We Asked an Expert If Building Muscle Burns Belly Fat — Here's What He Said
There's no one perfect way to lose belly fat or body fat in general, but making nutritional changes and building muscle can help tremendously. If you're already thinking about what ab workouts you should be doing to build muscle in your core — since that's where belly fat is — you may want to reconsider.
Doing all your favorite ab exercises every day will more than likely strengthen your core muscles, but they won't burn belly fat because spot reduction (targeting one specific area of fat on your body) doesn't work. Instead, you should focus on strength training (and do some cardio) in order to get rid of belly fat.
Does Weightlifting and Building Muscle Burn Belly Fat?
Building muscle can help you burn fat, but can it burn belly fat specifically? "Not directly. Lifting weights will help you develop muscle," Rondel King, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at NYU Langone's Sports Performance Center, told POPSUGAR.
"As a result, your resting metabolic rate (how much energy/calories your body burns at rest) will get higher. You'll essentially be burning more calories, and that can potentially lead to overall weight loss, which includes fat as well," he explained.
How Often You Should Strength Train to Lose Belly Fat
If you're trying to lose body fat (yes, belly fat too) and build muscle, Rondel recommends strength training two to three days a week. On strength days, you should focus on full-body workouts that incorporate compound exercises like pull-ups, squats, and deadlifts. These are multijoint movements that work multiple groups of large muscles at once. Because you're using more muscle, your body has to expend more energy to perform these exercises, as opposed to an isolated movement like the bicep curl. As a result, you'll burn more calories and fat.
"You definitely want to target the large muscle groups because you'll develop bigger muscles," Rondel said. You should also adequately stress your muscles (aka lift heavy) "so you can elicit an adaption, which is developing more muscle fibers and increasing your overall resting metabolic rate," Rondel said. If you aren't sure how heavy you should be lifting in order to stress your muscles, use this guide to help you choose the right weight.
How Often You Should Do Cardio to Lose Belly Fat
Strength training can help you lose belly fat, but it isn't the only form of exercise you should do. Cardio can help you lose fat, but according to Rondel, you've got to choose the right cardio. Doing long, drawn-out cardio is OK, but it can potentially become catabolic and break down your muscle tissue. To circumvent this, Rondel recommends doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) like cardio. "It gives you a hormonal response that's conducive to muscle growth, and it's more anabolic — where you're developing tissue, muscles, collagen, cartilage, things of that nature," he said in a previous interview.
If you like doing steady-state cardio, you don't have to give it up. In fact, you can do cardio every day. Rondel recommends doing HIIT (this is one of our favorite HIIT workouts) two to three days a week and steady-state cardio three to four days a week as long as each session isn't longer than 30-minutes. If you want, you can do cardio and strength on the same days. In this case, Rondel said to do 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of strength.
You can burn fat and build muscle with exercise, but you've also got to make nutritional changes. To lose fat, 50 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from carbs, 25 percent should come from fats, and the final 25 percent should come for protein, Nikki Jupe, MS, RD, LD, CSSD, senior sports dietitian at the University of Oregon told POPSUGAR in a previous interview. This is a general estimate and we recommend speaking with a registered dietitian to find what works best for you and your goals.