Adjusting Cardio Intensity to Match Your Diet

April 6, 2009

It is almost impossible for me to recommend an exact cardio routine unless I know the diet someone is following. If someone is dieting hard and is already “carb depleted”, I am going to recommend a different cardio routine than someone who spent their past 4 days eating pizza and pasta. This is one of those cases, where a one-size-fits-all approach does not work.
man and woman doing interval training
[A picture of a man and woman doing intervals outdoors. This type of brief workout is perfect for someone who is following a clean low calorie diet.]

What is The Perfect Condition for the Body to Drop Body Fat?

There is a certain state that lends itself well to dropping body fat. That state is slightly “carb depleted”. When the body is storing a limited amount of carbs in the muscles, it tends to access stored body fat for energy. If someone is “carbed up” all the time, they are very unlikely to get lean.

Some Common Indicators That The Body Is “Carbed Up”

If you experience a 2 pound weight gain overnight, it is a good indicator that your body is carbed up. If you get really “pumped” when you lift, you are probably carrying more carbs in your system than is optimal for fat loss. If you look slightly puffier than normal, or your muscles look bigger than normal…you are probably too carbed up to get the best fat burning effect from your workouts.

The Irony About Having A Lot of Carbs in Your System

Excessive carbs in your system can give a big “pump” to the muscles during a workout. What happens when the muscles are pumped is that it can temporarily minimize the appearance of body fat. A lot of guys love going to the gym because for that 1-2 hour period of time, they can look much better than normal. The irony is that although they look better than normal while lifting, they are less likely to burn fat during their workout…so this condition will make them look worse when they are away from the gym (when it really matters).

How to Do Cardio to Quickly Reduce the Carbs in Your System

I typically tell people to avoid Marathon Cardio: which is an intense version of cardio for prolonged periods of time. Think along the lines of jogging hard for 45-60 minutes. That being said, this is a good way to burn carbs and get back to the best condition to burn body fat. So instead of waiting for 2-3 days of clean eating to get back to a slightly carb depleted state, you can get there within 12-24 hours.

When to Incorporate Marathon Cardio

This type of cardio should be used on a limited basis to get the body back to where it needs to be. Let’s say you ate pizza on Saturday and went to a BBQ on Sunday, then if you felt a bit “carbed up” you would do a longer more drawn out cardio session on Monday to get your body back to fat burning mode. From that point on you would stick to HIIT or bodyweight circuits followed by a short duration of low-to-moderate intensity steady state cardio. You would also clean up your diet for the remainder of the week.

Longer or Shorter Sessions Depending Upon Your Condition

The main thing to remember is that if you are dieting hard, you need to be careful that the cardio sessions are brief and focused (this diet and workout combo is the fastest way to lose weight). If your diet is loose you will want to incorporate longer cardio sessions to get your body to the right condition. At this point, you will want to stick with mainly HIIT and tighten up the diet.

Just use this type of cardio to avoid the state of being too carbed up. The real fat loss results will happen when you combine intense HIIT and Intervals in a slightly carb-depleted state.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

myra April 14, 2009 at 4:34 am

Hi Rusty

Hey im doing that already! Trust me guys and girls this really does work. I also, like you said Rusty, have a longer and more intense cardio session after pizza etc, combining HIIT and lower state cardio. I tell myself after ive “splurged”, i need to work hard to burn it off. if i dont do the cardio thing the next day i actualy feel sluggish and that bit heavier which as you know to a gymmer, is crap!!!
Well done Rusty, you hit the nail on the head yet again. good to know im in the right direction. take care.

Tyler April 20, 2009 at 1:28 pm

What amount of carbs in a diet would create a carb depleted state? John’s last post said that he consumed 50 grams or less of carbs for 5-10 days. In this style, is the small amount of carbs referring to complex carbs (breads, pasta) alone, or complex carbs and fruits? Thank you for your help.

Andrea May 6, 2009 at 12:45 pm

I completely agree! Although for more practical reasons, I kickbox and it never feels good to spar with that “heavy” feeling your body gets with carbs!

John July 28, 2009 at 11:09 am

Doctor-supervised hormone injection weight loss program: $2500

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Adjusting cardio to diet: PRICELESS!

Me March 22, 2010 at 5:27 pm


I have a question about the best muscle (!) burning exercises. I’m 1,75m, 82kg, 22 (woman), but I’m not fat as one might think although my weight should be around 60-65kg. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong but although by long term jogging in the morning I feel slimmer and I’m getting rid of fat, I can’t get my weight down. Is it because I eat a lot of proteins or maybe I need another type of exercise? I don’t eat more than I burn! How could I lose overall body mass?


Niko - noeXcusefitness January 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Great review of the different types of cardio and when they should be used. Like you say there is no one size fits all when it comes to cardio for fat loss. Personally I have been trying a combination of HIIT, Crossfit and Weight Training to attain a 9% bodyfat percentage. I have been posting all my workouts here…training for those that are interested.

Hillary Coates August 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm

This is awesome info. Thanks. I just pigged out on toast and oatmeal because I had too many carbs yesterday. I know I’m carb depleted because my carb cravings are completely gone. Now i know I can get back on track quickly without days of agony.
One question for you:
How frequent should one perform HIIT? I do it 6 days a week for 10 min and either follow it up with my 1 hour of weights or 40-45 min of steady state cardio. Any more than this and I get really crazy grumpy.

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