Increase Your Fat Burning Capacity by Neuronal Activation

Increase Your Fat Burning Capacity by Neuronal Activation

Your fat burning capacity can be improved by stimulating epinephrine (adrenaline) to activate neurons that are connected to your fat cells. Learn how to do this by the guidance of Dr. Andrew Huberman.

Increase Your Fat Burning Capacity by Neuronal Activation

To increase you fat burning capacity by neuronal activation is a largely unknown technique. This post is a summary of a nearly two-hour video presentation by Stanford University neurologist Andrew Huberman, PhD about the science of fat loss. I was compelled to summarize the video in order to make some of Dr. Huberman’s descriptions of the biochemistry behind fat loss more understandable, and in less time.

Dr. Huberman describes the science of fat loss, including how fat is mobilized and  oxidized (burned), and how to increase fat burning by leveraging the nervous system.  The nervous system’s role is the key differentiator of how Huberman explains how fat loss occurs and thereby what can be done to utilize that system to lose body fat.

As he explains, neurons connect to fat and release epinephrine to facilitate fat oxidation. (Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone.)

How do you make that happen?

  • You fidget — this can burn thousands of calories a day
  • You shiver — a specific protocol that avoids cold adaptation
  • You time your exercise and what time you do — maximizing fat oxidation is the goal

Yes, some of that sounds weird, and all of it needs explanation.

So, my suggestion is that you read my summary and explanation of Dr. Huberman’s video and then scroll back up here to watch it, if you have the time and inclination.

Click here for video topic timestamp

00:00:00 Introduction

00:06:00 Fat Loss: The Key Role of Neurons

00:08:44 The First Law of Fat Loss

00:11:00 Neurons Connect To Fat! (& That Really Matters)

00:13:38 5 Pillars of Metabolism: Sleep, Essential Fatty Acids, Glutamine, Microbiome, Thyroid

00:19:20 Mindset Truly Matters: Amazing Examples of Beliefs on Fat Loss

00:23:08 Our Brain Talks To Our Fat

00:25:00 The Most Incredible & Dangerous Fat Loss Agent

00:27:28 Losing Fat Is a Two-Part Process: Mobilization and Oxidation

00:32:25 The Critical Role of Adrenaline/Epinephrine, But NOT from Adrenal Glands 00:34:45 Fidgeting & Shivering: A Powerful Science-Supported Method For Fat Loss

00:41:24 How Fidgeting Works: Promotes Epinephrine Release into Fat. “N-E-A-T”

00:44:55 Two Ways of Using Shivering To Accelerate Fat Loss

00:47:30 White, Brown & Beige Fat; & Using Cold-Induced Shiver To Burn Fat

00:50:25 How To Use Cold Properly To Stimulate Fat Loss: Succinate Release Is Key/Shiver

00:52:26 Exact Protocols: (1-5X per week); Don’t Adapt! Submerge and Exit “Sets & Reps”

00:56:15 see “protocols” tab Cold-Shiver-Fat-Loss Tool (cost free)

00:58:03 If Fat-Loss Is Your Goal, Avoid Cold Adaptation: Remember Polar Bear Swimmers

00:58:17 Irisin: Underwhelming; Succinate Is The Real Deal 01:00:00 Brown Fat, Why Babies Can’t Shiver and Becoming a Hotter Furnace, Adding Heat

01:01:55 Ice On Back of The Neck, Cold Underpants: Not A Great Idea For Fat Loss

01:04:00 A Key Paper For the Aficionados:

01:05:00 Spot Reduction: There May Be Hope After All. Targeting Specific Fat Pads.

01:09:20 Exercising For Fat Loss: What Is Best? High Intensity, Sprinting, Moderate Intensity?

01:13:30 Exercising Fasted: Does It Truly Accelerate Fat Loss/Oxidation.

01:16:30 The 90 Minute Rule: After 90 Minutes, The Fasted Exercisers Start To Burn More Fat

01:18:15 If High-Intensity Training Is Done First, The Benefits of Fasting Arrive Before 90min.

