How to Use Nutrition to Maximise Fat-Burning

Chris Zaremba is our specialist on fitness for the over fifties. This week, he turns his attention to something of interest to fitness enthusiasts of all ages – a fresh approach to nutrition that maximises the body’s fat-burning period.

Twelve12 Nutrition and Fat-Burning

In my articles, I try to pass on various tips that either increase fitness levels, reduce fatness levels or – ideally – a bit of both. This month, I want to share the nutrition approach that I’ve been following for a few months that has helped me achieve those twin aims. It has also done the same for some of my clients too.

I’ve kept this as simple as possible in its approach. This simplicity is one of the key reasons I have found that it helps my clients.

Introducing Twelve12 Nutrition

Using Nutrition to Maximise Fat-Burning | Chris Zaremba | Linked FitnessA key way to get the body burning more bodyfat as fuel is to give it no alternative. However, it is important to do this without activating the State of Alert or Starvation response.

The best and easiest way to achieve this is to maximise what is already the body’s longest fat-burning period – overnight, starting from a few hours after your last meal.

Put very simply, the body will use the fuel from whatever you’ve eaten, mainly the carbs, to fuel itself for the next few hours. That’s how most of the day goes by.

You don’t usually eat overnight, but the body still needs fuel for keeping you alive, repair and maintenance tasks, and to power that snoring! Your body will use the fuel in your last evening meal or drinks for the first part of overnight. It will then turn to its built-in reserve for the next few hours. That built-in fuel reserve is your body fat and this is when the body’s long overnight fat-burning period begins.

The body will use fat as the main fuel source – provided you don’t do any strenuous exercise – right up until you ingest some food or drink again in the morning. So, prolonging this no-food period significantly helps in making the body turn to its fat reserves for fuel.

Related: Personal Trainer Zone: Q&A with Chris Zaremba

The Overnight 12

The easiest trick I know for maximising the bodies overnight fat-burning period is to have a 12 hour period every night without eating. So, if your last consumption of food or drink was at 9pm, don’t have anything else until 9am. If you’re out late and eating or drinking until 11pm, then tomorrow’s breakfast is at 11am. If you know you have to have breakfast at 7am tomorrow, then plan to eat no later than 7pm today. It’s that simple.

Don’t be tempted to grow the fasting period to much beyond 12 hours, as this can have the opposite effect. A long fast period can put the body into what is known as the State of Alert. This elicits the Starvation response and can cause the body to cling onto bodyfat. Your body thinks times have gone really tough and no food is coming for goodness-knows how long.

Tips for Increasing Effectiveness

Using Nutrition to Maximise Fat-Burning | Chris Zaremba | Linked FitnessTry to have some exercise early in the morning before the end of the 12 hours. Avoid anything too strenuous that makes you out of breath. This would encourage the body to look beyond fat for additional fuel. It will start using glycogen stored in the muscles as fuel which isn’t what we are after.

To avoid that, keep the cardio light to moderate. I find 40 minutes on a cross trainer at level 12, or 30 minutes slow jogging, does the trick for me. Then come home to a decent breakfast.

Another tip is to have some black coffee before that exercise session. This opens up the fat cells and encourages the release of fat to the bloodstream for use as fuel.

By the way, black coffee is allowed in the 12-hour non-eating period as it has no calories. Black tea and water are the same, they are allowed as they have no calories. So the idea is not specifically avoiding food in that time, it’s keeping clear of anything with calories.

Related: Tips for Making Long-Term Changes to Your Fitness Routine

The Daytime 12

Of course, what you eat and drink in the other 12 hours of each day is very important too.

Let’s look specifically at timing, as this is the unique feature of Twelve12. We already know you are going to eat the first meal – breakfast – 12 hours before the last meal. How do we spread our food intake over those 12 hours?

I’ll use a 7am breakfast and 7pm dinner as an example.

Morning Cardio Day

I am a believer in eating five times per day on days where I do my morning cardio session but don’t do an afternoon or evening resistance training workout. Five times is easy from a maths point of view.

By breaking that day into three hour slots, we get:

7:00am – Beakfast
10:00am – Mid-Morning Snack
1:00pm – Lunch
4:00pm – Mid-Afternoon Snack
7:00pm – Dinner

If your breakfast is later than this example, following the three hour rule could make lunch too late if you’re at work, so you’ll have to flex this a bit.

Do what you need to do to try to preserve that 12 hours overnight fast and, subsidiary to that, keep the food input as regular as practicable in the daytime 12 hours.

Morning Cardio and Afternoon Resistance Day

I recommend an extra meal, making a total of six, on those days where you do a resistance workout, or some form of exercise in the afternoon or evening (in addition to the pre-breakfast cardio exercise of course). Also, the extra meal isn’t really a meal as such. It’s a post-workout whey protein shake together with some fruit.

So on these six-meal days, the timings change slightly.

By bringing the gap down to every 2.5 hours or so, we get:

7:00am – Beakfast
9:30am – Mid-Morning Snack
12:00pm – Lunch
2:30pm – Mid-Afternoon Snack
5:00pm – Post-Workout Shake
7:00pm – Dinner

What you eat and drink – and the portion sizes, calorie content and macronutrient breakdown of each meal – is also critical, of course. But I’ll save that for another article, as there’s nothing unique to the Twelve12 approach in that subject.

Related: Workout Routine & Training Ideas for the Over 50s

Real Life and Achieving the Twelve12

Using Nutrition to Maximise Fat-Burning | Chris Zaremba | Linked FitnessThe timing can’t be exactly 12 hours. Bodyfat science  and maximising the fat-burning period isn’t as precise (or convenient to calculate) as that – and nor is real life activity. If it was that rigid, then with a breakfast at 7am on day 1, you’d be stuck having breakfast at 7am every day in the future.

I have found a variance of up to 1 hour longer or shorter in both the 12-hour periods works as well. So, if you start the day with a 7am breakfast, but know you have a much earlier start tomorrow, then make both 12’s into 11-hour periods. By doing this, you’ll be on time for a 5am breakfast tomorrow.  Making both 12’s into 13’s the next day would bring you back to 7am for that day.

It’s not going to be possible to achieve the Twelve12 every day, real life will get in the way. You will find that you will end up eating at 10pm some days but have breakfast early the next. But the more days you can do it, the better. And the days you do go off-track, return to the Twelve12 as soon as practicable.

So, for a simple rule that really helps in taking advantage of the overnight fat-burning period and reducing fatness levels, get into the daily 12- hour fast, quick!

Chris welcomes questions and comments on – read more of his thoughts every month here and on  

About Chris Zaremba

Personal Trainer Zone | Chris Zaremba | Fitness Over 50 | Linked FitnessChris qualified as a Gym Instructor and Personal Trainer in 2012. Since then he has obtained an International Diploma in Advanced Personal Training, and an Advanced Certification in Nutrition for Weight Loss and Nutrition for Physical Performance.

He has made many appearances in the media. Not only is he a regular author on fitness matters, he has also made several TV appearances. In 2013 the Community Channel made a documentary about his fitness journey, and more recently, he appeared in a TV series called ‘Fit Happens’ to give advice on techniques to maximise fitness levels.

Chris is also a Muscle and Fitness Model. The pinnacle of his competing career was winning the Miami Pro World Championships for both Fitness Models and Muscle Models for his age group in April 2014.

Chris has a specialist interest in clients who are looking to improve their level of fitness over 50. This interest led to the creation of his company Fitness Over Fifty.

More personal trainer fitness tips and information relating to all the above can be found on Chris’ website Fitness Over Fifty.

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