How to burn fat effectively

In this world of 30-day abs, Instagram filters, and juice cleanses, there’s a ton of pressure to look a certain way—and to achieve that look as fast as possible—even if it means sacrificing your health and wellbeing. 

Knowing how to burn fat in a smart, sustainable way is quite the challenge. 

It’s not something we’re ever taught. There’s no “best way to burn fat” class at school. So we muddle through, trying our best but not really getting anywhere. 

We think it’s time to share some SIMPLE, trustworthy guidance on how to make your body burn fat safely and effectively, so you can have the body you want and stay sane and healthy along the way. 

Key takeaways

  • Eating good quality protein, veggies, carbs, and fats boosts fat loss.
  • Strength training and cardio make a powerful fat loss workout routine.
  • You can speed up fat loss by sleeping better.
  • Good recovery makes you more resilient on your fat loss journey.
  • Being consistent is the fastest way to get results. 

How to start your fat burning journey

Start off by gathering some initial data. For baseline-setting and progress tracking, we recommend:

  • front, back, and side photographs 
  • full body measurements

Ideally, take these once a month. That’s far enough apart to see changes in your body, and close enough together to be able to redirect your efforts if things aren’t changing. 

Hold on, where are the scales? 

No scales needed! Scales track weight loss, and there’s a big difference between fat loss vs weight loss.

Weight loss comes in different forms: you can lose water, glycogen, fat, or muscle. Weight also fluctuates often due to small day-to-day things like a salty meal or a change in hormone levels, making it a less reliable way to see meaningful changes in your body. 

Fat loss, on the other hand, is how we change our body shape and composition in a way that lasts. If you hanker after seeing a leaner, more sculpted you in the mirror, it’s fat loss you’re after. 

So, set your future self up for success by tracking the right kind of progress. 

Fat burning basics

To lose body fat, you need to burn more calories than you eat. 

In other words, you need to create a caloric deficit, so your body uses its stored energy—which is stored in the form of fat—to fuel your activity. 

Within this, we can leverage:

  • What we eat. Not just eating less, but eating more of the right things.
  • How we move. Not just moving more, but moving enough and in the right ways. 
  • How we rest. Rest, recovery, and sleep have awesome fat burning potential. (Yes, really!) 

We’ll dig into all this a little later. 

How long does it take to burn fat?

The generally recognised advice is to aim to drop 0.5-1% body fat per month, but bodies are not all the same, and they don’t really work in such a straightforward way. It’s also pretty tough (and unnecessary) to get an accurate grasp on your body fat percentage.

So while we realize this is a frustrating answer, the truth is… it depends. 

It won’t be a dramatic, speedy, movie-worthy process, but if you:

  • have patience
  • are consistent with your actions
  • stay connected to your goals 
  • push yourself to progress regularly

you won’t be worrying about how long it takes to burn fat; you’ll be watching your body change in real time. 

The 10 best ways to burn fat

So what is recommended for fat burning?

Presenting… 

… 10 science-backed ways to blitz body fat that are used by real people, just like you, every day.

  1. Do cardio

Cardiovascular exercise like walking, running, cycling, and rowing can decrease body fat, belly fat, and waist circumference.

It burns calories and can reduce hunger and cravings, making that all-important caloric deficit a whole lot easier to get. 

To get your cardio ball rolling, aim for: 

  • 20-60 minutes
  • 3-4 days a week
  • a mixture of intensities:
    • low, like a gentle walk at an easy pace you could keep up for quite some time 
    • moderate, like a steady bike ride where you’re breathing harder than normal, but can still talk reasonably easily
    • high, like challenging interval sprints, where you can’t say more than 3-5 words in a row while doing them

  1. Strength train

The fastest way to burn fat? Have more muscle in your body.

Because muscle takes more energy to maintain than fat does, having more muscle increases your metabolic rate

That means you burn more calories at rest, and it’s this that makes strength training an epic fat burning workout

Even better, thanks to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), your body continues burning calories at a higher rate than normal for a while after you’re done working out.

