The Science of Adrenaline for Fat Loss

The Science of Adrenaline for Fat LossRemember the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta jams the needle into Uma Thurmon’s heart after her drug overdose? That needle was filled with ADRENALINE to kick-start her heart…and adrenaline is also the hormone that runs through your veins when you rocket down the descent of your favorite roller coaster.

In the world of science, adrenaline is better known as “epinephrine”. Epinephrine is one of several hormones that belong in the larger category known as catecholamines.

Catecholamines are the “flight or fight” hormones released into the blood from your adrenal glands in response to stress. And good old caffeine is another stimulus for increasing catecholamines.

But what does all this science gobbledygook have to do with losing belly fat?

Well, if you believe Professor Steve Boutcher, an Australian researcher, INCREASING ADRENALINE is the key to losing belly fat.increase adrenaline

Before we get into that, let me first introduce you to Professor Boutcher. He is Head of the Health and Exercise Science program in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales in beautiful Australia. And more importantly, he was one of the Australian researchers involved in a landmark interval training study published back in 2007 that compared super-short intervals against long cardio for fat loss.

In this study, 45 obese Australian women were separated into one of two groups.

Group A performed three 20-minute interval training workouts per week using a special bike that allowed them to perform an 8-second interval followed by 12 seconds of recovery (light cycling). This was repeated over and over for the 20 minute workout.

Group B performed 40 minutes of slow, steady-state cardio three times per week. Please note that this group exercised TWICE as long as the interval training group.

It’s also important to note that NO changes were made to their diet.

As you know, I’ve always said that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet, and if these women were obese, I think you’d agree that they had a bad diet, right? So if they had a bad diet, we shouldn’t expect any results in either group.images15

In fact, one subject was quoted as saying, “My diet was pretty bad back then, with lots of sweets, lots of junk food. So just eating the same things, doughnuts and sugar — it was awful,” says Louise.

And yet by the end of this study, interval training helped Louise burn 8kg of fat in just 15 weeks – WITHOUT changing her diet.

Perhaps it IS POSSIBLE for you to out-train a bad diet with this unique form of interval training?

flat-absSo after 15 weeks, what happened?

Well, quite frankly, the results were remarkable.

Despite continuing with their bad diet, Group A – the interval training group – lost a significant amount of belly fat, leg fat, and butt fat. However, the steady cardio women – Group B – didn’t lose fat at all (one subject even gained 2.2 pounds after 15 weeks of slow cardio).

Here’s how Professor Boutcher explained the results…

“The group which did around eight seconds of sprinting on a bike, followed by 12 seconds of exercising lightly for twenty minutes, lost three times as much fat as other women, who exercised at a continuous, regular pace for 40 minutes,” said Boutcher.

“Intermittent sprinting produces high levels of chemical compounds called catecholamines, which allow more fat to be burned from under the skin and within the exercising muscles. The resulting increase in fat oxidation drives the greater weight loss.”

“This maybe unique to this type of exercise,” said Professor Boutcher. “We know it is very difficult to ‘spot reduce’ troublesome fat areas. When you do regular exercise, you tend to lose fat everywhere and you tend to look emaciated. Our results are unusual but were consistent across the women who performed the sprinting exercise.”


Very impressive results.

And here’s where the ADRENALINE kicks in, so to speak.

According to Dr. Boutcher, the fat loss can be explained by the release of adrenaline in the interval training condition. One of the functions of adrenaline is to break down fat stores and burn them.
adrenaline decreases appetite
Now what he doesn’t mention – at least in any of the articles that I’ve read – is that adrenaline can also DECREASE appetite. Knowing that, it’s easy to see how interval training and adrenaline will have a two-pronged affect on your fat loss.

First, it will help you burn fat faster than cardio. And second, it will help you decrease your calorie intake. PLUS, other research has shown that a steady-state cardio program actually causes some folks to eat MORE and gain weight (International Journal of Obesity 32: 177-184, 2008).

Now I’ll be completely honest, no one knows EXACTLY why interval training works so well for fat loss and why slow cardio fails, but as Dr. Boutcher says, adrenaline might be one reason that “high intensity intermittent exercise may result in greater fat loss in the abdomen”. Or in plain English, why interval training helps you lose belly fat.cb-ttaw-ebook-4

But there’s one twist left in this story, and it goes back to the unique 8-second on, 12-seconds off interval training system used in this study.

Why did the researchers choose it and how can it be applied to TT Adrenaline?

To figure this out, we have to go back in time to 2004, when Dr. Boutcher and his group presented another research study on interval training. This one however, didn’t look at fat loss, but instead compared long intervals against short intervals.

The study was called, “Oxygen uptake response to high intensity intermittent cycle exercise” and was presented at the prestigious American College of Sports Medicine (Trapp, G., Boutcher, Y. N., & Boutcher, S. H. (2004). Oxygen uptake response to high intensity intermittent cycle exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36(5), Supplement abstract 1900).