01:22:44 Post-Exercise Metabolic Increases: How To Bias This Toward Fat Oxidation

01:26:05 A Protocol For Exercise-Induced Fat Loss; Adrenalin Is The Effector

01:28:50 Supplements/Compounds For Fat Loss Part: Caffeine Fidgeting, & Caffeine Adaptation

01:34:30 Ephedrine, Fenfluramine: Removed From Market Due to Safety Concerns

01:35:22 GLP1 (Glucagon-Like Peptide 1), Yerba Mate, Guayusa Tea, Semaglutide

01:40:30 Berberine, Metformin: Glucose/Insulin Reduction, Increase Fat Oxidation: But Caution

01:41:28 Gardner Lab Results: What You Eat May Not Matter, But Adherence Is Key Tool

01:43:00 & Enter “Yerba Mate”: Lowers Heart Rate Even Though Is a Stimulant

01:44:35 Acetly-L-Carnitine: Facilitates Fat Oxidation

01:48:00 Summary List of Tools & How Nervous System Controls Fat Loss

01:51:20 Cost Free & Other Ways To Support Our Podcast, Making Sure We See Feedback

If you liked Dr. Huberman’s video, you can subscribe to his YouTube channel here.


Increase Your Fat Burning Foundation

Before we dive into how to increase you fat burning capacity by neuronal activation, let’s review what Dr. Huberman’s research has indicated that you need to establish as the foundation of your body’s fat-burning capacity. If your foundation of overall health, and your foundation of hormones and metabolism isn’t stable, your fat loss efforts are going to face a headwind, and you will find it difficult to make progress with any kind of exercise or fat loss protocol.

You need to get a few foundational aspects put in place, such as:

Dr. Huberman has a brief explanation of these foundational aspects in his video at timestamp 00:13:38.

Now let’s get into the particulars about about a basic human energy model and needs amending.


An Amendment to the Calories In/Out Model

calories in/calories out modelThe calories in/calories out model of fat loss posits that you must have a sustained caloric deficit in order to to lose body fat, and this is mostly true; however, there are other important factors that must be considered to get a more complete understanding of the mechanisms behind fat lose.

As I explained in Stop Counting Calories to Lose Weight. Do This Instead, issues with food labeling, food absorption, food structure and the food matrix makes calorie counting problematic, but there’s also the important, often overlooked role that the nervous system, the brain in the discussion about losing body fat.

Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UC San Francisco, has studied how highly processed foods change the way our body utilizes food in a way that often leads to higher incidences of obesity and other risk factors attributable to metabolic syndrome. His research modifies the dictum of the calories in/calories out rule.

A calorie is a unit of  energy — the amount of energy it takes to warm up 1 kilogram of water from 0°C (32 °F) to 1°C (33.8 °F). This is undeniable, and if you could accurately count the calories ingested, then that too is inviolate. But what becomes less certain is calories “burned”, as this part is strongly influenced by several factors, including your hormones, metabolism, thyroid function, the kind of food ingested and absorbed, gut microbes, exercise and circadian rhythms.

In this post, the focus will be on increasing fat burning capacity by neuronal activation, and to get to that, I need to first explain the two-part process of fat loss: mobilization and oxidation.


Mobilization and Oxidation — the Two-part Fat Loss Process

This is about your thermogenic environment, a very important factor pertaining to how fat is converted into energy, often referred to as fat burning.

There’s two parts to  this process:

  1. Fat mobilization, and
  2. Fat oxidation.

The first thing that has to happen for body fat to get burned up (used and reduced) is that it has to get mobilized, a process called lipolysis. This gets the fat out of fat cells. (Lipolysis is the metabolic process through which triacylglycerols break down via hydrolysis into their constituent molecules: glycerol and free fatty acids.)

Stored fat, Huberman explains, has two parts that are relevant to this discussion. It’s got the fatty acid part, the part that your body can use, which is attached to something called glycerol (a naturally occurring alcohol), and they’re linked by a “backbone” (a carbon chain).

What you want to know is that to get the fat out of fat cells via lipolysis, the glycerol backbone needs to be broken — this is the mobilization of fat, and it’s accomplished by an enzyme called lipase.

When fatty acids are moved from the fat cells, they enter the bloodstream and can be used as energy once they enter cells that can use them for energy. But entering the cell makes fatty acids a potential energy source; they don’t actually get “burned” until they are oxidized, the second part of the fat loss process.

This oxidization (fat-burning) happens in the cells’ mitochondria, where they are converted into ATP (Adenosine 5′-triphosphate). ATP  is what our cells use for energy.

The bottom line here is that to lose fat, your body first has to mobilize the fat out of fat cells, and then oxidize it in the mitochondria to produce ATP. If you just mobilize it, and you don’t  convert it into energy, you don’t oxidize it, it can be returned to body fat.

The thing that’s rarely gets discussed in this fat loss subject is that the mobilization and oxidation of body fat are governed by your nervous system. Neurons literally send little wires called axons into fat and release chemicals that provide a stimulus for more of that fat to be mobilized, and then later for more of that fat to be burned up.