To harness the power of strength training, shoot for:

  • 3-4 strength training sessions a week (start out with 1-2 if you’re new)
  • a variety of movements for the whole body through the week
  • 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps for most exercises

As you get more comfortable, increase weight, reps, and/or sets. Your body will build more muscle tissue to handle the extra workload, and boom! More muscle in the tank!

  1. Recover well

Recovery is a good friend to fat burning, because it keeps you off the fast track to fatigue, burnout, and injury. When you want to use exercise to make fat surrender to your attempts to burn it, the aim of the game is to stay in the game.

To keep yourself firing on all cylinders and working your fat-blasting abilities, embrace active recovery-style activities, like easy walking and stretching, and take at least one day off training to rest—and rest hard—every week.

  1. Get enough sleep

Speaking of resting hard, sleep is a potent fat burner. 

Good sleep keeps your hunger and fullness hormones ticking over well, helping to control your appetite so you make better food choices. It’s also a recovery powerhouse that directly supports your ability to crush your workouts. Bonus!

Poor sleep, by contrast, can reduce metabolism and increase cravings, and increases your risk of obesity

We’re all unique in our sleep needs, but science suggests around 7 hours or more a night is ideal as part of your “how to burn body fat” toolkit.

Try creating an end-of-day winddown routine to ease you into sleepyland so you can get more zeds.

  1. Eat enough protein

Lots of studies link eating quality protein with lower body fat, and with good reason. A high protein diet helps to:

all of which help when you’re trying to eat less than you burn. (There’s that calorie deficit again.)

Protein also increases your metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories through thermogenesis (the energy your body has to use to break protein down into a usable form), and both builds and preserves muscle.

For how to burn fat fast at home, hop into the kitchen and start adding high-protein foods like chicken, fish, beans, and tofu to your meals. 

  1. Eat better carbs

The idea that eating low or no carbs is The Hallowed Path to fat loss hangs around like a bad smell. 

And sure, a low carb diet can be effective. But it’s not necessarily more effective compared to other diets.

What really matters is the quality of your carbs. 

Eating refined carbs can lead to: 

On the flip side, diets high in whole grains are linked with smaller waist circumferences, better appetite management, higher energy levels, and better recovery. 

See what happens when you swap some pastries, white breads, and breakfast cereals for a little more quinoa, oats, beans, and lentils. 

  1. Eat more fiber

No “how do you burn fat?” article would be complete without this sage wisdom, known to parents the world over:

Eat your vegetables!

But, your inner child wants to know, does it really help with fat loss? 

It sure does. 

Higher fiber intake has been linked to increased weight loss, and reduced belly fat, and it works because fiber:

  • keeps you full, so you don’t overeat
  • keeps your blood sugar balanced, so cravings aren’t constantly knocking at your door
  • gives you energy, so you can lift weights, play pickleball, and still have enough juice in the tank to chop some carrots for tomorrow

Choose a few veggies (and other high-fiber foods, like beans, lentils, and fruit) you enjoy and add an extra portion to your meals. 

  1. Eat healthy fats

Just like carbs, somewhere along the way, the mainstream got it twisted about fat. Let’s set the record straight: 

Eating fat helps you burn fat. 

Not just any old fats, mind—the healthy kind. Quality, again, is key. 

We’d understand completely if you’re thinking “Yeah right, SIMPLE. Just exactly how do I burn fat by eating fat??”, so let’s check the science. 

The Mediterranean diet, which is rich in healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, often comes up with the goods on long-term weight loss compared with a low fat diet. 

Replacing saturated and trans-fats with unsaturated (especially polyunsaturated) fats contributes to the prevention of age-related weight gain

Healthy fat helps to vanquish body fat because it:

  • keeps you fuller for longer
  • squashes cravings
  • makes food taste better (important for diet stickability) 

We’re not suggesting you go wild. Fat is still the most calorific macronutrient and the overall goal is still to eat less than you burn. Aim to keep your fat intake around 20-30% of your daily calories, but also aim to switch out the saturated and trans fats in your diet for the unsaturated kind. Try:

  • exchanging coconut oil for olive oil
  • swapping margarine for avocado in baking (seriously!)
  • upgrading your nut butter

(Need a hand with all these nutrition steps? We can help you learn how to meal plan.)

