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5 tips for burning fat and building muscle

by Alan E. Shugarman, M.S., R.D.


Burn more fat with morning exerciseI get asked all the time whether it is better to do cardio exercise in the morning or at night. My answer is that you burn the same amount of calories in the morning as the evening for the same amount of work. However, research indicates that the percentage of fat calories burned during morning exercise, on an empty stomach, is greater.

A study at Kansas State University looked at the kind of calories you burn while exercising in a fasted state as well as in a fed state. Eight physically fit individuals (aged 21-27 years) participated in the study. The results showed that you burn the same amount of calories in a fasted state as in a fed state. But those fasting prior to exercising burned a greater amount of fat than those who ate their last meal up to an hour and a half before exercising.

Other benefits to morning cardio include increased energy throughout the day and increased metabolism (calorie burning) during waking hours. In addition, research shows that people who train earlier in the day tend to stick with their exercise program. Those who work out later in the day can miss workouts due to daily distractions.

Exercise experts agree that getting exercise in general is far more important than the time of day you do it. While getting up early to do your cardio may help you burn more fat calories, evening cardio is also beneficial and should not be discounted. When you exercise in the evening, your metabolism still gets elevated, you burn fat, and your heart benefits too.


Time your meals to burn more fatMeal composition and timing can play a big role in your ability to burn body fat. Getting lean in a hurry is not only based on what you eat, but also depends on when you eat it. If you do your cardio in the morning, do it immediately upon waking, without eating. Take a diet/energy formula with caffeine before your cardio to help mobilize fat for energy. Research shows that caffeine can help you burn more body fat during exercise than without it by mobilizing fat for energy.

To maximize the benefits of cardio later in the day, you should time your meals and minimize simple carbohydrate consumption. Do your cardio 2-3 hours after your pre-workout meal. Make your pre-workout meal low in high glycemic carbs to minimize insulin spikes and to maximize fat burning. After your workout, try sticking to a relatively low glycemic meal. This will help keep the fat-burning hormones, like glucagon, elevated and fat-promoting hormones, like insulin, in check. Eating your last meal at least two hours before your cardio session and making sure that your pre- and post-workout meals are low glycemic will help you burn more calories from fat and keep your energy level from crashing.


Minimize cardio to buildLow to moderate intensity cardio is best to build muscle while still promoting a healthy heart. Although cardio exercise is definitely beneficial for overall health, doing high intensity cardio 4-6 times per week is counter-productive to increasing muscle mass. If you do cardio while trying to build muscle, it should be done at a low intensity. Low intensity means walking, not running, keeping your heart rate around 60% of maximum range not 70 or 80%. Cardio burns excess calories, and if you’re not careful, you will burn some muscle too.


Meal timing to build muscleBuilding muscle means eating high quality calories in order to increase muscle mass. Eat plenty of high quality protein throughout the day as well as before and after your workouts.

Start your morning with a high protein meal supplement shake. It’s important to get high quality protein and some carbohydrates into your body immediately upon waking. Then begin your morning workout. If you work out in the evening, eat quality calories including protein, complex carbs, and essential fats before you start. This is completely different than trying to burn fat where you would avoid eating before cardio.

Recent research by Tipton shows that getting 30 grams of whey protein (containing 15 grams of essential amino acids) before and after your workout can increase protein synthesis by 400%! Additional research shows that consuming a protein/carbohydrate beverage, like a meal supplement powder drink, immediately after exercise can increase muscle protein synthesis greater than one consumed several hours later. Subsequent post workout meals should contain a combination of high quality protein and complex carbohydrates like vegetables, yams, etc.

Building muscle is a combination of proper training, high quality, well thought-out nutrition plans, and adequate rest and recovery time. Failing to work on all of these areas can keep you from gaining the muscle you desire.


My favorite diet and muscle-building supplements
I have created a short list of products that should help you along your way to a better body.


Use high quality protein powders and meal supplement formulas for a good, low fat source of nutrition.

Use a multi-vitamin and mineral formula every day. The more pills per day, the better. While under calorie restriction and the stress of dieting, you don’t get all the vitamins and minerals you need from food alone.

Take at least 2 tablespoons of flaxseed oil and/or take fish oil capsules every day to provide your body with the good omega-3 fats it needs.

1. Use a fat burner that contains citrus aurantium (bitter orange), caffeinegreen tea (standardized for at least 270 mg of EGCG per day), and/or yerba mate, to help increase your metabolism, mobilize body fat, and increase your energy levels.

2. Practice insulin control in your diet. Choose low glycemic foods. If dieting, follow a low carb eating program. When you splurge, use a fat binder and starch blocker to help minimize the effects of a carb- or fat-laden meal.

3. For optimal muscle gains, take creatine or a creatine/carb/protein mix before and after your workouts.

4. If you are in a muscle-building phase, use a high calorie, weight-gain powder drink mix to get the calories you need.


5. And finally, be consistent in your diet and workout routine. Do your cardio regularly when trying to lose weight and practice proper meal composition and timing. Use supplements to support your fat loss or muscle building efforts and to provide you with an easy way to get high-quality, convenient nutrition. Before you know it, you’ll see that your efforts are paying off, every time you look in the mirror.

1. Willcutts KF, Wilcox AR, Grunewald KK. Energy metabolism during exercise at different time intervals following a meal. Int J Sports Med. 1988 Jun;9(3):240-3.
2. Thompson DL, Townsend KM, Boughey R, Patterson K, Bassett DR Jr. Substrate use during and following moderate- and low-intensity exercise: implications for weight control. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1998 Jun;78(1):43-9.
3. Melby CL, Osterberg KL, Resch A, Davy B, Johnson S, Davy K. Effect of carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on post-exercise substrate oxidation and energy intake. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002 Sep;12(3):294-309.
4. Broeder CE, Brenner M, Hofman Z, Paijmans IJ, Thomas EL, Wilmore JH. The metabolic consequences of low and moderate intensity exercise with or without feeding in lean and borderline obese males. Int J Obes. 1991 Feb;15(2):95-104.
5. Mougios V, Ring S, Petridou A, Nikolaidis MG. Duration of coffee- and exercise-induced changes in the fatty acid profile of human serum. J Appl Physiol. 2003 Feb;94(2):476-84. Epub 2002 Sep 20.
6. McCarty MF. Modulation of adipocyte lipoprotein lipase expression as a strategy for preventing or treating visceral obesity. Med Hypotheses. 2001 Aug;57(2):192-200.
7. Van Soeren MH, Graham TE. Effect of caffeine on metabolism, exercise endurance, and catecholamine responses after withdrawal. J Appl Physiol. 1998 Oct;85(4):1493-501.
8. Rasmussen, B.B., K.D. Tipton, S.L. Miller, S.E. Wolf, and R.R. Wolfe. An oral amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 88:386-392, 2000.
9. Tipton, K.D., B.B Rasmussen, S.L. Miller, S.E. Wolf, S.K. Owens-Stovall, B.E. Petrini, and R.R. Wolfe. Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. Am. J. Physiol. 281:E197-E206, 2001.
10. Tipton, K.D., E. Borsheim, S.E. Wolf, A.P. Sanford, and R.R. Wolfe. Acute response of net muscle protein balance reflects 24-h balance after exercise and amino acid ingestion. Am. J. Physiol. Endocrinol. Metab. 284:E76-E80, 2003.
11. Esmarck, B., J. L. Anderson, S. Olsen, E. A. Richter, M. Mizuno, and M. Kjaer. Timing of post-exercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. J. Physiol. 535:301-311, 2001.

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