Let’s next look at how that happens


Neurons,  Epinephrine and Fat Loss

Let’s answer some questions that are rarely addressed on the topic of our fat-burning capacity:

  • What are these neurons that connect to fat doing?
  • What are they releasing exactly?
  • How do they actually increase fat mobilization?
  • How do  they increase fat oxidation (fat-burning)? 

Neurons are information messengers. They use electrical impulses and chemical signals to transmit information between different areas of the brain, and between the brain and the rest of the nervous system.

There are several kinds of body fat are innervated (to arouse or stimulate) by neurons. Neurons connect to your body fat and can change the probability that that body fat will be burned or not. Your nervous system is the master controller of this fat-burning process, thereby playing a strong role in the calories burned (“calories out”) component.

The conversion of fatty acids into ATP in the  mitochondria of cells is favored by epinephrine. There are two sources that releases epinephrine: (1) the adrenal glands located on the top of our kidneys, which set a top our kidneys  and our lower back; and (2) from the sympathetic nervous system.

The adrenal glands releases epinephrine to help burn body fat.The sympathetic nervous system has nothing to do with sympathy, rather, it’s a network of nerves that helps your body activate its “fight-or-flight” response. This system’s activity increases when you’re stressed, in danger or physically active.

It was mistakenly thought that the adrenal glands and the release of epinephrine stimulated fat loss and fat oxidation. Furthermore, it was mistakenly thought that it was the epinephrine swimming around in your body that promotes fat oxidation when fasting, stressed out or exercising. This is not what’s happening.

The epinephrine that stimulates fat oxidation (the burning of fat) is coming from neurons that actually connect to the fat, not hormones like epinephrine that are circulating around in your system. This is very important because it means that, what you do, the specific patterns of  movements and the specific environment you create that can stimulate these particular  neurons to activate fat (to release fat), to mobilize it and then to burn it, is going to be a powerful lever that you can use in order to increase fat loss.

What we want is to activate the nervous system in ways that promote more liberation, movement, mobilization of fat and more oxidation of fat.

The most powerful way to stimulate epinephrine from these neurons that connect to fat, and thereby stimulate more fat mobilization and  oxidation, is through movement, but not necessarily exercise, although that’s very important as well.

The type of movements relevant to nervous system activation is:

  • Fidgeting, and
  • Shivering.

Both can  greatly increase fat metabolism and fat loss.

How to activate neurons to lose body fat by Fidgeting

Mayo Clinic researchers conducted a study published in 1999 with a small cohort of 16 people who overate for two months. They tracked whether the food was burned or stored as fat.

They found that the key factor in predicting fat gain was the change in calories burned during the normal activities of daily living — fidgeting, moving around, changing posture, etc. They labeled this factor NEAT (for non-exercise activity thermogenesis).

Their findings:

  • Those who had the greatest increase in NEAT gained the least fat
  • Those who had the least change in NEAT gained the most.

When people overeat, NEAT switches on in some people to “waste” the excess energy provided by over-eating. If that doesn’t happen, the calories get stored as fat.

Dr. Huberman reports that fidgeters burn anywhere from 800 to 2,500 daily calories more than those who do not fidget.

How could these little micro movements lead to so much caloric burn? It’s because these little fidgety movements engage certain aspects of our musculature that trigger epinephrine release from neurons and stimulate the mobilization of fat, after which that fat is oxidized (burned) at higher  rates.

Although I find this information fascinating, it’s not useful for me. It would take a sustained effort to fro me to become a fidgeter, because it’s not in my nature. You can plop me on the couch and I can pretty much remain motionless until the dinner bell chimes, or my watch alerts me that it’s time to do an “exercise snack”.

If you’re not prone to fidgeting, and sit a lot, check out my post, How To Do Exercise Snacks. What I do is set my phone to ring on the hour during the day. When that happens I get up and do a two-plus minute exercise snack.

Next up, another fat-burning tactic that will take some will power — shivering.

How to activate neurons to lose body fat by Shivering

Shivering is one  of the strongest stimuli that one can incorporate to stimulate fat loss.

Shivering is extremely subtle, but is a strong stimulus for the release of epinephrine into fat cells, and the increase in fat oxidation and mobilization.

This shivering technique is different that what’s typically advocated with a cold plunge in a large tub of freezing water or some seal breathing hole in the Arctic.  The difference is the shivering. You don’t want to become cold-adapted, as this could enable you to avoid shivering. Want you want is to shiver.

Why shiver?

It has to do with the three types of fat:

  1. White fat (white adipose tissue)– the dominant jiggly that likes to hang around our waist and among our organs
  2. Brown fat (brown adipose tissue) — rich in mitochondria, our energy factory of the cell
  3. Beige fat (beige adipose tissue) — can be turned into brown fat

White fat is what we mostly think of as fat, something most of us are all to familiar with. It lacks mitochondria.