  1. Drink more water

One of the SIMPLEst fat burners on the block, drinking water has a lot going for it. It can help you:

All of which, when you’re trying to create a caloric deficit, is undeniably helpful. 

It can also increase your resting metabolic rate, so you burn more calories doing nothing (who doesn’t love increased calorie burn when you’re sleeping?).

Try adding a glass of water to the start of your meal. 

  1. Try intermittent fasting

At SIMPLE, we’re big fans of intermittent fasting (IF), which is an approach to nutrition that alternates periods of eating with periods of fasting. 

We’ve seen, up close and personal, IF’s fat loss effects. It can burn fat with the best of them

There are lots of intermittent fasting options to choose from like:

and we’re pretty good (if we do say so ourselves) at helping to smooth out the wrinkles of intermittent fasting for beginners

If you’re curious, here’s an easy first step: 

Check out our SIMPLE quiz.

Fat burning myths

You know as well as we do—there’s a lot of garbage advice out there on the internet. Let’s put some of those misleading fat loss myths to bed. 

The lower your calories, the better

It seems like it should be true, but cutting calories too low will actually stop you from being able to burn fat, because it’ll:

The cheat meal

The much-hyped “cheat meal” is a meal that’s full of foods that you “aren’t supposed” to eat on a fat loss plan. 

It’s long been thought to help us stay on the fat loss straight and narrow, but research now suggests that cheat meals make us less likely to stick to our plan and more likely to make unhelpful food choices.

Our suggestion? Skip the cheat meal and focus instead on making your regular meals taste so good you don’t want to “cheat”. 

Eat little and often

Back in the day, eating little and often was thought to be the bomb for stoking your metabolism. 

But now, research shows that various meal frequencies can be effective

Fat loss can happen whether you eat once a day or six times a day. Whatever works for you!

Always exercise at low intensities

Here’s the idea:

  1. Higher intensity exercise uses more carbs for fuel. 
  2. Lower intensity exercise—i.e., exercising in the “fat-burning zone”—uses more fat for fuel. 
  3. Therefore, lower intensity exercise is The Best Fat Burning Exercise because working out in the “fat-burning zone” must burn more fat. 

This argument misses the point that exercising at lower intensities burns less calories overall

Remember our fundamental principle here is to burn more than you eat. We need to clock up a decent amount of movement to achieve that, and the best way to do so is a mixture of low, moderate, and high intensity exercise. 

Always exercise at high intensities

Our brains love to find the quickest, most efficient way of doing things, and yes, high intensity training does burn more calories in less time and is effective for fat loss.

It’s also a great way to get injured and/or burned out—and a super-effective way to learn to dread workouts—if you do too much of it. (Even if you like working out, going full pelt every time will eventually create some heavy resistance in your soul.)

Again, mix your intensities for the best results.

7 best fat burning tips

Oh yeah, we’ve got more! 

To add to our 10 best ways to burn fat (which are all pretty meaty!), here are some mini tricks and tips you can use to give your fat loss routine that little extra zhuzh. 

  1. If you’re new to exercise, start out with low and moderate intensity 

You can definitely burn fat this way, and it really helps with liking exercise which, if you want to burn more fat, is rather important. 

The more you enjoy exercise, the more frequently you’ll do it, and the more fat you’ll burn. 

So, start easy and let your friendship with exercise build. 

  1. Use compound movements

A compound movement is one which uses more than one muscle. A squat, for instance, works your quads, glutes, and core. A pushup works your delts, pecs, triceps, and core. 

Doing compound movements means you’ll build more muscle and burn more calories per exercise. 

Try swapping out single-muscle moves like bicep curls and leg extensions for compound ones like pull ups and lunges. 

  1. Do more NEAT

NEAT—Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis—is the calories you burn doing every activity that isn’t exercise and it contributes a significant amount to the calories you burn daily.

To burn fat faster, increase your NEAT. 

