Our bodies are constantly burning calories. Even when resting, your metabolism is working to keep your body functioning. With the help of physical activity, you can increase the number of calories you burn, even after your workout is complete. This is known as the afterburn effect.
The afterburn effect’s more scientific name is post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC describes the amount of oxygen required to get your body back to its resting level of metabolic function. Essentially, this term refers to the fact that your body has a period of time in between intense exercise and returning to its normal state where it is still burning more calories than normal. Your body’s metabolism is still cooling down and the rate at which it is burning calories is still heightened.
Sounds awesome, right? So how do you initiate this coveted afterburn effect? High-Intensity aerobic exercise has been shown to induce higher EPOC. Working at 70-85% of an individual’s max heart rate has been shown to be the most effective in achieving the afterburn effect. This could include traditional steady-state but also high-intensity interval workouts (HIIT). With these workouts, you are achieving that cardio training while also building muscle simultaneously. According to ACE, High-Intensity Interval Training is the most effective way to stimulate the EPOC effect.
Traditional cardio methods, however, aren’t necessarily the only way to achieve this, or the most effective. Studies have shown that weight training can also trigger the afterburn effect, and more effectively than running at a steady speed. Heavy resistance exercise produced the biggest EPOC in comparison with aerobic cycling and circuit weight training. They also mention that EPOC is influenced by intensity rather than the duration of an exercise. One study found that 45 minutes of vigorous exercise increases the metabolic rate for 14 hours- wow.
Seasoned athletes may have a harder time getting the benefits of the afterburn effect as they have an increased fitness level. With that, the body becomes more efficient at returning to resting metabolic levels and as a result, the body gets less of the EPOC effects.
Another interesting point: many people prefer to indulge in their “cheat meal” right after an intense workout. This is because directly following intense exercise, your body is still burning calories at a faster rate than eating a meal in a sedentary state. When your metabolic level returns to resting, the EPOC returns to normal; the afterburn effect stops. So sneaking in that cheat directly after a workout may help make less of a negative impact.
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