Is the Afterburn Effect Real?

Dynamic Graphic of Man Running

Afterburn sounds like something that applies to a jet engine, but it's actually a term fitness trainers and exercise physiologists use to describe the effect of increased metabolism for a period following intense exercise. Think of afterburn (yes, it's real) as away to burn more calories without increasing your exercise time.

Energy expenditure is the term for the total number of calories you burn. It's not just what happens during exercise itself, but also the remaining calories you burn throughout the day and even when asleep. Your basal metabolism is the calories required for the basics of life - like eating, breathing and digestion. Regular exercise revs up your basal metabolism and builds muscle. Intense exercise adds another layer of calorie expenditure for hours afterward.


Fat Burning and the Oxygen Debt

The reason you have afterburn with aerobic exercise (like running, swimming or cycling) is because you build up an oxygen debt. After the exercise session finishes, your body still needs additional oxygen to correct the oxygen debt; this is a major source of the afterburn effect. However, anerobic exercise like weight lifting and strength training adds to the afterburn effect because you build up lactic acid that must be dissipated (and which requires more energy). The recovery period after exercise is when you actually start to burn fat, which helps promote weight loss.

The way you get to afterburn is to complete an intense workout. It also helps to break your workout into shorter but more intense rounds. Instead of jogging for 30 minutes, jog for five minutes, sprint hard and fast for five, then jog for five. Repeat this cycle for the full 30 or 35 minutes of exercise. For anerobic exercise, you increase the number of reps or amount of weight, take a rest and then increase again. Anerobic exercise also builds muscle, which weighs more than fat, but takes up less space and uses more calories.


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