Fat plays several important roles in the body, including providing energy, regulating body temperature, protecting our organs, and transporting nutrients. Whilst a small amount of fat is necessary, excess fat stored in the body can pose a number of health risks.
To counteract this, we hit the gym to shift some weight. When we’re sweating it out, our bodies burn fat for energy to fuel our muscles. But fat cannot be destroyed, so where does it go?
Read on to find out more about the different types of fat and learn about how fat leaves the body!
What is Fat?
Fat tissue, also known as adipose tissue, is composed of different types of fat cells called adipocytes. These fat cells are categorized as either white, brown, or beige, depending on their function and location.
White fat cells are the most abundant type of adipocyte in the human body and provide a major source of energy. When glycogen energy stores have run out, these fat cells provide fuel in the form of fatty acids.
White fat cells also play an important role in regulating the function of many important hormones, such as insulin, and the appetite-stimulating hormone, leptin. Some white fat is needed. However, too much white fat can lead to weight gain and health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Brown fat is most abundant in children and babies, although adults do still possess a small amount; mainly around the spine, shoulders, and neck.
It is considered a healthy fat, as it plays an important role in keeping you warm through the burning of fatty acids. Brown fat also has a good network of capillaries, so can easily transport important nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.
Scientists have recently turned their attention to the potential of brown fat as an obesity treatment. This is because when brown fat is stimulated, it burns calories and white fat, in a similar way to muscle. Interestingly, lean people often have more brown fat than overweight people1.
Beige fat cells are derived from white fat but function similarly to brown fat - they burn energy to produce heat and aren’t stored in large amounts on the body.
Research suggests that exercise increases the release of specific hormones and enzymes that can convert white fat into beige fat2.
Increasing the amount of brown and beige fat on the body is greatly beneficial to health, as they increase energy expenditure and help eliminate harmful fat.
How is Fat Stored in the Body?
These different types of fat cells are stored in varying amounts and locations throughout the body.
When we ingest fat through the diet, its primary role is to provide energy to fuel all our bodily functions and muscles. If this energy isn’t needed, fat is stored around the body as subcutaneous or visceral fat and can result in weight gain.
Most of our body fat is subcutaneous and is stored under the skin. You know those jiggly bits you can pinch and squeeze on your buttocks, arms, and thighs? That’s what we’re talking about.
Subcutaneous fat is a combination of all three adipose cells and is generally considered unharmful. It is necessary to help keep you warm, provide cushioning to organs, and serve as an important source of energy for your body.
Visceral fat, also known as belly fat, is stored deeper in your body around organs, such as the liver, kidneys, and heart. It is considered the most unhealthy type of fat, as it contains largely white fat cells and causes weight gain around your midriff.
This can lead to health problems such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. However, a small amount of visceral fat is needed to protect the organs and provide energy.
Now that we understand more about the different types of fat and how it is stored, let's find out what happens during the fat-burning process.
How Does Fat Leave the Body?
To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn, also known as a calorie deficit. In this state, the body will begin to use fat stored in your body as energy, resulting in weight loss.
Fat is essentially stored energy and according to physics, energy cannot be destroyed. So, where does it go?
During the fat-burning process, stored fatty acids are broken down to release energy, and carbon dioxide (CO2) and water are released as by-products. Fat cells then shrink in size, giving an overall slimmer appearance.
CO2 is exhaled during breathing and water is released through sweat, respiration, and urine. Exercise that involves heavy breathing and sweating can increase the removal of these by-products, thus helping to accelerate the fat-burning process3.
Tips to Accelerate Fat Loss
A healthy, balanced diet combined with exercise is key to achieving fat loss4. Minimize your intake of foods high in saturated fats, as eating too much of these can lead to weight gain and raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol. High cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease and stroke.
Eating a diet rich in protein will help keep you fuller for longer and prevent overeating. Protein also helps preserve muscle mass, which is important for fat loss as muscle burns more calories during rest than fat.
To lose weight, you must remain in a calorie deficit, as this ensures your body is burning fat for fuel and prevents weight gain. Keeping track of the number of calories that are in the food and drinks you consume and performing regular exercise can help keep your body in this state.
A combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training can increase your body’s energy requirements, promote fat loss and increase muscle mass.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT), such as sprinting or skipping, is especially effective at burning body fat. According to one study, HIIT can burn up to 30% more calories than other exercises in the same amount of time5.
Fat is a necessary component of the human body and provides us with essential energy. Whilst some fat is good for us, white fat stored around your organs and midsection can increase the risk of disease.
When we burn fat, it doesn’t simply disappear. It is converted into energy and expelled as CO2 and water, causing fat cells to shrink and body composition to change. The best way to accelerate fat loss is to eat a healthy protein-rich diet and perform regular high-intensity exercise and strength training.
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- Doheny, Kathleen. “Body Fat Types (Brown, White, Visceral) and Locations (Belly, Butt, and More).” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-fat.
- Schugar, Rebecca C., et al. "The TMAO-producing enzyme flavin-containing monooxygenase 3 regulates obesity and the beiging of white adipose tissue." Cell reports 19.12 (2017): 2451-2461.
- Baker, Lindsay B. "Sweating Rate and Sweat Sodium Concentration in Athletes: A Review of Methodology and Intra/Interindividual Variability." Sports Medicine 1.47 (2017): 111-128.
- Clark, James E. "Diet, exercise or diet with exercise: comparing the effectiveness of treatment options for weight-loss and changes in fitness for adults (18–65 years old) who are overfat, or obese; systematic review and meta-analysis." Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders 14.1 (2015): 1-28.
- Falcone, Paul H., et al. "Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 29.3 (2015): 779-785.