Brown fat largely exists between our shoulder blades and on the back of our  neck, between the scapulae. It’s rich in mitochondria, which is why it’s called “brown fat. It has a particular biochemical capacity whereby it can take food and basically break it down and convert it into energy more directly than fatty acids from white fat that to be mobilized out of fat cells and mobilize to get converted into ATP in the mitochondria. Brown fat is thermogenic; it can actually use energy directly.

Beige fat, as the name suggests, is in between white and brown. It’s a type of white fat that could be brown fat, because it has some mitochondria in it, but not as much as brown fat.

This relates to cold and shivering, because cold causes the release of epinephrine from your adrenals, and the release of epinephrine from the neurons that connect to fat.

There are two ways that cold effects metabolism and fat burning:

  1. Cold exposure triggers brown fat activation, and
  2. Cold exposure converts some beige fat into brown fat.

When those two things happen, you essentially create a stronger or a hotter metabolic furnace. So, in the context of the calories in/out model, cold exposure is helping your body increase calorie burning by increasing the intensity of the heat inside you, so to speak. This can be referred to as “brown fat thermogenesis

(Thermogenesis is the dissipation of energy through the production of heat that occurs in specialized tissues like brown adipose tissue and skeletal muscle. Brown fat helps you burn calories by creating heat right before your body starts to shiver.)

It’s shivering itself that causes the brown fat to increase your fat burn rate and your metabolism. When you get into cold and shiver, the shivering uses a low level movement of the muscle, and those small movements  trigger the release of a molecule called succinate.

Succinate acts on the brown fat to increase brown fat thermogenesis and fat burning, which increases body heat through this brown fat thermogenesis pathway.  Over time, this can increase the amount of brown fat by converting beige fat into true brown fat.

For this to happen, you must shiver. You don’t want to adapt to the cold exposure and not shiver. If you learn to resist the shiver, you are not going to  get the increased metabolic effect, because you are not going to get the succinate release and have your thermogenic level to go up.

So, what would be a cold exposure regimen to ignite succinate?

It depends on how much body fat you want to lose. There are studies, says Huberman, that describe  positive effects on fat loss of exposing yourself to cold, either through cold shower or  through ice bath or other cold water. Ice in the water isn’t necessary, nor is some target temperature. The temperature just has to be what makes you shiver.

A protocol you can follow is to:

  • Begin with one minute of shivering in a tub, lake, shower, whatever.
  • Get out of the cold and wait till you stop shivering.
  • Get back into the cold and do this again three times.
  • Once a week is good, three is better.
  • Beware of hypothermia and consult with your doctor before trying this.

The cooling and rewarming process of the body is where shiver kicks in. That’s distinctly different from just trying to get into the cold and staying there for as long as possible.

If fat  loss is your goal, maybe use it for two, three months at a time and then stop for two or three months at a time, because it is such a potent stimulus.

If  you’d like to see this protocol spelled out, you can access it zero cost at

If the protocol described above seems about as interesting to you as making yourself fidget all day, consider trying to expose yourself by simply beginning your shower without letting the water run to warm it up. Depending on how cold your climate is, the first 3o to 60 seconds will deliver cold water before the warm water arrives. Although this might make you gasp, it’s unlikely to make you shiver, so the idea here is to transition you to the shiver.


The Best Exercise for Fat Loss

Finally, we get to what I’m more inclined to do — and it ain’t fidgeting nor shivering (not yet). What I am referring to exercise that improves my fat burning capacity.

Let’s go over three types of training that accelerates fat loss:

  1. SIT — sprint interval training
  2. HIIT — high intensity interval training
  3. MICT — moderate intensity continuous training

SIT is the ultimate anaerobic exercise for athletes

Sprint interval training is the most intense of the three types of training that accelerates fat loss, and, frankly, is inadvisable for most senior citizens. Unless you’ve been a conditioned athlete all your life and are thoroughly prepared for this, you will get injured.

SIT is defined as an all out effort greater than 100% of your VO2 that lasts eight to 30 seconds, interspersed with less  intense recovery periods. For example, sprinting for eight to 30 seconds, then walking for about a minute or two, and then sprinting again, until you’ve done about eight or more sets.

VO2 max is calculated to be:

VO2 max = 15 x (HRmax/HRrest)

In my case:

VO2 max = 15 x (168/50) = 50

According to Garmin, the health metrics tracking company, a VO2 max of 50 for a 67 year-old man (me) is “excellent”; nonetheless, I will not maintain that by doing SIT (nor by SITting on the couch).

