Feel the After Burn

feel-the-after-burnYou may have heard the term ‘Afterburn Effect,’ especially if you frequent the gym, but what exactly does it mean? In the scientific community, it is known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC. Essentially, it is the oxygen debt built up during a burst of anaerobic exercise, which turns your body into a calorie burning machine once you stop to catch your breath. The bigger the oxygen debt build up, the bigger the Afterburn Effect. While it is not a new concept, more and more studies are showing that a correlation between calories burned post workout and the workout’s intensity does indeed exist. Understanding this is critical to the average man or woman learning how to optimize each workout, burning the most calories while at the gym and, most importantly, after.

Everyone is built differently, individual in genetic makeup, but there are two basic variables that determine how many calories your body will burn during a given workout: how long the workout lasts and how intense it is. This is where oxygen debt comes in. The longer the workout, the more oxygen your body needs to take in to keep you upright, and likewise for how hard you push yourself. This constant intake and outtake of air is your body working, and when your body works, calories are burned. This leads to a higher metabolic rate, something to focus on especially when looking to trim down.

You may be wondering how hard and for how long you need to train in order to keep your metabolic rate spiked for hours post workout. Again, the exact threshold is different for everyone, but in general, reaching a consistent heart rate somewhere between 70 and 85 percent of maximum anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes will keep your body simmering long after you’ve downed your protein shake. Studies have shown that exercises pushing your heart rate into this level force far more free fatty acids to break down from fat stores within the muscle post workout than with those that do not. Simply put, your body is forced to burn fat.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the most effective ways to get your heart rate into that fat burning zone, and group based programs incorporating HIIT like CrossFit and Orange Theory have recently skyrocketed in popularity. Both offer similar curriculums, Orange Theory taking a more technological approach. Each participant is equipped with a heart rate monitor connected to a computer, allowing them to know exactly when they have reached the ‘Orange Zone,’ which is 84 percent or higher of the maximum heart rate.

Mark Flannagan, owner of OrangeTheory in South Sarasota, located on 6509 S. Tamiami Trail, believes this is what makes his workouts so effective. “It’s the only place anywhere you can go and workout and your heart is being monitored the whole 60 minutes and you know exactly where you’re at every moment for the whole workout,” he says. All Orange Theory workouts are specifically designed to get the heart rate to that 84 percent of maximum and keep it there for 12-20 minutes. Without being aware of your heart rate, you can’t be sure you’ve reached the level that will provide the most Afterburn. “I call this my hamburger,” Mark says with a laugh, referring to the extra 400- 500 calories his body will burn post workout. Besides the added hamburger allowance, what MarkMark loves most about Orange Theory is how effective and safe it is. He has seen people trying to lose 150 lbs work out at his facility side by side with finely tuned athletes, but his theory applies perfectly to both, as the important factor is heart rate, the monitor signaling when to push harder and when to take it down a notch.

No matter how grueling the workout, however, nutrition ultimately has the final say on how much Afterburn you can achieve. Because intensity is the key to maximizing Afterburn Effect, eating in preparation for these workouts is critical. Eating a carbohydrate heavy meal (think vegetables and starches like sweet potatoes, NOT junk food) roughly two hours before intense exercise will provide the energy needed to push into the ‘Orange Zone,’ and build up the oxygen debt that will pay big dividends for up to 48 hours post workout. Protein is needed to help the muscles repair themselves, and eating foods rich in fatty acids can actually help the body clear lactic acid faster and get you ready for your next hard workout. These fatty acids have also been shown to reduce the amount of lactic acid produced by your body in the first place, allowing for even more intense workouts as the body replenishes its oxygen debt that much quicker.