MUSCLES MATTER There is only one place in your body that you burn fat, and that’s in your muscles. That means exercising them really matters if you want to lose fat.

There are few subjects more misrepresented in the media than exercise. It’s hardly surprising that people get so confused: see how you do with these simple questions:

Aerobic exercise uses oxygen as well as fat and glucose

True / False

Fat can be burnt in any cell in your body

True / False

You carry on burning calories for hours after you have finished exercising

True / False

You can spot reduce “problem areas” by working specific muscles

True / False

A good nights sleep aids fat burning

True / False

The amount of fat you burn is dictated by blood sugar levels

True / False

Blood sugar levels determine how much fat you burn

True / False

You naturally lose muscle tissue with age which means your metabolic rate naturally decreases

True / False

You can restore lost muscle tissue with resistance exercise and increase your metabolic rate

True / False

Resistance exercise increases bone density as well as muscle mass

True / False

If you are so breathless you can barely speak you are working too hard and should slow down

True / False

When you are burning glucose alone (without fat) you can only sustain the activity for a few minutes

True / False

Exercise increases thyroid efficiency increasing your metabolic rate

True / False

Regular exercisers suffer less stress related illness

True / False

Exercise increases the beneficial HDL cholesterol ratio

True / False

Research shows that people who combine exercise with a healthy diet are more likely to lose weight and keep it off longer term

True / False

Let’s look at some key facts: men have approximately 10% more muscle than women, that’s why many men find it easier to lose weight than their female partners even if they are on the same “diet”, especially if they are exercising. But muscles don’t only burn fat when you exercise, they are metabolising fat on a very small scale all of the time. The more tone (or density) a muscle has the more fat it can burn.

Remember the story of the man who chose the penny over the million pounds because of the compound interest? Well the benefits of even the smallest movements add up over time. Minor movements like getting up and walking across the room all contribute to the overall amount of fat you burn; in fact repeated incidental movements such as this can make a very large contribution to your muscle tone and increase your ability to burn fat.

Muscle is an active tissue which is designed to support the skeleton and to enable us to move. All the time we are using our muscles we maintain the same lean body mass (LBM). However if we stop using them or use them less, they will literally start to waste away as individual muscle fibres become smaller and so require less fuel to function.

Putting The Fat Away Fat is essential.

We all need a certain amount of fat in order to protect our organs, and it also forms a vital part of many hormones, our brain and many other cells. We all have essential fat.

Can You Blame It On Your Genes When You Can’t Get In Your Jeans? What you eat and whether or not you exercise are not the only factors that determine how you look; genetics (other than if you are male or female) also plays a key role. It is generally accepted that we all lay down or fill our fat cells at three stages in our life. The first stage is in the womb, and obviously we have no control over that! The amount and where they are is dependent on the genetic make-up we have been given by our parents.

The second stage is during the first 12 months of life. Again, this outside our individual control and dependent on what we are fed. The third and final stage however, takes place during the ‘growth spurt’ years, usually our early teens. This we do have more control over – but how many of us really thought that far ahead when we were spending our dinner money on a bag of chips and a can of coke?

Research has also shown that obese patients can stimulate the fat cells to multiply further, meaning that your body will adapt so that you can constantly make more fat cells. If during all three stages we have laid down more fat cells than are necessary (remember some fat is essential), it doesn’t mean that they have to be filled with dietary fat. That’s still determined solely by what you eat. Think of your fat cells as tiny sacks (or empty balloons) which take up almost no room at all when they are empty but do take up lots of room when they are full. If you look at your mother and grandmothers shape and see that they have stored most of their fat on their thighs, then the chances are that you will too.

However, you don’t have to store as much. That will depend on what you eat and how much you exercise. Genetics will determine where your fat cells are laid down – but you determine what and how much fat you put in them. The reason women have an extra 10% fat is to give us fuel to feed a growing baby during pregnancy. Unfortunately Mother Nature was rather indiscriminate when dishing out these supplies, and didn’t account for the fact that not all women choose to have children, nor for the fact that after we’ve had our family, we don’t need these extra stores any more.

Many women struggle for years to get rid of a ‘bulge’ that is, in fact specifically designed to be there. They just don’t understand why they can’t get rid of it. The truth is, we can reduce these ‘bulges’ quite drastically by emptying the surplus fat, but if that’s where our fat cells are laid down, we can never eliminate them completely. The good news is that when they are empty they are not noticeable. Men, on the other hand, don’t need the same amount of fat storage as they

don’t have to nurture and feed a growing baby, so they are given more muscle instead. Maybe this is to give them the power they need to be hunter gatherers and go and catch the food to feed the mother. On average men store ten per cent less fat than women. It doesn’t seem fair does it! Well it’s not all bad news for women; in fact, men are the ones who get the worst deal when it comes to the really important issue of health.

