Food is fuel, but fuel isn’t all the same. Carbohydrates (carbs), your body’s preferred energy source, are broken down into glucose and stored as glycogen for quick energy burns.1 They’re your body’s go-to for most energy needs, especially for quick, explosive movements.
You can blast through extra carbs by rethinking your regular workout and adding bursts of movement into your day. These small changes can incinerate carbs like a forest fire, helping you to increase your overall calorie burn. Rethinking how you move eats up carbs to better help you manage your weight.
1. High-Intensity Interval Training
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) involves short bursts of intense, near-maximal effort exercise followed by short rest periods.2 This training method quickly burns carbs in a relatively short amount of time. There are HIIT workouts on YouTube (usually free), fitness apps, and streaming fitness services.
However, you can do HIIT workouts with many types of exercise modalities simply by changing up your intensity. While on a treadmill or stair-stepper, increasing the speed or resistance for 30-60 second sprints then taking the intensity down for 15 to 20 seconds can act as a HIIT workout. If you’re outside, sprint for 100 yards, then walk or slowly jog for 100 yards before sprinting again.
By changing speed and intensity throughout a workout, your usual workout, whether it’s cycling, running, or swimming, becomes a HIIT carb-burning session. As you adjust to the workout, you can alter the intensity levels, times, and distances of your intervals to further challenge your body and increase your carb burn.
2. Build Your Own Circuit
Circuit training is similar to HIIT, except you create a circuit of resistance or cardio exercises with minimal rest between each exercise.3 The circuit may contain resistance and cardio exercise to challenge the body further.
Here’s an in-depth example. Start with one minute of bicep curls followed by 30 seconds of jumping jacks followed by one minute of squats followed by another 30 second round of jumping jacks or marching in place. You’ve completed one circuit once you’ve done all four exercises. Take a two-minute break and repeat. You can set up the circuit to be as long or short as you want. For a greater challenge, reduce the time between circuits.
3. Resistance Training
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Resistance training, by its very nature, is a high-intensity, short-burst activity that blazes through carbs.4 The intense energy needed to perform squats, push-ups, and bench presses work the body so hard there’s a lack of oxygen. When there’s a lack of oxygen, the body uses glucose and glycogen (carbs) to keep the body going.5
But that’s not the only reason you want to incorporate resistance training into your workout rotation. Resistance training builds muscle, and muscle burns more calories than fat.6 The more muscle you build, the more calories you burn sitting at your desk, walking to the car, and doing other everyday activities.
4. Take the Stairs
Take the stairs instead of the elevator. A short 5-minute walk up the stairs can turn into a mini HIIT workout. Change things up by sprinting up one flight while you slowly trudge up the next. Those short bursts blast through carbs to increase your total daily energy use.
5. Park Farther Away
Park far from the grocery store entrance, so you have to walk farther. That might not seem like a big difference, but those extra steps burn extra calories (and carbs). Ultimately, burning carbs is about burning more overall calories. Look for opportunities to move more. Skip the escalator, stand instead of sit, or take a walk for your break instead of chatting around the water cooler.
6. Pump Your Arms
Add intensity to everyday activities like walking. Pump your arms, pick up your pace, or lift your feet higher than usual for a few seconds. Wrist or ankle weights can add resistance and intensity, too.
7. Take a Hike
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Being in nature has a profound effect on your mental health, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.7 Use nature to reset your mental health and burn extra carbs.
A walk through the park or around your neighborhood may not feel like a traditional hike, but it can have the same benefits. If you do head to the hills, the hike can be as easy or as difficult as you want. If you’re just starting out, try a local trail that’s relatively flat. Add hills and uneven terrain as you get more comfortable. The unpredictability of the terrain and your hiking speed can eat away at carbs as much as a circuit or HIIT workout.
8. Burn Calories While You Sit
Most of us spend plenty of time behind a desk. Build exercise habits into your regular workday. Try tapping your foot, putting a resistance band around your knees, or using an under-desk cycle while sitting at your desk. Take a short walk break for a few minutes every hour, or keep a set of light dumbbells in your desk for a quick resistance session. Even tensing and relaxing your muscles for a few minutes will increase your heart rate and calorie burn.
Walk, Bike, Swim, and Get Active
When it comes down to it, you burn carbs when you’re active, so get moving. Change your route and speed to build higher intensity periods into your existing exercise routine, and add small movement to your everyday activities to increase your carb burn. Find an inexpensive treadmill to keep yourself on the move. Consistent effort will blast through extra carbs (and calories) to help you meet your health goals one day at a time.
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- Cermak NM and van Loon JC. The use of carbohydrates during exercise as an ergogenic aid. Sports Medicine. 2013. 43: 1139-1155. DOI: 10.1007/s40279-013-0079-0
- Zwetsloot KA, John CS, Lawrence MM, Battista RA, and Shanely RA. High-intensity interval training induces a modest systemic inflammatory response in active, young men. Journal of Inflammation Research. 2104. 7: 9-17. DOI: 10.2147/JIR.S54721
- Romero-Arenas S, Martinez-Pascual M, and Alcaraz PE. Impact of resistance circuit training on neuromuscular, cardiorespiratory and body composition adaptations in the elderly. Aging and Disease. 2013. 4(5): 256-263. DOI: 10.14336/AD.2013.0400256
- Haff GG, Lehmkuhl MJ, McCoy LB, and Stone MH. Carbohydrate supplementation and resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2003. 17(1): 187-196. Published in 2003. Accessed on August 20, 2021.
- Wells GH, Selvadurai H, and Tein I. Bioenergetic provision of energy for muscular activity. Pediatric Respiratory Reviews. 2009; 10(3): 83-90. doi: 10.1016/j.prrv.2009.04.005
- Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA, French, DN. Resistance training for health and performance. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2002;1: 165-171. Published March 24, 2014. Accessed August 20, 2021.
- Tillman S, Tobin D, Avison W, Gilliland J. Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: a systemic review. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 2018. 72: 958-966. Published June 17, 2018. Accessed August 19, 2021.