Burning Fat As Fuel
Heart rate zones are going to differ for each athlete depending on training, age and genetics. The goal of heart-rate training is to improve your body’s ability to burn fat as fuel, sparing carbohydrates for when you really need them, such as later in a long race.
According to Steinle, most athletes are doing far too much work at the high end of the spectrum. This not only affects your performance, but also your cravings and nutrition. If you’re utilizing a lot of carbohydrates during exercise, you’re likely going to crave more sugars throughout the day. To satisfy those cravings, endurance athletes typically chow down on pasta, rice, and other dense carbohydrates. Steinle indicates this might not be the best way to go.
“Your metabolism is influenced by more than just your training,” he says. “Nutrition plays the biggest role. If you’re eating a lot of breads, sugars, and refined carbohydrates, that’s what your body will burn.” In addition to proper training, feeding your body with lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains, you can teach your body to burn fat at a greater rate and preserve carbohydrates.
To maximize your metabolism, Steinle says to focus your training on three main types of workouts.
Base Building Runs: To increase your fat metabolism and spare carbohydrate usage, incorporate base-building runs into your training schedule. For this type of training, stick mainly in Zones 1, 2, and the bottom of 3 with easy runs and comfortable long runs to help build up your aerobic base and tap into your fat metabolism.
Threshold Workouts: These workouts are at the top of Zone 3 and are designed to increase your anaerobic threshold. This fairly intense pace should be one you can hold for 30 to 40 minutes, such as a tempo run. Breathing should be audible and it should be difficult to have a conversation. By getting comfortable at this pace, you’ll push your anaerobic threshold higher and improve your ability to burn fat at a higher heart rate.
Interval Workouts: Interval workouts will improve your anaerobic threshold as well as your heart rate recovery. These workouts, which consist of brief periods of intense running followed by a recovery interval should oscillate between Zones 4 and 2. By pushing yourself past your anaerobic threshold, your body will adapt to harder efforts while also improving your ability to recover back down to Zone 2.