Fitness & Health, Sport & Exercise Science

How effective is after burn after exercise?

exercise bikeThere is a long-held belief that exercise can turn you into a fat-burning machine. The idea is based on the suggestion that fat burning occurs not just during exercise but also long after your workout is over. Post-exercise burn, so the theory goes, is instrumental in losing unwanted weight.

As it turns out, however, like so many headlines touting weight-loss miracles, this one is probably more myth than fact according to an article titled ‘Exercise improves fat metabolism in muscle but does not increase 24-hour fat oxidation’ that appeared recently in Exercise and Sport Sciences Review

Edward Melanson, an exercise physiologist from the University of Colorado and lead author of the article said “To our surprise, we have found that moderate duration exercise has little, if any, effect on 24-hour fat oxidation (burning).”

Melanson used an interesting design to challenge the long-held belief that exercise enhances fat burning. Sixty-five candidates of varying fitness level and girth (well trained and sedentary, lean and obese) all cycled at varied intensities until they burned 400 calories, after which they were monitored for 24 hours – a period that exceeds most other studies by several hours. All were monitored in closed quarters and were able to eat during the 24-hour period. None posted results that suggested enhanced fat burning during or after their workouts.

The study has caused quite a stir among fitness experts who now have to think twice before suggesting that exercise boosts metabolism in the short or long term.

Before people begin putting their feet up in protest, keep in mind that this study in no way diminishes the value of regular exercise. Working up a sweat is still one of the best things people can do for their health. Regardless of the amount of fat that may or may not be burned post-workout, there’s no denying that a moving body burns more calories per minute than a sedentary one.

The message about fat burning has always been confusing for the average exerciser wanting to get rid of a little extra baggage. The often-touted premise that certain forms of exercise or that working out at a certain intensity can selectively burn off unwanted fat stores is without scientific merit.

In fact, the fixation on fat burning is misguided. When it comes to achieving weight loss goals, any calorie burned is a good one – whether it be in the form of fat, carbohydrate or protein. As long as we burn more calories than we consume, the weight will come off.

According to Pascal Imbreault, associate professor at Ottawa University’s School of Human Kinetics, any exercise-related after-burn usually runs its course within 15 to 35 minutes of completing a workout. While the actual number of calories expended during this time varies according to exercise intensity, duration and the body weight of the exerciser, he describes the resulting calorie burn to be “very minimal.”

Imbreault suggests that exercise doesn’t do much to crank up metabolism over the long term either, despite what the headlines in fitness magazines claim. “Exercise is not that powerful,” he said.

By making healthy food choices and cutting portion size to reduce the number of calories consumed on more days than not, anyone can become a calorie-burning machine that slowly but steadily loses excess body weight.

Source: The Montreal Gazette

This entry was posted in: Fitness & Health, Sport & Exercise Science


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  1. christine Hughes says

    So nothing new there than. Many of us working in the day to day industry of fitness already know that CV training only burns calories during the exertion, whilst MSE training is effective for post exercise metabolism increases due to muscle repair taking place. Tell us something new for a change!

  2. David Evans says

    As a practicing fitness professional I find these articles rather irritating. One of the big problems in the fitness industry is that we are quick to draw conclusions from small research projects like this one and then relegate them to gospel. I recall in a recent BBC documentary the observation by one researcher that exercise did effect post exercise fat oxidation over a 24hr period and illustrated his point by putting the narrater through a practical test where the results seemed to verify his observations. What does a broad review of research in this area conclude?

  3. with a list of clients that ranges from complete beginners to elite Olympic athletes and several World Champions I can say that this is one of the most misunderstood areas of exercise knowledge. As a training provider it amazes and disgusts me how many people are taught and follow blindly ridiculous concepts such as 220-age etc

    and then we have comments like “When it comes to achieving weight loss goals, any calorie burned is a good one – whether it be in the form of fat, carbohydrate or protein” … PLEASE!!!! 99% of clients actually want FAT-LOSS … correct use of linguistics please trainers, educate your clients WHY utilising carbs and proteins as fuel substrates is detrimental in the long term!

    SPEAK and LISTEN to your clients needs, get educated about the true process of the energy systems (and associated intensities and fuels used) and then construct a programme accordingly including a suitable nutrition plan (a weak area for many and a LOT more complicated than “As long as we burn more calories than we consume”)!

  4. Trevor Dodd says

    Oh no not again!…. The great debate rages on. It must a positive mindfield of conflicting advice for the newly qualified Fitness Professional. Any trainer worth his salt will tell you traditional cardiovascular exercise is not an efficient Fat-Burning tool, wether the duration is increased or not.
    E.P.O.C. only comes into play when the body is forced to stress with intense resistance exercise with free weights,intense bodyweight exercise,medicine balls, kettlebell training. Any fitness professional who DOES NOT believe this, speak to Graig Ballantyne at turbulence and Mike Geary at and see the results these guys have acheived with their clients.


    Past & Present Clients/*Students of Cains(** denotes both) Include:
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    ** Julie Crane – G.B. & Wales (5 x Welsh champion) Int. High Jumper and Commonwealth Silver Medallist
    Joey Bull – 4 x Ms. Fitness Great Britain
    **Tim Rosiek – Junior Mr Universe Runner Up and Jnr Mr World Runner Up 2004
    Lohani Rochi – 3 x Ms. Physique G.B. & IFBB Professional Body Builder
    Mark Povey – West Mids. Bodybuilding Champion & Novice Mr. Britain
    Warren Dyson – Mr. U.K. Bodybuilding Champion 2000
    Mark Turvey – W.P.F. Senior European Body Building Champion
    Gary King – British, European & World Champion Powerlifter
    ** Tereska Browning – Overall British Female Body Building Champ 2002
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  6. I am sure it has already been suggested, but, continuous “aerobic” exercise typically has little EPOC at moderate levels. There needs to be some form of “supramaximal” resistance interval. Or, why not perform a bout of intense circuit training and compare the EPOC levels.

    It seems to me that even though a calorie burned is a calorie burned, we don’t always burn calories from fat. I don’t have the studies handy, but I do know there have been high intensity studies comparing results with cardiovascular training, as above, and found the high intensity group burned less calories overall but had greater reductions in body fat.

  7. I agree that we can’t entirely trust short term studies on things like this, but with such overwhelming responses and various studies that prove the same point, you have to lean that way also. Thank you for the work done here.

  8. Gary Echternacht says

    I always think it’s useful to look at extremes. When I take a 15 minute stroll, it seems clear to me that my EPOC is close to zero. Were I to measure the EPOC of Tour de France riders after a long hard stage, I’m sure it is probably quite high. That suggests to me that the question of after burn is more complicated than at first blush. A review of the research on factors affecting EPOC by Vella and Kravitz provides a good overview of the various factors affecting EPOC.

  9. So Dr Melanson says aerobic exercise is useless. Do we believe him? Well, we’ve all got to take all ‘science’ with a pinch of salt, and remember what works – then coonsider how little the average scientist knows about health/fitness/exercise physiology.

    I can’t say that aerobic exercise plays a major role in my clients’ programs, but the idea that exercise does not increase metabolic rate is a little shocking… see Bryner et al, 1999 – metabolic rate is still 5% higher than controls 16 hours after exercise.

    Nice work, Cain 🙂

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