Featured in the Telegraph – “Are you running yourself fat”?

The issue of cardio has become a hotly debated area in recent times.  It’s becoming increasingly confusing.  Should we, shouldn’t we, how much should or shouldn’t we?  Traditional steady state cardio has had some bad press in recent times with everyone turning to interval training, but is this an entirely warranted shift?

People generally do traditional steady state cardio either to enhance performance, for fat loss or for general health.  If you’re an endurance athlete then you need to do your steady state cardio, it’s your sport.  But if your goals are general fitness, health and simply shifting a few pounds, what’s the best form of cardio and can we do too much?

Cardio confusion

There are those who will insist that cardio is good for you and it’s the best way to burn calories and keep your heart healthy.  Then there are those who tell you that too much cardio is bad for you because it eats up muscle tissue, you adapt to it quickly and the stress hormones produced make you fat.

So who’s right?  Well, whilst both arguments have foundation, neither is correct.

The truth is that too much of anything is bad for you, everything is dose dependent, and I certainly would hold traditional steady state cardio up as the most efficient way to get into shape.  It’s time consuming, it’s less efficient than interval training and it’s tough on the joints, but arguments against it aren’t quite as simple as some would have us believe either.

The stress factor

Whist it is true that cardio increases cortisol and long-term elevated cortisol has the potential to make us fat for example, acute cortisol is beneficial and will actually help mobilise fat.  Stress isn’t necessarily bad, its chronic stress that is the problem.  And exercise isn’t the biggest player here, overall lifestyle and emotional state are.   It’s not the cardio it’s a combination of factors.

People will also assert that traditional steady state cardio is not efficient for fat loss, because your body will adapt, you become efficient and you burn less calories doing the same thing.  In other words, you’ll get fitter.  All true to a degree, except we’re forgetting that now that you’re fitter, you now have the potential to work harder and this burn more calories.

The key now, like with any other form of training, is to actually leverage this increased fitness and make it more challenging, you need to push yourself.  This is where a lot of people get it wrong.  You can’t just do the same thing and expect to see different results.  Sure, it’s more enjoyable because you’re better at it, but that won’t help you improve.  You haven’t adapted to running for example, you just didn’t make it more challenging.

Keeping it lean

As for the muscle tissue breakdown, that’s a calorie issue.  Many people take up running and cut calories at the same time, thus creating significant calorie deficit, which leads to weight loss.  Good news I hear you say.  Potentially…

Except that when you over-exercise and under-eat, your body will make life easier for itself by breaking down muscle for fuel, which we want to avoid.    Not good, although this is easily avoided with a little dietary diligence.  And I don’t mean those excessive carbohydrates before, during and after your run.  You probably don’t need those.

It’ not the cardio that made you fat, it’s the way you used it.

Click on the link below to read JC’s full article in the Telegraph online.

Telegraph Article