The Benefits of Fat Loss and How to Do It Part 1
Why should I be leaner?
There are many reasons why fat loss is beneficial to your body. Aside from the aesthetic reasons, people with lower body fat percentages are less susceptible to illness, diabetes and joint injuries. It can often seem like a mountain to climb when you first decide to lose weight, but in my next three articles I will show you why you must do it, how to determine your body fat and how to go about losing it.
Excess body fat is linked to cancer
The US National Cancer Institute gathered much of the available information in 2004 and found a raised incidence of many cancers with obesity and excess body fat1. A link to the published article is below. The research by many specialists suggests that obesity is a contributing factor to stomach, bowel and pancreatic cancers, to name a few. An excellent study by the Australian Cancer Council has produced a risk sheet based on waist measurement that makes sobering reading2. Waist measurements above 100cm (39 inches) for men and 80cm (31.5 inches) for women are shown to increase your cancer risk.
Excess body fat suppresses insulin sensitivity
Excess body fat can also lead to the development of diabetes. It can suppress your body’s sensitivity to insulin, causing diabetic complications and a tendency to deposit even more body fat. Studies have also shown that people who are not classified as obese, but who carry too much visceral fat around their stomachs, are also at risk3.
Excess body fat hampers your performance!
Body fat is an inactive tissue. If you’re an avid amateur sportsman or woman, reducing your body fat can improve your performance. A leaner you will be able to move faster, change direction more easily and perform for longer. Imagine playing your sport with a sack of potatoes on your back. Excess body fat is the same thing, useless and slowing you down! Additionally, accelerating and decelerating less weight means less strain on your muscles and joints, and the ability to play for longer at a higher intensity. Legendary Football coach Vince Lombardi said ‘Fatigue makes cowards of us all’. A University of Buffalo study also found an inverse link between body fat levels and testosterone production, leading to a decrease in sexual function for men who were overweight or obese4.
OK, so how do I know if I have too much body fat?
- Check your waistband! Is it tight? Is it increasing and leading to an increase in the contents of your wardrobe? A simple tape measurement of your waistline around your navel is a good indicator.
- Have your body fat percentage measured. Ask a Personal Trainer to test your body fat, preferably with calipers. This will tell you your body fat percentage and lean mass percentage and allow you to modify your calorie intake accordingly. You don’t want to feed fat, only the lean mass of your body. Caliper measurements will also allow you to determine where on your body you store your fat, important if you are a visceral fat stomach storer. If you can only have this done with bioelectrical impedance scales or a handheld monitor, don’t worry. They are not as accurate, but can be used as a rough estimate. Importantly, as you lose weight, they will still show your progress, despite any inaccuracy in the initial measurement. Please note that this measurement has nothing to do with your BMI. BMI is a very limited measurement that does not distinguish between body fat and lean body mass.
Body Fat Categories for Women
- 10-12% - Essential Fat
- 14-20% - Athletic Fat Levels
- 21-24% - Fitness Fat Levels
- 25-31% - Acceptable Fat Levels
- >32% - Obese
Body Fat Categories for Men
- 2-4% - Essential Fat
- 6-13% - Athletic Fat Levels
- 14-17% - Fitness Fat Levels
- 18-25% - Acceptable Fat levels
- >26% - Obese
In Parts 2 and 3 I will discuss the best nutritional and exercise strategies to decrease body fat and make you leaner and meaner!
References and recommended reading:
3) Kahn, S, Prigeon R.L et al, Journal of Nutrition. 2001;131:354S-360S. The American Society for Nutritional Sciences
4) University at Buffalo (2010, May 5). Male obesity linked to low testosterone levels.
Lean and Mean
The Benefits of Fat Loss and How to Do It Part 2
Part 1 looked at why being leaner is better, and how to determine how lean you are. Part 2 will get to grips with the nutritional intake and calculations that will help you attain the leaner, meaner, you!
Educated nutrition is one of the keys to leanness
You may be aware of the simple energy balance equation, that if the energy in the food you eat exceeds the energy you expend, you store the excess as fat and put on weight. Conversely, a deficit in the energy you eat versus the energy you expend, leads to a loss in weight from fatty stores burned, or in extreme cases, from muscle too.
There is more to it than that though, and there are several solid strategies that will allow you to streamline your calorie intake and fat burning potential and get lean and mean.