In this small scale study, young women did two different training sessions.images16

Test 1: 20 minutes of short high intermittent intensity exercise (8-s sprint, 12-s recovery)
Test 2: 20 minutes of long high intermittent intensity exercise (24-s sprint, 36-s recovery)

What the researchers found was quite surprising. The first test, where the women did the 8-second sprint intervals, resulted in greater oxygen uptake and greater energy expenditure than the 24-second sprint.

That’s not just surprising, that’s SHOCKING.

Professor Boutcher’s study suggests that we might get better results if we use shorter interval training periods than what most trainers in the world are using.

But 8 seconds of sprinting, isn’t that impossible for the average person?

Not according to Boutcher, who says, “If you do it much longer, 20 seconds, it’s very painful. Normal people won’t stick to it. If you do it much shorter, two to three seconds, you don’t seem to get the same benefits. So by trial and error and prior research we’ve established what seems optimal for most people at least on the bike — eight seconds sprint, 12 seconds recovery.”cb-ttaw-ebook-4

So HOW do we apply this to TT Adrenaline?

Well, I’m going to make another confession. In the TT Adrenaline program, while we do use the 8-second sprint method, it is also used in a much different way than Boutcher used it with his subjects. I’ll explain more about that in a moment.

But practically speaking, Boutcher says the best way to do the 20-minutes of 8s-12s intervals is by using a spinning bike. He also says a rowing machine will work.

And personal experience shows me that you can do this with shuttle sprints – and that’s what we use in TT Adrenaline.shuttle-sprints

However, it’s next to impossible – and dangerous – to try and replicate the 8 seconds of sprinting and 12 seconds of recovery on a treadmill. So that’s ruled out. But again, a spinning bike, where you can adjust the tension, could work just fine.

In TT Adrenaline, the short sprints are built into circuits within two of the three workouts, and I GUARANTEE you’ve never seen a workout like this before.

And just wait till you see the TT Adrenaline Circuit Challenge.

Can’t wait to see your score.cb-abs-2_june-2008_small1

Train safe – but also train smart,

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS

PS Boutcher is also optimistic that this program can be done by all ages and fitness levels, saying in this interview

“The eight-second sprint is doable by all the groups we’ve looked at – old people, you know, overweight people. Everybody, so far, we’ve tested has been able to do it. And in the 20-minute bout, the actual heart exercise is only eight minutes. So it’s not actually that much exercise.”

PPS  – And of course, the standard rules apply:

See your physician before starting any exercise or nutrition program. You must have a complete physical examination if you are sedentary, if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, if you are overweight, or if you are over 30 years old. Please discuss all nutritional changes with your physician or a registered dietician.


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  • Great post. With all the studies notes, it makes you wonder why people continue to do a long slow cardio as a means of weight loss, and there are so many more well proven options available.

  • Hey Craig,

    Back some years ago (likely in the early-mid ’90s as this is when I was into this kinda thing)…back when you could still get ephedrine and ECA stacks were still fairly popular…I want to say I once read that one of the reasons ECA stacks were popular was that they made the body secrete adrenaline and this sped up lipolysis.

    Anything to this?


    • Craig Ballantyne

      The reason that stuff worked is because it suppressed appetite.

  • Natalie

    During my workout today, I just tried the 8 seconds on 12 seconds off method on a spinning bike. I could only sustain that interval pace for 10 minutes. I am used to 1 minute on and 2 minutes off or 30 sec on and 1 minute off and usually keep this up for more than 9 rounds for about 30 minutes. It definitely was a challenge!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Great stuff Nat!

  • Denis

    How does the 8s work 12s rest compare to tabata 20s work 10s rest?
    Which is more effective?

    • They have not been compared in research, so I don’t know.

  • I’m trying to convince my sister that just started exercising and eating right with my help to do Interval Training. She thinks it’s impossible. Of course, I know otherwise. Any suggestions? I might direct her to this article. Aside from the bike and shuttle sprints, any other way to do interval training at home?

    • Hi Bill, good to hear from you. Make sure you check out my youtube channel at and watch the interval training videos and bodyweight circuit videos. Also, I just released a new program at called “Bodyweight Cardio 3” which contains 4 circuits that can be done in place of intervals.

  • Daniel

    My interval training involves bicycling for 1.7 to 2.4 minutes to achieve an 85% of maximum heart rate (MHR) and when reached holding at that level. The only exception is the first interval which takes 12 minutes to achieve the 85% MHR. I do 7 intervals in 45 minutes. The rest periods range from 4.2 minutes to 1.8 minutes where I reduce activity to 80% of MHR and hold. The balance of the 1 hour and 23 minute workout is warm-up and cool down where the heart rate is 60% to 75% of MHR.

    This is something I came up with on my own after reading several internet articles on interval training.

  • Craig, I have always been a huge fan of interval training but these type of studies just put the icing on the cake. I tell my marathon running friends that they are simply insane when they laugh at my 20 minute workouts. I know I always get the last laugh. Thanks for the information. Keep coming with the research updates please.

  • Domenic

    High carb foods actually spike epinephrine a while.after digesting,they could be important…


    Fat is very anxious issues for the people and there are many people are contention about this health matter. So it should be good science to discover the new technology for reduce this.