The Afterburn Effect: Burn More Calories While Resting
Andreea Macoveiciuc | On 03, Dec 2013
I was having this conversation with one of my friends, on our way back home from the gym, and she was telling me how she wished for the calories to burn by themselves, with no effort involved. “Well aren’t they already doing it?”, I replied, then she said “Yes, I know, but wouldn’t it be great if these fats would just melt away while lying on the couch with a tall glass of piña colada next to you and no exercise mat or ankle weights around?”.
It may sound too good to be true, but you can actually make that happen if you learn how to maximize the amount of calories that your body burns not only during the workout, but after your training session as well. And I’m not talking about adding fat-burners or other supplements to your daily menu: you can boost your metabolic rate and force your body to use more of the stored fats in a very natural way, by simply taking advantage of the afterburn effect.
What is the afterburn effect and how does it work?
In simple words, the afterburn effect describes what happens inside your body after an intense workout. The effect is also referred to as EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, and it’s easier to understand what the afterburn is actually about if you think of this acronym.
Your body uses different sources of energy for its daily needs:
- the glycogen stored in muscles,
- the blood glucose or
- the fats in the adipose layers
The metabolism is responsible for turning these fuels into usable energy, and as you probably know, there are two types of metabolic activities: aerobic and anaerobic processes.
When you practice regular cardio exercises that allow you to breathe normally and only take your heart rate to 65-80% of its maximum, all the calories are burned through the aerobic metabolism. This takes place inside the mitochondria, in the presence of oxygen, and uses the glycogen in muscles or the blood glucose as main fuel.
On the other hand, when you do high intensity exercises that take your heart rate to 80-90% of its maximum, your blood is pumped faster than normal and your body needs to receive more energy that it can produce by burning the glucose or glycogen. This extra energy can be obtained by activating the anaerobic metabolism, which uses different pathways and produces usable energy by destroying the fats stored in the adipose tissues. As calories continue to be burned in the absence of oxygen, the so-called “oxygen deficit” appears, and this is what actually triggers the afterbun effect.
EPOC measures the energy expenditure during the workout session as well as during the recovery period. If you practiced regular cardio and your body received all the needed oxygen during the workout, it will require lower amounts of extra oxygen after the training session, for recovering and restoring its depleted reservoirs. But if you performed high intensity exercises that created an important oxygen deficit, your body will need to work harder for restoring the depleted reservoirs after the workout.
In order to do so and for recovering properly, it will burn more calories, which means that your metabolic rate will remain elevated for longer. And if you think for a second, it’s perfectly logical for your body to recover faster after steady paced cardio than after a HIIT workout for example.
With high intensity trainings, your body continues to burn calories, both from glycogen and fats, for hours afterwards, and this is what makes the afterburn effect so valuable in the long run. If you burn 300 calories during a 20-minute HIIT session, your body can burn another 300 calories while recovering after the workout.
The more intense your training session is, the more calories will be destroyed during the recovering period. Therefore, you can actually get slimmer while resting or sleeping, by simply maximizing the EPOC and taking advantage of the afterburn effect.
Exercises that boost the EPOC rate
The most effective workouts for supercharging your metabolism into overdrive and causing it to burn off more calories over a longer period of time are HIIT (high intensity intervals). These intervals trigger the afterburn effect by pushing your body to its absolute limit and forcing it to burn more calories not just for performing the exercises correctly, but also for adapting to the type of effort and energy requirements.
And speaking of exercises, the best ones for maximum EPOC are compound movements, as well as sprints or other cardio exercises that raise your heart rate to at least 80% of its maximum capacity. Bench presses, moving push-ups, weighted squats, one-legged triceps extensions, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, dead lifts with bicep curls and all your favorite weight lifting exercises can be incorporated in a HIIT workout for maximum calorie consumption during and after the training session.
Still, if you’re not into strength workouts, you can simply alternate sprinting with jogging intervals or rope skipping, for 10-20 minutes, as this also works as a HIIT session. Sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for 20 seconds, sprint again for 1 minute and rest for 15 seconds, sprint for 1 minute and rest for 10 second, then repeat it from the top. Adjust the sprinting intervals if you want, but make sure the jog recovery doesn’t last for more than 30 seconds, as the purpose of HIIT workouts is to keep your heart rate elevated.
According to studies, the afterburn effect after a HIIT session can last for up to 38 hours, which is quite impressive if you understand what this actually means: your body continues to burn calories at a higher than normal rate for up to 38 hours after a workout. And this happens even if you choose to spend these hours lying on the couch, with a glass of piña colada next to you, while enjoying your favorite show!
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