Our entire food intake is composed of four broad nutritional elements: protein, fats, carbohydrates and water. We can really improve our chance of being lean by modifying the quality of the protein, fat and carbohydrate, and eating a balanced diet within the following 6 groups:
- Fruit. Fruit is full of water and is relatively calorie sparse, meaning that you can eat a lot of it and feel full, or satiated, without taking in a huge amount of calories. They also contain vitamins, fibre for gut health and satiety again and most interestingly, things called phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are effective antioxidants that until recently were thought to function similarly to the body’s naturally occurring antioxidants. Recent research is starting to suggest that they are actually weak toxins that stimulate production of the body’s antioxidants. People who eat lots of fruit suffer fewer chronic diseases and live longer1. The 4 or 5 a day concept is perfectly acceptable for getting lean.
- Vegetables. Vegetables also contain lots of vitamins, fibre, phytonutrients and are calorie sparse, again meaning that they can be eaten with every meal and do not push your calorie intake too high. 4 or 5 servings a day are fine. Try not to boil your veggies into pulp; steaming is far better as it retains more of those nutrients.
- Lean proteins. Protein is vitally important for any regular exerciser, and especially for those trying to get leaner. It repairs the damage caused by training and daily mechanical wear and tear and is also satiating, lessening our desire for carbohydrates and helping to reduce our overall calorie intake. Lean protein can be defined as all meats of 10% fat content or less, fish and nuts and seeds. They are good sources of vitamins and minerals, especially iron and B12 and provide essential fat for our diet. Nuts are very useful, as they contain an almost perfect, naturally occurring blend of saturated and unsaturated fats. Do not be put off by the fat content; our bodies need fat to burn fat, and also to transport many vitamins and minerals. A sensible nut serving covers the palm of your hand. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that people who eat nuts regularly have lower than average body weights2.
- Whole grains. Whole grains such as brown rice, wholegrain pastas and breads are excellent sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals and complex carbohydrate, and releases energy more slowly so you feel fuller for longer and avoid peaks and troughs in your energy levels. They are preferable to refined grains that have been scrubbed (normally to make them appear more appealing) and have had some of their nutritional value removed as a result. Research has shown that people who consume more wholegrains are less likely to be overweight than those who primarily consume refined grains3. A word of warning regarding bread though. It is so easily available and requires such little preparation it can be easy too eat too much. 4 slices a day is a good rough guide.
- Low fat dairy products. Are you paying attention ladies?! Low fat dairy products can make you leaner. I often hear from female clients during consultations that they don’t eat any dairy products because they think they will make them fat. Low fat dairy has an excellent blend of protein, fats and carbohydrates. It also reduces the activity of a hormone called calcitrol that promotes fat storage. They contain naturally occurring calcium and vitamin D too (added during manufacture), vital for bone density and strength and a healthy immune system. Glasses of skim and semi skim milk are hydrating too.
- Essential fats. Essential fats are fats we cannot synthesise ourselves and so must get from our diet. Omega 3 and 6 fats are used in cell membranes, nerve function and the body’s natural anti-inflammatories. Omega 6s are plentiful in a western diet, but Omega 3s are not. I would recommend that everyone takes a daily Omega supplement to ensure an ample supply to the body. Omega 3s are fascinating compounds and have recently been linked to enhanced fat burning effects of exercise, increased blood vessel elasticity, lower blood pressure and cardiac efficiency, and even improved aerobic performance!4,5 All of these should be of great interest to the lean and mean! Best sources are oily fish such as salmon and anchovies, and flaxseed oils, consumed twice weekly.
The Lean and Mean Sums
Armed with your body fat percentage and body mass, you can find your lean body mass (LBM). This is what you will feed, not your total mass. Ask your trainer (or use BMR calculating scales) to work out your BMR (basal metabolic rate, using your LBM, what I call my ‘lean BMR’) and daily calorific requirement using the Harris Benedict Equation:
Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 X LBM) + (5 X ht in cm) - (6.8 X age in years)
Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 X LBM) + (1.8 X ht in cm) - (4.7 X age in years)
Harris Benedict Equation
To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your lean BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:
- If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.2
- If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.375
- If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.55
- If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.725
- If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.9
Example: So for a man at 90kg and 30% body fat (27kg), 35 years old and 178cm tall, the LBM is 63kg (90-27). He is ‘moderately active’ with his new gym routine.
Lean BMR is 1581kcals (66+863+890-238)
Total daily calorie need is 2450kcals (1581x1.55)
To get leaner slowly and safely, losing just less than half a kilo of body fat per week, he would aim for a deficit of 500kcals per day, for a target of 1950kcals.
