly battling over whether they should be exercising more or eating less in order to lose fat. If you want to make a change to become healthier, it’s easy to assume that simply reducing calorie intake alone will suffice. The problem with this is that a reduction in calories through a change solely in nutrition will only help to lose fat and won’t improve muscle tone.

Cardiovascular activity causes the body’s muscles to work and adapt, so you should be taking on some cardio as well as resistance training if you want to change your body composition. For instance, a moderate-intensity exercising session on the cross-trainer will burn calories, incorporate muscles mainly from the legs and arms, and cause your cardiovascular system to work within its aerobic capacity by pumping enough oxygenated blood around the body to sustain the exercise. This helps the heart and lungs grow stronger as well as visible body muscles become stronger and more conditioned to exercise. So yes, you should take up some cardio for fat loss, but is this all you need to do?


The Big Mistake

When starting your journey to a healthier lifestyle, all of the changes you make are a shock to your body. People often tend to bite off more than they can chew when they begin their new quest for a summer body by setting themselves unrealistic fat loss goals. It’s common for people to jump into a 500 calorie deficit worth of cardiovascular based physical activity each day and then become shattered in the first week and give up. You could also go the other way and starve yourself silly, but this also isn’t sustainable and certainly isn’t healthy.


The Compromise

In order to make the process easier, it’s smart to use a combination of a deficit in calories through both nutrition and cardio for fat loss and muscle tone. This means that you’ll also spend less time on the treadmill, which wasn’t really that appealing in the first place, was it?! 

However, if you’re not scared to get involved in more cardio it does have plenty of benefits. Besides the elevated perceptions of well-being and stronger muscles, it also allows you to eat more calories in order to replenish your body after exercise. That’s right, just because you burn off 500 calories doesn’t mean you have to suffer and receive no rewards — roll on that slice of cake!


Cardio For Fat Loss

Let’s say you burn 500 calories in a tough cardio workout — something reasonably attainable in an hour. Not only are you improving your muscle tone, but you’re also giving yourself a bit of leeway in terms of what you can eat. A 500 calorie daily deficit will see you lose about 1 lb per week, so by doing an hour’s worth of exercise, you can afford to eat a little more to compensate for this.

If you imagine trying to meet your calorie deficit solely through a deficit in your nutrition now, does it seem very appealing? Would you be able to eat as flexibly, or as much? Would you feel as healthy? Would your muscles be getting enough work to improve your body composition? I’m sure you can answer those questions yourself. No one wants to be stuck eating salad all of the time.

A combination of a small calorie deficit and cardio for fat loss will be enough if you get the balance right. Even if you do a 300 calorie workout and eat a 200 calorie deficit (cut out that chocolate bar!), then you should begin to meet your goals.

Chicken meal prep


Take Home Message

Cracking on with the cardio will benefit your body composition more than just altering your nutrition plan each week. So, you should use a combination of physical activity and nutrition modifying in order to reach your calorie deficit. Exercise more to allow yourself more food to eat and don’t use too high a deficit — this way, you won’t run out of calories to cut back on. Remember to take things at your own pace, charging in on a 500 calorie daily deficit will wear out your willpower — results take time, so be strict, but patient and it’ll pay off.



Enjoy this article on cardio for fat loss?


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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

Liam Agnew

Liam Agnew

Sport and Performance Nutritionist

Liam is a certified sport nutritionist with the International Society of Sport Nutrition and is enrolled on the British Dietetics Association’s Sport and Exercise Nutrition register. He has a Bachelor’s of Science in Sport and Exercise Science and is graduate of the ISSN Diploma in Applied Sport and Exercise Nutrition.

Liam is an experienced personal trainer, helping clients reach their health and fitness goals with practical, evidence informed exercise and nutrition advice. In his spare time Liam has competed in numerous powerlifting competitions and enjoys hill walking, football and expanding his recipe repertoire in the kitchen.

Find out more about Liam's experience here.

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