If you are thinking of taking up karate to lose some excess fat, you will be disappointed because the chance of it helping you lose weight is pretty small.
Karate can help a small minority of people to lose weight for sure, but, judging from the number of overweight karatekas you see in every dojo, it seems that karate is unlikely to help most people and that is consistent with what weight loss science says.
Karate can certainly help you to become healthier, fitter, and stronger both mentally and physically, but weight loss is unlikely to happen to most people.
In this post, we will look into the reasons why you shouldn’t signup for karate (or taekwondo, kickboxing, MMA, gyms, or sports) as the main way to help you lose weight and what you can do instead to lose weight effectively and keep it off.
Why is karate not good for weight loss?
Karate is not good for weight loss because karate training doesn’t burn as many calories as we might think. This coupled with the tendency to increase calorie intake due to increases physical activity results in no or very modest weight loss overall.
In addition, the human body has an innate ability to adapt and is able to conserve energy despite having to deal with a substantial increase in physical activity levels.
1. Physical activities don’t burn a lot of calories
For most people, physical activities generally don’t burn a lot of calories and account for only a small percentage of total daily calorie expenditure. 
Your body spends energy on three things: keeping all systems functioning when at rest, digesting foods and drinks, and physical activities.
Your body spends around 50 to 80% of total daily energy on life-sustaining functions when at rest such as breathing, heart beating, blood circulation, maintaining body temperature, cell growth and repair, maintaining normal hormone levels, and brain and nerve functions. 
It spends around 5-10% digesting foods and drinks (which I think is a lot given the amount of food we eat is generally not much) and the rest is spent on physical activities.
Energy spent on physical activities varies depending on how active you are. Adults on average spend about 25% of their daily energy on physical activities. 
As you can see, most of your calorie intake is used to keep your body functioning as it should and only a small portion is used for physical activity.
2. Karate training doesn’t burn as many calories as people think
Karate training is hard work, no doubt. But it just doesn’t burn as many calories as you might think.
If you train for two hours and push yourself to the limit. By the time, you get home, you are totally exhausted. You grab a cold beer and a bag of chips. After all that work, you think you totally deserve it.
Sure, you may well deserve it, but net calories burnt after all that may be not much or even negative.
But you might be surprised to learn that a cold beer and a bag of chips may have from 300 to 1500. A bag of chips alone can have from 160 calories to 2000 calories, depending on the size.
If you follow this with a hearty dinner of a plate of spaghetti or just a couple of slices of pizza, you’ll have consumed around 600 calories more, totally offsetting the calories you have worked so hard to get rid of on the dojo floor.
In summary, it’s a lot of hard work to burn a significant amount of calories but it’s so easy to consume a lot of calories in a short amount of time.
3. Your body will adapt to karate training and doesn’t burn a lot of calories in the long run
When you initially take up karate, you may burn a lot of extra calories. But as your body gets used to this kind of training, you won’t burn as many extra calories as at the beginning stage.
Both human and animal studies have demonstrated that lifestyle changes that result in an increase in physical activities do not necessarily lead to corresponding increases in daily energy expenditure. This is because humans and other animals appear to have the ability to adapt to increased physical activities and are able to conserve energy. 
For example, in a study that examines the change in energy expenditure due to exercises over time, a group of sedentary women was trained to run half marathons. They did burn a lot more calories initially. However, after weeks of training, there was no substantial difference between the amounts of extra calories they spent when running 40 kilometers per week and when being sedentary. 
Similarly, in another study that tracked marathon runners who ran 42.6km daily for six days a week for 140 days, it was found that those runners gradually burned less energy over time. At the beginning of the race, they were burning on average 6200 calories per day. But this began to decline and reached a plateau after 20 days. By the end of the race, they were only burning 4900 calories per day. [8, 9]
4. Karate training improves appetite and causes people to eat more
Karate training, like other strenuous exercises, will increase hunger and improve appetite. As a result, you will likely increase your food intake after training. Also, some people may want to use food as a reward for having done something positive and making them feel good and they end up eating a lot more.
The increase in food intake, from snacks consumed before and after training to bigger meal sizes, will add up and may even offset the extra calories burned from their training. As a result, weight loss from even intensive physical exercises tends to be modest or not at all. 