Women typically store more fat on their thighs and less around the abdominal cavity, which is where men typically store most of their fat. Because this area is much closer to the heart and other vital organs, fatty deposits are more likely to interfere with circulation. This could explain the increased rate of heart attacks in men up to the age of 50, as compared to the statistics in women of the same age. Studies have shown that when you have a waist measurement larger than your hip measurement, your risk of heart disease is correspondingly increased. After menopause, however,

women’s fat deposit sites change as there is no longer a need for the extra storage on the thighs. Women then begin to store fat around the abdominal area, the same as men. (Think about how often you see old ladies with skinny legs and a really rounded tummy.) Along with this change comes the increased risk of heart disease, which is much more common in post-menopausal women. Oestrogen production is also reduced – which has a protective effect prior to menopause – so women become as ‘at risk’ as men. All this means muscles matter.

I am going to keep this part quite brief, as you are smart and you already know most of the key points I am going to teach you now; the foremost of this is: GET MOVING! There are essentially two types of exercise: Aerobic: this simply means “with oxygen” and always takes place inside muscle cells. This is the only system and the only place only our body that actually burns fat. You need three elements combined to produce energy “aerobically” and they are:

  • Fat
  • Oxygen
  • Glucose

Fat cannot be burnt on its own. It’s a shame really, otherwise you could just get up in the morning, go for a 10 hour brisk walk, and come home at the end of the day a stone lighter! Sadly we don’t work like that. If you were in an oxygen free environment (apart from not being able to breathe!) you would not be able to light a fire.

In the same way you simply cannot burn fat without oxygen; there are specialised structures within the muscle cells that work a bit like a furnace in an iron works, and it just cannot ignite the fat without oxygen and glucose. Because it needs oxygen your aerobic capacity is entirely dependent on the ability of your cardiovascular system to pump oxygen around the body (carried in red blood cells), if you have a weak heart and circulation system, your ability to exercise is restricted as you cannot get the oxygen you need delivered to your muscles to move them. As you know from the previous lessons and audios, glucose (from carbohydrate) is used by EVERY CELL all of the time. It is the primary source of energy for everyday function. Your brain in particular has a dominant need for glucose and if levels within your body drop too low, you have a special in built survival mechanism that literally breaks down your muscle tissue, converts it into glucose (producing ketones) to meet the brains need for fuel.

Many diets (high protein low carb based diets in particular) use this principle to achieve weight loss, and as another function of glucose is to enable us to store water, the combined fluid and muscle loss can be quite drastic on the scales; but in reality you end up with a higher percentage of body fat even though you weigh less. You are lighter, but flabbier because you have lost more muscle than fat. This means when you go back to “normal” eating, you cannot physically burn as many calories as you did before, as your LBM determines your metabolic rate; less LBM = lower metabolic rate, so you not only regain any weight lost (usually as more fat) but you gain extra fat as well. In this way it’s very easy to diet yourself fat over a number of years. Sound familiar? A diet too high in protein and too low in carbs can also disrupt the body’s natural balance, including Ph. levels which can lead to osteoporosis, kidney damage, heart disease and many other serious health consequences. Protein is vital, but in the right quantities.

All of this forms the basis for the colour coded system and you can be confident that all the calculations have been done for you. If you choose the right number of foods from the right colours you will be nourishing your body, helping to balance your hormones, and enhancing your fat burning capabilities. Every time you move your muscles you are burning some fat; you are also burning some fat at rest, even at night. When you sleep restfully the hormones that promote fat burning are stimulated so ironically peaceful rest is also essential for maximum fat burning. Every time you exercise the hormones and enzymes that release and burn fat become more efficient. The growth and repair of your muscle tissue that occurs overnight during restful sleep builds healthier stronger muscles increasing your lean body mass, that enables you to burn more fat every day, even when you are not exercising. All of these things combine together to make you efficient at burning fat. Once again the compound effect is working.

