You already know that when you exercise, your metabolism gets boosted, leading you to burn calories and eat up your fat stores. What you may not know is after you finish your workout, your body is working to recover itself, which is when the afterburn effect takes place. This calorie and fat-eating phenomenon is more officially called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” or EPOC.
This term refers to the amount of oxygen needed to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function. Your body is using more calories as it works to return to its normal state. In one study, subjects who cycled 45 minutes burned an average of 190 more calories in the hours after exercise than on days when they didn’t work out at all.
If you’re looking to get rid of your beer belly or those embarrassing love handles, these tips and tricks will increase your EPOC levels to burn more calories post-exercise. Read, practice, and enjoy the results.
1. Warm up
Your metabolism is what works to convert the nutrients you’ve consumed to adenosine triphosphate, also called ATP, which is the fuel your body needs for muscular activity. It’s produced with oxygen using the aerobic pathways or without oxygen using the anaerobic pathways. When you first step on that treadmill or do the first set of bicep curls, your body uses stored ATP in the anaerobic pathways, which doesn’t require steady levels of oxygen. It takes five to eight minutes before you can efficiently use the aerobic pathways, which require a steady state of oxygen and provide your body with ATP. Use these five to eight minutes to warm up so you can maximize your oxygen and energy use. Exercise that places a greater demand on the anaerobic energy pathways increases the need for oxygen, thereby enhancing the EPOC effect.
2. Up the intensity
Rather than worrying about the length of time you worked out, focus on the intensity. High-intensity workouts like Tabata or a HIIT routine (high-intensity interval training) get your heart rate pumping quickly and efficiently. Alternatively, circuit training can provide a similar effect. Vigorous exercise puts more strain on the body, keeping the body burning calories for hours after the workout is over. Not only will you enjoy an increased EPOC level, but you may also lose weight faster, build muscle quicker, and increase your aerobic capacity.
3. Eat several small meals daily
Like most people, you may be conditioned to eat three large meals a day. If you want to rev up your metabolism and burn fat, this is one habit you’ll want to rethink. Every time you eat, your body’s metabolism increases slightly, so the more often you eat, the higher number of times your metabolism jumps up. This doesn’t mean you should eat three full meals plus three daily snacks. You should focus on spreading out the three meals you normally consume into six to eight smaller meals. Eating multiple small meals a day will surge your metabolism, leading to a higher calorie burn. Muscle & Fitness recommends eating each mini meal every two to three hours, ensuring you never go longer than three hours without eating.
4. Pump some serious iron
We already talked about how intense cardio sessions can spur EPOC, so now let’s look at what strength training can do. According to Greatist, lifting heavy weights with relativity short recovery periods between increases demand on your body in a similar way. And the best way to achieve this effect is through compound moves, which challenge multiple muscle groups at the same time.
You really do want to aim for short rest periods to reap the greatest rewards, though, so you’ll do best if you force yourself to be honest by using a stopwatch. Otherwise, you can easily find yourself wasting time between sets.
5. Opt for protein after a workout
After you’ve completed your exercise for the day, eat a protein-filled snack. Protein, particularly whey protein, ensures your metabolism levels remain high after your workout. Protein takes more energy for your body to digest and absorb than sugars and carbohydrates, leaving your body in overdrive as it works to break down the food. This ramped up process leads to a higher calorie and fat burn in the hours ahead. Plus, if you’re looking to replace fat with lean muscle, protein helps your body get there.