Learn more about using VO2 max (and METs) to reduce body fat by reading my post, How To Reduce Obesity In Older Adults and Improve VO2 Max.

HIIT is the most intense for most people who are prepared

High intensity interval training looks a lot different than most of what you see on YouTube under this category; meaning, it’s more intense than much of how it’s depicted there, but less intense than SIT.

The aim with HIIT is to train at 80 to 100% of your VO2 max. This would be bursts of activity that lasts 60 to 240 seconds, interspersed with less intense recovery periods.

Assuming you’re physically conditioned for HIIT and are very warmed up, two apparatus ideal for this type of exercise are the so-called “assault bike” and a rowing machine; I prefer the former.

Fat Burning Capacity can be increased by working out on an assault bike for HIIT

Fat Burning Capacity can be increased by working out on an rowing machine for HIIT

MICT is aerobic and requires the least preparation

Moderate intensity continuous training is steady state cardio sometimes called Zone 2 cardio. You do this by exercising continuously for 20 to 60  minutes at moderate intensity of 40 to 60% of VO2 max,at a heart rate of 55 to  70% of your max heart rate.

Whereas SIT and HIIT are anaerobic, MICT is aerobic.

Some examples of MICT:

  • Fast walking (if that elevates your heart rate enough)
  • Jogging
  • Biking
  • Weight lifting intervals (depends on the pace, could be anaerobic as well)

Now, from a fat lose maximalist perspective, does it matter if you exercise in a fasted state?

That’s up next.


Is Fat Burning Capacity Improved by Exercising While Fasted?

Do you burn more fat if you do your exercise fasted?

In this regard, say, you wake up in the morning, you’ve been sleeping, thereby fasting all night. Is this the ideal time to exercise if fat lose is your objective?

Well, what’s true is that insulin is upregulated when you eat and insulin inhibits the movement of fatty acids into mitochondria and the conversion to ATP; however, this is only significant for short periods of training.

It appears that the arbiter of fat burning from exercise is intensity and duration. This get complicated, but basically, ideally, you need to deplete glycogen (a stored form of glucose) through high intensity exercise, and then move to a steady state exercise that will allow you to burn more fat.  Or you need to perform a medium intensity or low intensity type exercise for a long  period of time before you shift over to burning fat. This is because glycogen is what fuels anaerobic activity and fat is what fuels anaerobic activity after the glycogen is used up.

Anaerobic activity is by definition slow bursts of intensity, so you can’t do that for very long in terms of getting to the fat burning phase. And an aerobic level of intensity will take some time to get through the glycogen fuel and then start burning the fat fuel.

If you can do all this in a fasted state, you should be able to burn more calories during the exercise period, if you can actually do all that fasted. But know that anaerobic exercise will burn more calories (fat) for a longer period of time post-exercise, and that includes resistance training (weight lifting and/or calisthenics).

Read my post, Get Strong and Live long with Strength Training.

I’m going to update this post at a later date to include fat-reducing foods and supplements, but before I finish, I want to add one more thing into the mix…


Your Mindset Improves Fat-burning Capacity

Alia Crum is an Associate Professor of psychology at Stanford University.

Inspired by the “placebo effect”, Dr. Crum’s research focuses on how changes in subjective mindsets – the lenses through which information is perceived, organized, and interpreted – can alter objective reality through behavioral, psychological and physiological mechanisms.

Her work with a cohort of hotel maids yielded fascinating results about how a reinterpretation of activity can have a different physiological result; in this case, the lose of body fat.

This study, Mind-set matters: exercise and the placebo effect, tested whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by a person’s mindset by evaluating the physiological health variables affected by exercise of 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels.

The room attendants were divided into two groups:

  • The informed group was told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided.
  • The control group was was told nothing and continued with their work without any new influence.

Although actual behavior did not change, four weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. These results support the hypothesis that exercise affects health in part or in whole via the placebo effect.

This experiment clearly indicates that the calories in/out model can be modified; in this case by simply shifting one’s mindset to believe a certain action can obtain a certain result.

Now, let’s not go overboard with this — you’d do yourself no favors by convincing yourself that eating a gallon of ice cream every evening on the couch in front of the boob tube is an effective fat loss strategy. An important aspect of the room attendance informed group was consistent activity, and physical activity is a known calorie burner, so what they were already doing was directionally sound.

The idea that such activity could result in fat loss and other health gains could have subtly focused the informed group on putting more physical effort in doing their work than they usually did, but that’s part of what the placebo effect can do.

That’s it (for now).  Thanks for reading!



Last Updated on March 11, 2023 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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