Difference between Burning Fat and Calories

These two expressions are used as synonyms in the context of weight loss. But are they fully interchangeable? First of all it is necessary to find out the real meaning of these two notions.


Burning Fat vs Burning Calories

Calories mean single units of energy in physics, but in everyday life by saying “calories” we imply the value of different foods, drinks and supplements that play the role of fuel for our daily activities. When saying “burning calories” we usually mean physical activities like jogging, swimming, riding a bicycle or strength training. But actually our body burns calories all the time, using them to support its functions.

Fat basically is energy stored in body for a long time. It is also referred to as “adipose tissue”. The main function of fat is energetic, but it is also important for internal organs and other tissue protection.

Comparison chart

Burning calories Burning fat
24 hours a day, regardless of activity When other energy sources are depleted
Doesn’t always mean weight loss Usually means depleting fatty tissue cells and losing weight
An important step for weight control The goal in weight control

Burning Fat vs Burning Calories

What it the difference between burning fat and burning calories?

It is clear that if a person consumes more calories than they burn, unused calories of energy will accumulate in the body as fat tissue. If the same person consumes less calories than they burn, fat will be burnt to support the overall energy level.

At first sight it may seem that the argument is simple, but not so fast!

For example, a sandwich has about 450 calories. An average person needs 40 min of high intensity workout to burn these calories away. But will this person burn fat? Perhaps. Only serious medical examination will say exactly. It could be glucose, glycogen, creatine phosphate, or adenosine triphosphate – our body is a great factory, it has lots of energy sources, and fat is definitely not the first one to be used.

Another example: a person consumes 2500 calories a day and their body burns the same amount of calories on basic metabolism + physical and mental activities. The person burns calories, but doesn’t burn fat as the ratio between calories consumed and spent is equal.

Our bodies burn calories every single minute, even when we are sleeping and not moving at all. Calories used for maintaining primary processes in the human body (breathing, heart rate, brain work, cell activity and so on) are called basic metabolism. It may vary in different people depending on age, gender, genetic predisposition, environmental factors and so on. Therefore, when deciding to burn fat it is very important not to drop the amount of calories below the basic metabolic rate. Recent research says it is not effective for fat burning and even dangerous to live on less than 1200 calories a day, as metabolism gets slower and important body functions get depressed.

To burn fat we need to cut down on calories (not more than 15-20% of what our daily consumption should be) and add some physical exercises. The source of calories plays a very important role for your general health and wellbeing. A person may get 1600 calories from 3 cheeseburgers or the same amount of calories from a serving of oats with berries plus several servings of veggies with lean meat plus a delicious smoothie. Maybe these calories will be consumed by our body the same way in terms of energy source, but it would be silly to ignore the negative influence of rapid changes in blood sugar level, insulin levels and digestion system work producing by consuming the cheeseburgers.

Fat burning requires consuming a smart amount of healthy calories and adding some physical activities. That’s the key!


In this video you can find more information about burning fat and its main difference from just burning calories.