The next step
OK, that’s the sums done! Part 3 is where the hard work begins as we will explore the best strategies for eating and exercising to burn fat as efficiently as possible.
References and recommended reading:
1) D'Archivio M, Santangelo C, Scazzocchio B, Varì R, Filesi C, Masella R, Giovannini C. Modulatory effects of polyphenols on apoptosis induction: relevance for cancer prevention. International Journal of Molecular Science. 2008 Mar;9(3):213-28
2) Bes-Rastrollo, Wedick N, Martinez-Gonzales M et al, 2009. Prospective study of nut consumption, long term weight change, and obesity risk in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89(6): 1913-19
3) Good, C, Holschuh N, Albertson, M et al 2008. Wholegrain consumption and bodyweight index in adult women. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 27(1):80-1
4) Hill, A, Buckley JD, Murphy K and Howe, P, 2007. Combining Fish Oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 85(5): 1267-74
5) Peoples, G.E., McLennan P, Howe P, and Groeller, H, 2008. Fish Oil reduces heart rate and oxygen consumption during exercise. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology 52(6): 540-47
Lean and Mean
The Benefits of Fat Loss and How to Do It Part 3
Part 1 looked at why being leaner is better, and how to determine how lean you are. Part 2 got to grips with the basic nutrition and calculations and in part 3 we will explore the nutrition and exercise strategies to help you reach your goals.
Smart training and eating
Many people trying to lose weight spend hours on various pieces of cardio equipment, skip meals and reduce their calorie intake drastically in an attempt to create a significant calorie deficit and burn body fat. Does it work? Unfortunately yes it does, at least initially, but then grinds to a halt and leaves you exhausted, bored with training and prone to put weight back on. So how do you keep yourself interested, energetic and progressing?
The westernised concept of 3 meals a day is not conducive to leanness. It encourages us to eat too much at each mealtime. A study has shown that ANY meal that constitutes 750kcals or above will cause a measurable deposit of body fat1. Habitually eating too much or too little at certain times of the day leads to a deposition of body fat, or an energy deficit that encourages muscle mass to be used instead, neither which are conducive to leanness.
Many people think that eating regularly helps to regulate your metabolism, keeping it at a higher level where it promotes weight loss. There is no research evidence to support this. The real reason you should eat little and often is to do with satiety. Studies have shown that it promotes a feeling of fullness that reduces the volume of food you eat over the day2, helping you to avoid overeating, and unhelpful fat deposition.
Regular training also reduces appetite, helping you to control your food intake even further.
‘Nutrient Timing’ is a strategy of spreading your daily food intake over several smaller meals. It encourages the nutrients you consume to be used productively by controlling the times and contexts in which you eat them. If you exercise regularly and time your eating well, you will encourage your body to store less fat, store more protein and carbohydrate in your muscles and use more calories to supply immediate and recovery energy needs than you would if you ate EXACTLY the same amount, but timed your meals poorly. So when should you eat to get lean and mean?
- Eat early. Breakfast is important! The fewer calories you eat at breakfast, the hungrier you will be later in the day, and the more you are likely to overeat3.
- Eat often, for the reasons in the above paragraph, your satiety will limit your total calorie intake
- Eat before exercise. Eating before exercise provides two benefits. You will have the energy to complete a greater volume of work at a greater intensity, leading to an increase in muscle mass, a higher metabolism, and a longer fat burning recovery period afterwards. It will also increase the number of calories you burn, and decrease the number you store.
- Eat after exercise. This strategy affects body composition both directly and indirectly. Eating after exercise encourages your body to ‘partition’ your energy intake into glycogen and muscle synthesis and store less as fat. It then allows your body to recover more quickly so that you can train again sooner and therefore maintain your training volume and intensity. Recovery proceeds significantly faster if the right nutrients are consumed within a two hour window after training than if your meal occurs after two hours4. Ideally, consume 1.2g of protein per kg of body weight, 4 grams of carbohydrate per gram of protein and enough water to ensure your urine is pale yellow or clear within 3-4 hours of exercise. A study has shown that you can synthesise 55% more muscle glycogen if you eat carbs and proteins within this window and a small meal afterwards, than if you eat the same amount in a single meal after this window1.
