Does counting calories work well for weight loss?

December 29, 2012

Q: I once heard that it takes one hour of cardio to burn off a small piece of candy because of the large amount of calories junk food contains. Is this true? I try to keep track of my calories on a daily basis but sometimes find it too difficult to watch what I eat all the time. Are there any better methods to stay in shape and stop weight gain?

A: The key to getting in shape lies in teaching your body how to burn fat more efficiently, not restricting calories. What most people don’t understand is there are no magic exercises, miracle foods or special supplements that will quickly whip your body into shape, but you can speed up your metabolism by following a combination of scientifically proven rules and guidelines that work together to keep you burning fat like a woodstove on a cold winter night. Here are a few of the most important techniques I use to accomplish this goal.

Eat several small meals a day

A long time ago, Japanese sumo wrestlers figured out how to gain extreme amounts of weight in short periods of time. All they had to do was eat two large meals a day to convince their bodies that food was in short supply, and their metabolism slowed to a snail’s pace, helping them pack on the pounds and earning them the infamous title of the fattest athletes in the world. To boost your metabolism, resist the urge to gorge yourself with infrequent large meals and eat five to six small meals a day, and you’ll get the opposite results. Your metabolism will increase, and your body will burn fat at a much faster rate.

Include weight training in your fitness program

It’s a scientific fact that weight training will raise your metabolism more than cardio. On average, weight lifters burn 30-50 more calories a day even on days they don’t go to the gym. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that weight training makes good sense if burning fat is your ultimate goal.

Drink plenty of water

Failure to drink enough water can cause a host of problems including low energy levels, decreased performance, injury and strength loss. Dehydration can also cause you to retain more fluid in order to compensate, causing you to look and feel bloated. More importantly, water is a key ingredient in fat loss, and without drinking enough, you’ll never reach your fat-burning potential.

Pick the most effective cardio

To get in shape, you will need to include some type of cardiovascular training, so why not chose the ones that burn the most calories? Any activity that forces your whole body to work at the same time is optimal, because it will obviously burn more calories. My favorites are the elliptical, arch trainer, treadmill, rowing machine, jump rope, sprinting or jogging outdoors.

Substitute bad carbs for good ones

All carbohydrates are not equal. In fact some promote weight gain by spiking insulin levels. Replace pasta, white rice, white bread and sugary drinks with skim milk, brown rice, 100 percent whole wheat bread and water, and you will instantly lose weight and feel much better.

Do cardio after weight training
Studies have proven that doing cardio directly after weight training burns fat much more efficiently than doing cardio before you weight train. So get off that treadmill, get out on the floor and lift some weight before doing anything else, and you will get a lot more bang for your buck.

In my opinion, the quickest way to sabotage your fitness plan is to become a dreaded calorie counter. Instead, learn to incorporate rules and guidelines that are scientifically proven to help you burn more fat, and your results will be much better.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out