5. You may reduce other activities after taking up karate
You have only so many hours in a day and, if you go to karate training two to three times a week for one to two hours each time, you will have less time available for other activities. As a result, you may need to reduce your participation in other physical activities.
Consequently, the net effect is your total physical activity may not change much after taking up karate.
However, that does not imply there is no benefit to taking up karate at all. In fact, you will benefit tremendously from practicing a martial art like karate. In addition to self-defense skills, you will become fitter and stronger with improved focus, discipline, self-confidence, flexibility, balance and coordination.
6. Karate training can increase muscle mass
Karate training, especially if you have not done much exercise previously, can help you build muscle and increase your total muscle mass.
Although you may weigh the same after a long period of training, you may lose fat and increase muscle mass at the same time. And, because muscle tissues are denser than fat and they take up less room, you may weigh the same despite improvement in your body composition.
In summary, karate training is not an effective way to lose weight in the long run. The old adage that “you can’t outrun a bad diet” still holds true. If you want to lose the excess fat, you need to have a good look at what’s in your fridge, not which gym you should join or what type of martial arts you should take.
Let’s have a quick look below at what is the most effective diet strategy for weight loss.
What is the best way to lose weight?
Weight loss principle
The best way to lose weight is to adopt a diet that trains your body to use fat as fuel. When it is capable of doing that, it will automatically tap into the stored fat and burn it off whenever there is a calorie deficit.
The diet that allows you to do that is the ketogenic diet where most of your calorie intake comes from fat and protein and very little comes from carbs (only about 20 to 50 g of carbs a day). 
When you are on the ketogenic diet and consume a lot of good quality fats (e.g. animal fats) with little to no carbs, your body will get used to burning fat for fuel. And when you don’t consume enough fats, your body will effortlessly switch to burning off the stored fat for fuel and help you to lose weight.
On any diet that includes a significant amount of carbohydrates (think pasta, pizza, rice, potatoes, cereal, cakes, and candies) if you restrict your calorie intake, you will experience carb cravings with intense hunger, irritability, mood swing, brain fog, and low energy. This is because your body is so used to getting its energy from carbohydrates and can’t function properly when its usual dose of carbs is not coming in. And if you deal with carb cravings by feeding it more carbs, your body will have no chance of digging into the stored fat and makes it incredibly hard to lose weight.
The ketogenic diet has been proven to be an effective way to lose weight as well as treat many health issues including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, neurological disorders, and even cancer. [12, 13]
What to eat for weight loss
There are many versions of the ketogenic diet out there and some, despite meeting the ketogenic and low-carb criteria, may not be healthy at all.
As a general rule, try to eat whole, fresh, and unprocessed food like fatty beef, lamb, and fatty fish and a bit of green leafy vegetables if you like. Avoid grains, nuts, and seeds which can come with a lot of anti-nutrients. If you want some carbs, fruits and honey are perhaps the best forms of carbs with low levels of plant toxins. [14, 15]
In addition, avoid all seed oils like canola oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and soybean oil. They are high in omega 6 and have been linked to many health problems such as obesity, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, etc. [16, 17]
There is no strong and credible evidence supporting this advice at all. In contrast, a comprehensive meta-analysis found “no association between saturated fat consumption and all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, coronary heart disease mortality, ischaemic stroke or type 2 diabetes in healthy adults“. 
I would love to say that karate is good for weight loss but, based on the balance of evidence, unfortunately, it is not.
Some people may still be able to lose weight after taking up karate if they’ve got their diet right. But for most people, if they don’t fix their diet, karate won’t be able to help (if karate is good for weight loss, all karate instructors would be in incredible shape because they train all the time, right?).
If you want to lose weight, you will need to train your body to burn stored fat for energy by feeding it fat while limiting carbohydrate consumption which encourages fat storage. In addition, make sure your diet consists of healthy fats and proteins. Carbs, if any, should come from low-toxin sources such as fruits and honey.
Diet and weight loss for martial artists is a complex topic which I will hopefully cover in more detail in future posts. However, if you decide to try out the ketogenic diet, please do thorough research before proceeding.
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