Anaerobic simply means without oxygen: The most important fact is that you can burn glucose on its own without fat or oxygen, but not the other way around. When you are resistance training you are working anaerobically, you are loading one specific muscle group for a very short period of time. Take for example a leg press exercise in the gym, the exercise set may be over in less than a minute, so your body doesn’t have time to send a message out to your fat cells, ask them to release the fat into your bloodstream, then direct it through the circulation system to your thigh muscles to mix with glucose and oxygen, by the time it gets there the exercise is finished! However if you were using your thigh muscles for power walking or cycling, then the workload is much lower and you are likely to keep it going for longer; now your body does have time to liberate fat from the cells, circulate it and get it to the working muscles on a constant basis. In reality, we are always using a combination of both energy systems; humans are aerobic creatures which means we cannot survive without oxygen, but we also need glucose and fat. The difference between the 2 systems is not a bit like comparing electricity with gas, if you walk into a cold room and you want instant energy but are only going to be in the room 5-10 minutes, you put on an electric fan heater;

if you want longer term heat then you put on the central heating, which although takes longer to work, is very efficient and can last for hours. Electricity is like using glucose alone – its immediately available; whereas central heating is like mixing glucose with oxygen and fat, it takes longer to get going as it relies on a circulation system to be delivered just like your radiators need hot water to be pumped from the boiler. An aerobic activity such as power walking, jogging, cycling etc. will become anaerobic as you get more tired and your heart has to work harder to supply the oxygen. At the beginning of a 30 minute workout, assuming you have warmed up correctly and raised your heart rate gradually, you will be working mainly aerobically; after about 15 minutes if you are beginning to feel a little more challenged the ratio will begin to change; you will be using less fat and oxygen as the circulation is struggling to keep up the demand and as a result is relying more on glucose which is already in the muscle. If by the end of 30 minutes you are totally breathless, you will be in your anaerobic zone, (relying almost totally on glucose), which you cannot sustain for more than a few minutes. This is when athletes hit the wall – in a super fit athlete this takes a marathon to achieve but in a very unfit individual it can be achieved after as little as a few minutes activity.

Factors Affecting Fat Burning

When you exercise you increase your metabolic rate i.e. you are burning more calories. What many people don’t realise is that your metabolic rate stays elevated for as much as 12-15 hours after you have finished your activity, so the benefits of exercise go way beyond the actual time you spend doing it. Even a 15 minute session can result in an increased metabolic rate of several hours, plus you will naturally be increasing muscle tone, so every little really does help. Yet another example of the compound effect.

For maximum fat burning your exercise regime must consist of 4 components: Anaerobic exercise in particular has been shown to be beneficial to boosting thyroid function, specifically when working at 70% or above of your maximum heart rate, so short bursts of intense activity such as running, cycling etc. (assuming you are fit enough) are beneficial as part of your overall exercise regime. This is something you can work up to gradually if your fitness levels are currently low. In any event a mixture of high and low intensity exercise on different days will yield best results Although HITS (High Intensity Training) is very in vogue, there are risk factors and HITS should not be undertaken without specialist advice.

Resistance training i.e. with weights will increase your metabolic rate so that you burn more calories even when you are not exercising. Resistance training increases your lean body mass (LBM) which is made up primarily of muscle. Always remember, the ONLY cells in your body that can burn fat are your muscle cells, so if you increase the strength and efficiency of your muscles (your LBM) your ability to burn fat increases, even when you are not exercising. This is so important its worth repeating. ONLY MUSCLES BURN FAT


  • Get up and move about at every opportunity, especially if you have a sedentary job.
  • Aim to move around for at least 15 minutes per day even if it’s just walking to work/school/shops etc.
  • Remember that even vacuuming and housework burns calories so even chores can be beneficial.


  • Walk faster instead of stroll when you are out and about to increase your heart rate.
  • Walking up hill builds more muscle tone than walking on a flat surface.
  • Never take short cuts – always go the longer way round.



The primary goal is to get fit and healthy so that your hormones can function properly to allow you to burn fat. Depending on your start point i.e. how out of balance your system is, it may take a few weeks for this to correct before you start to see significant weight loss, so be patient and focus on balancing your system first; when you do this the weight will come off naturally. One final point; for as many years as I can remember the question I am asked most about exercise is “which exercise is best for weight loss?”

and having given you the technical information above, you know that a combination of activities works best. In reality the best answer is “the exercise you most enjoy doing” as be honest, that’s the only one you are likely to stick too long term and make part of your lifestyle. Bear in mind when designing your activity or exercise regime, it has to be something you enjoy, try a game of badminton, a salsa or zumba class, a long walk every weekend, a bike ride, or in simple terms get into the habit of moving your body in a way you enjoy.