Remember when losing weight was as simple as eating less kilojoules than you burn? Simple in theory, of course, not practice — because burgers are a lot more fun than burpees! But now, we know it’s not necessarily ‘weight’ you want to lose to achieve that slim, toned look — it’s body fat. And when it comes to complexity, shedding body fat is on another level entirely.
Apart from the usual diet and exercise, there are so many variables that contribute to your ability to lose body fat — like sleep, stress, thyroid issues and insulin resistance. Then, there’s the fact that just being female makes it more difficult for us to lose body fat than our male counterparts (gotta love those hormones!) But there’s another factor that probably haven’t even heard of, let alone considered — your metabolic burner type.
I came across this concept through a PT at my old gym, Ben Young. Instead of the usual ‘so, how much icecream do you eat each week?’ (my answer: way too much), he emailed through a different kind of questionnaire: one that would determine my ‘burner type.’ I learned that the body has three different fuel types: protein (muscle), sugar and fat. When protein is burned, it turns into sugar. We all burn both fat and sugar — but usually, one more than the other due to your individual hormones and lifestyle factors. The goal is to get your body to favour fat as a source of fuel, over sugar or muscle.
According to Ben, your metabolic type isn’t set in stone and can change throughout your lifetime depending on your circumstances. But knowing which type you lean towards can help you figure out how to tweak your diet, exercise and lifestyle in order to get your body in fat-burning mode. While some body composition clinics now offer metabolic testing, these tell you your RMR (resting metabolic rate), not your burner type. But by reading through these descriptions below or taking this questionnaire, you can get a better idea of which type you are.
If you feel like you only need to look at carbs to gain weight, you’re probably a sugar burner. When carbs are present in a sugar burner’s diet, they struggle to burn fat. This is because their bodies rely almost exclusively on the glucose from carbs as fuel. Sugar burners are also more prone to insulin resistance (a condition that’s linked to high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes) and may find that they crave sugary snacks and coffee. People with this metabolic type are often overweight and can have a puffy, water-logged appearance.
How about when you’re naturally slim but find it almost impossible to gain muscle? Welcome to the muscle burner club! This metabolic type burns sugar from muscle tissue, due to an overproduction of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and non-adrenaline. Muscle burner types tend to have a skinny-fat appearance (low muscle-to-fat ratio), run on nervous energy and often struggle with digestive issues. They generally benefit from managing their stress levels, avoiding excessive cardio and experimenting with their carbs to find their optimal level.
If neither of those descriptions really hit home for you, you’re probably a mixed burner. This burner type sits somewhere in the middle and they burn more sugar or muscle depending on what’s going on in their lives. If they’re over-eating carbs and spending a little too much time on the couch, they verge into sugar burner territory. If they’re going through a particularly stressful period at work and missing meals, they become more like muscle burners. The benefit with this burner type is that by making slight adjustments to your diet and lifestyle, they can easily get back on track.