Try the classics like:

  • taking the stairs 
  • parking farther from the entrance 

and get creative:

  • play with your hamster
  • learn to juggle
  • paint that fence you’ve been putting off for years

How can you move your body a little more each day? 

  1. Try circuit training 

For best fat burning results, doing cardio and resistance training is where it’s at. 

For an easy win, try circuit training.

Moving from one exercise to the next without rest keeps your heart rate high, while the exercises themselves—usually a mix of pushups, squats, lunges, kettlebell swings, etc.—will work your muscular strength and endurance. 

  1. Try green tea

You could supercharge your results via a SIMPLE cup of green tea. 

Green tea is thought to make us more efficient at burning calories thanks to its caffeine and antioxidant content.

Worth a try! Stick to the teabags, though, and skip the green tea supplements which can be damaging to our kidneys. 

  1. Caffeine with your cardio?

If you’re looking for a fast way to burn fat, caffeine could be your friend

It stimulates your central nervous system, increases metabolism, and boosts the breakdown of fatty acids. It can enhance fat burning during aerobic exercise too.

If you tolerate coffee well, see if it helps your fat loss efforts. 

  1. Improve your nutrient partitioning

There’s no two ways about it: To get leaner, you need to take actions that burn fat consistently. 

But not just for the calorie deficit you’re seeking to create. 

Improving the quality of your nutrition and exercising regularly also makes you better at nutrient partitioning, where the body uses more of the food you eat to build muscle rather than storing fat. 

Consistency = more muscle and less fat. Winning! 

SIMPLE’s expert opinion and final thoughts

The SIMPLE take-home: 

Strength training plus cardio plus quality nutrition is a mighty combo for fat loss, and we’ve given you lots of ways to do all three. 

Your next step:

Choose one SIMPLE tip and start there. 

Which fat burning action feels most doable to you?

To make life really easy, start with intermittent fasting and let our SIMPLE quiz show you the ropes. (You might notice that what to eat during intermittent fasting matches up with our fat-busting nutrition tips pretty nicely, too!)

Frequently asked questions about how to burn fat

What burns off the most fat? 

What burns off the most fat is combining this fat loss trinity:

  • strength training
  • cardio 
  • quality nutrition

but, if we had to pick just one thing, we’d choose building muscle. Or quality nutrition. Ack, we can’t choose—they both land in the top spot for fat loss!

How can I burn fat naturally?

You can burn fat naturally by eating, sleeping, and moving just a little better each day. 

You already have all the fat burning mechanisms you need; now’s the time to leverage them. 

What burns fat while you sleep?

You do! Your natural metabolism is what burns fat while you sleep. 

It may be worthwhile to eat a little protein before bed to help your body repair and recover, or you can fast before bed, to take advantage of the fat loss benefits of intermittent fasting

How long does it take to lose fat?

Bodies are all different and results depend on many factors. Yet how long it takes to lose fat also depends on how much you put into the process. 

Give it your best shot and you should see some noticeable results within a month.  

Which fat burning exercises are the best? 

The science tells us that strength exercises and cardio done at varying intensities are the best fat burning exercises. 

You can lift weights, run, swim, yoga, cycle, play with kettlebells… They all have the ability to make body fat melt away. 

Experiment and see: Which fat burning exercises do the trick for you

What exercise burns the most belly fat? 

We can’t spot reduce (i.e., burn fat from specific body parts on command) but, because they use a lot of muscles in one go, compound exercises likely burn most belly (and body) fat. 

Try full-body exercises like turkish get-ups, squat presses, or medicine ball slams. 

How can I burn 1000 calories a day? 

To burn 1000 calories a day is a tall order—it could take around 1.5 hours of jumping rope or climbing stairs

We wouldn’t suggest you try it. Instead, work out in a way you enjoy, move around more, eat well, and your calorie burn will build naturally over time. 

Why are male and female fat recommendations different?

Male and female body fat % recommendations are different because men and women have different metabolic and reproductive systems, and need different body fat levels to run optimally. Male testosterone levels create muscle more readily, for instance, while female bodies need more body fat to support reproduction.