One of the main differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise is the intensity level. Aerobic exercise is also commonly referred to as moderate intensity, while anaerobic exercise is more vigorous and can’t be sustained for long periods of time. Anaerobic exercise is usually done in intervals with rest periods in between.
Any exercise has many health benefits including helping with fat loss. A common question is which type of exercise is best for burning fat, anaerobic or aerobic? While there are differences between the two, both types of exercises can be beneficial for fat loss. Here is a closer look at the differences and commonalities between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week. An easy way to meet this is to exercise about 30 minutes 5 days a week. Moderate exercise means you are working hard, but you definitely could go faster if you needed to.
You could stay at that intensity for a while, and you could carry on a conversation with someone next to you while exercising. Examples of aerobic exercise include swimming, walking, running, biking, dancing, gardening etc.
Benefits of moderate intensity exercise include: making your heart muscles stronger, increasing mitochondria in your muscles (used for breaking down fat as a fuel) and increasing body fat oxidation.
When someone first starts exercising, the body is not very efficient at using fat as a fuel. As exercise continues, the body becomes more efficient at using fat as a fuel.
Aerobic exercise is beneficial for overall health, but it can also have benefit for getting rid of fat because fat is a primary fuel source when you are exercising at a lower intensity.
With anaerobic exercise, your intensity is increased and you can’t talk with someone next to you while exercising; you could only say a few words. The duration will be shorter than moderate exercise because you are working harder.
Fuel usage for anaerobic exercise is different than aerobic. Aerobic exercise uses carbohydrates (stored as glycogen in the muscle and liver) and fat.
Anaerobic exercise uses primarily carbohydrate and produces lactic acid as a by-product. Lactic acid can be recycled for fuel in the muscle, but too much can inhibit exercise performance.
Since anaerobic exercise uses primarily carbohydrates for fuel, some researchers have suggested it is not as beneficial for fat loss. However, interval training, or known as high intensity interval training (HIIT) is becoming popular for weight loss.
Many recent research studies have shown that interval training can also increase fat oxidation and can increase metabolic rate hours after exercise. HIIT can also be done in a shorter time period than exercising at moderate intensity, which is appealing to many.
Interval training, which is anaerobic, can be beneficial for fat loss just like aerobic even though the mechanism is slightly different.
Which is better, Aerobic or Anaerobic Exercise?
You can argue a case for both aerobic and anaerobic exercise assisting with fat loss. Both types of exercise have scientific studies showing the benefits of increasing fat oxidation. For example, a 2008 study found an increase in fat oxidation in research subjects after 6 weeks of HIIT training 3 days a week. A 2007 study found similar results in research subjects after just 2 weeks of HIIT exercise.
Multiple studies have also shown the benefit of increased fat oxidation and an increase of muscle mitochondria from aerobic exercise. Since both types of exercise can increase fat loss, but they do it different ways, both types of exercise can be beneficial for fat loss.
This will also promote the greatest gains in muscle growth, strength and endurance by doing aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
Variety is key
An important component with exercise is it should be something you enjoy doing. If you do the same thing over and over, you can grow mentally bored with it and you limit your variety of muscle training. Doing a variety of exercises and in different ways can lower risk for injury too.
If you have an injury, recovering from an injury, are on medication or have a history of heart disease, speak with a physician before exercising to determine what exercise plan would be best for you.
Anaerobic exercise is higher in intensity and is shorter in duration. Aerobic exercise is at a moderate intensity and can be done for a longer duration. Both types of exercise can be beneficial for fat loss. Aerobic exercise increases muscle mitochondria and uses fat as a primary fuel source along with carbohydrates.
Anaerobic exercise uses primarily carbohydrates, but it can increase metabolic rate hours after exercise. Also, during the rest periods of intervals you are shifting into using fat as a primary fuel source in interval training. The overall calorie output can also be higher compared to moderate aerobic exercise.
To get the best benefit for fat loss, do both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. This can lower risk of injury and you can benefit from both types of exercise for fat loss.
References used in this article