Tip 281: Increase Fat Burning During Exercise

The following is a guest article by my good friend and colleague, Charles Poliquin.

Tip 281: Increase Fat Burning During Exercise with Strategic Nutrition to Get Lean

by Charles Poliquin

Increase your rate of fat burning while strength training with optimal pre-workout nutrition to get lean. By eating the right nutrients before working out, you can increase work capacity, performance, and speed recovery from intense exercise. Many misconceptions exist about the best way to burn the most fat during exercise but a review in the British Journal of Nutrition provides a guide to get leaner and stronger.

Proven strategies to boost fat burning with pre-workout nutrition include the following:

  1. Eat low-glycemic carbs with protein before training
  2. Avoid fructose and milk
  3. Load l-carnitine in the muscles
  4. Drink caffeinated green tea
  5. Take fish oil

Pre-workout nutrition may influence the rate of fat burning when exercising by as much as 66 percent. Burning fat rather than carbohydrates during strength training is best because it can lead to the best body composition. If you’re doing endurance or high-intensity interval training, burning fat will increase your performance and time to exhaustion because increasing the use of fat for fuel spares glycogen (fuel source from carbohydrates).

Eat low-glycemic carbs with protein at least an hour before training to maximize fat burning. Low-glycemic carbs include green vegetables, some fruits, and grains that have a glycemic-lowering nutrient added to them like rye bread with fenugreek. Low-glycemic carbs will produce a slow, gradual increase in blood sugar to support energy levels and fat burning because it will reduce pre-exercise muscle glycogen concentration and increase the availability of fat use for fuel. Basically, by eating this way, you’re telling your body what to burn and when to burn it to produce the most energy.

Fructose is a sugar that is found in fruit and is everywhere in processed foods in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Avoid it pre-workout. Limit fructose in your diet because it blunts fat burning but it also lowers the glycemic response of carbohydrates—just not in a favorable way for overall metabolism. Eating fructose actually inhibits fat burning during and after exercise to a greater extent than eating high-glycemic carbs with glucose like bread or cereal. Not only does fructose stop the use of fat for energy, it makes the cells more resistant to insulin, putting you at risk for diabetes. It also leads to higher blood lactate concentrations during exercise. Greater lactate production will impede performance and is counterproductive.

Along with avoiding fructose, stay away from milk proteins because they are particularly “insulinotropic,” which means that they will cause persistently high insulin levels. This puts you at greater risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.

On the flipside, regularly taking fish oil in your pre-workout meal will improve fat burning and insulin sensitivity. Fish oil improves gene activity that tells the body to use fat for energy within minutes of ingesting it. Fish oil also increases blood flow to fat tissue, which is considered a limiting factor in the use of fat for fuel during exercise. Basically, fish oil is a highly liquid and permeable fat and it helps everything to move more fluidly in the body (like a well-oiled machine).

Together with the amino acid composite l-carnitine, fish oil increases the transport of fats into the cells to be used for energy in the body. By raising the level of muscle carnitine, you make the body more efficient at processing fuel so that it can burn more fat, spare glycogen, clear lactate and bump up anabolic hormone response. Ideally, you want to take carnitine regularly to “load” it into the muscles, but you can also take it with your pre-workout meal for best results.

Carnitine availability is reduced when muscle glycogen content is elevated, making it all the more important to ensure you are moderating your glycemic load before training. Carnitine will boost performance for strength athletes, but it’s especially effective at increasing performance during endurance exercise. One study indicated a 55 percent reduction in muscle glycogen use after carnitine loading for six month. The glycogen sparing effect of burning more fat means endurance athletes will be able to “tap into” these glycogen stores at the later stages of a race or training run.

Green tea with caffeine is an awesome addition to any athlete’s diet because the antioxidant content in the tea combined with the caffeine can increase fat burning by up to 15 percent. It has also been shown to elevate fat burning for 24 hours after ingestion. Caffeinated coffee can also boost performance and fat burning, but recent evidence suggests green tea may be better. Include caffeine from both sources for best results.


Gonzalez, J., Stevenson, E. New Perspectives on Nutritional Interventions to Augment Lipid Utilization during Exercise. British Journal of Nutrition. 2012. 107, 339-349.

Fernandez, J., Da Silva-Grigolettos, M. A Dose of Fructose Induces Oxidative Stress During Endurance and Strength Exercise. Journal of Sports Science. 2009. 27(12), 1323-1334.

Charles Poliquin, M.Sc., is one of the top strength and conditioning experts in the world. He’s trained olympic medalists in 12 different sports and has written many books and over 500 columns. His site,  http://www.strengthsensei.com/charles-poliquin/, is a terrific resource for real, science-based information about physical fitness.




  1. Robbin Miller

    That is really a good post. You made some really good points and I am grateful for your research. This information helps all of us to saty fit and healthy in our day to day life. Thanks for the tips. It is pointless to go to the gym and not eat right. You body needs lots of rest and good food to build muscle.The benefits of body building for a physical boost are clear and proven. No-one can deny that.

  2. Luke

    If you’re suggesting “stay away from milk proteins” does that mean you don’t believe Whey based protein drinks are any good? What protein drinks do you consume, if any?

  3. Darrin

    I was thinking the same thing Luke

  4. Ivan Hlabo

    Drink caffeinated green tea.. I cant find any info on caffeinated teas