Preparation is key when you are trying to become leaner. Prepare food in advance for work or travel. Eating for convenience is not usually conducive to leanness. Vending machines, takeaways and sandwich shops can scupper your chances of maintaining your energy levels and calorie deficit. Prepare your training schedule too. Don’t amble off to the gym with the attitude that you’ll figure out a plan when you get there, or make it up as you go along. This leads to a lack of motivation, poor work volume, low intensity, no progression and tedium. You won’t last. Instead research your routines and write or print them out in advance. Get into the habit of using a small notebook and logging your workouts. This will help you track your progress. Better still, ask an experienced trainer for some input and design a challenging, progressive regime together. Working with a trainer regularly can help push you to maximise your results, but even one session a month can serve as a progress check and help make sure you’re on the right track.
Lean, Mean Exercise Regime
So, because we’re working on leanness we’re going to do lots of cardio and the longer we go the better right? WRONG.
Steady state cardiovascular exercise is a good way for people who haven’t exercised before, or exercised for a while, to raise their initial fitness levels, but on its own, it isn’t the most effective way to get lean and mean.
Weight training and cardio training in combination is the best way to strip body fat. Cardio can develop your basic fitness, help you develop an initial calorie deficit, and weight training can ensure that your metabolism is raised for longer, burning more calories as you recover. Moderate weight training leads to increased muscle tone, a state of constant tension in the muscles that requires energy to maintain. More intense weight training builds muscle, increasing your lean muscle mass, and therefore increases your lean BMR, burning more calories.
How and Why
The most effective forms of cardio exercise for stripping body fat are interval training and circuit training. Interval training can be performed on any piece of cardio equipment and consists of periods of high intensity, followed by periods of recovery, either at a stop, or a reduced intensity. Over the course of the session, you are able to work for a period of time that you would not be able to manage if you tried to accomplish it all in one go.
Example: A client runs on a treadmill for 26 minutes in total. She warms up at 10kph for 2 minutes and then alternates between running at 13kph and recovering at 7kph for the remaining 24 minutes. On completion, she has run for 12 minutes at 13kph, something she would be unable to do in one go. The 12 minutes of recovery in between has enabled her to run further, faster.
Circuit training works many muscle groups in a range of exercises, at a high intensity, normally for a set time. A well constructed circuit targets muscles in a controlled order, changing the targeted muscle group and allowing the last group to recover as you move from one exercise to the other. So this time our client is able to complete 100 crunches and 60 press ups amongst other exercises during the circuit, numbers she would not manage should she attempt them in one go. Well designed circuit training also provides a total body workout, great for extending your recovery times for the reasons below.
What makes intervals and circuits so good at promoting leanness happens when you finish them. Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), is the number of calories expended (above resting values) after an exercise bout. Many studies have shown that EPOC is greatest after interval and circuit style training, meaning that you continue to burn calories, predominantly from your fat reserves, long after you finish training5. This is not to say that steady state training has no place in your exercise regime. In fact, initially, if you are relatively new to training, you will find interval training extremely challenging, and should limit sessions to one per week at a manageable intensity. This is where the input of an experienced trainer will be invaluable at determining your level. More advanced exercisers can do two intervals per week at higher intensities, but it is very important that you get sufficient recovery between sessions, typically of 48 hours. Many of my fitter clients perform 2 intervals and two steady state sessions per week.
Circuit training is a little different however, and can be performed by beginners several times a week as long as sufficient recovery is allowed between sessions. You can work at each station at an intensity that suits you, but it is common to feel some muscle soreness afterwards!
I hope that you will be able to apply some of these strategies to your training, and reap the benefits of being leaner and meaner as a consequence. The key points are:
- Ask an experienced trainer to determine your body composition and calorie requirements.
- Control your nutrition so that you eat little, often, and when your body can make best use of the nutrients. Drink lots of water.
- Train hard but train smart using a prepared regime of interval training, circuits and weight training, with occasional sessions of steady state cardio as well.
- Allow sufficient recovery and be patient. It doesn’t happen overnight, but the results can revitalise your lifestyle and performances.
References and recommended reading:
1) Berardi, J, Price T, Noreen E, 2006. Post exercise muscle glycogen recovery enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 38(6): 1106-13
2) Fitzgerald M, 2009. Racing Weight: How to get lean for peak performance. Velopress Books, Boulder, Colorado USA. Pp 134
3) De Castro, J M, 2007. The time of day and the proportions of micronutrients eaten are related to total daily food intake. British Journal of Nutrition 98(5): 1077-83
4) Fitzgerald M, 2009. Racing Weight: How to get lean for peak performance. Velopress Books, Boulder, Colorado USA. Pp 142
5) Børsheim, E, Bahr, R, 2003.Effect of exercise intensity, duration and mode on post-exercise oxygen consumption. Sports Medicine, 33(14):1037–60