Nutrition Coaching: Fat Loss 101
We have a saying here at UEFP – we want to lose fat, not weight. Some clients wonder what the heck I mean by that, so I’ll clarify: by losing bodyfat, we’re preserving our muscle mass (a marker for longevity) while building a strong body that excels at athletic performance. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately though most people focus on simply losing weight with a “whatever the cost” mentality. If you’re not careful you can lose weight while also losing strength, destroying your metabolic rate, and potentially suffering injuries when playing sports. I’ve come across clients who have taken extreme methods to lose weight; and while they reached their goal weight, they also suffered from chronic fatigue and frequent illness. That doesn’t sound so good, does it?
What’s the point of losing all that weight if you can’t enjoy it? Let’s discuss the ins and outs of fat loss so you can not only love the way you look at the beach, but you can also dominate that beach volley game as well.
Your Fat Cells
Just like you have muscle cells and nerve cells, you also have fat cells. The scientific term for these cells is called adipocytes. These cells are responsible for storing your body fat – called triglycerides – when the body calls for fat storage. If you remember our sugar episode, excessive sugar consumption can be stored in your fat cells.
Before you begin to scorch the very existence of every fat call in your body, hear me out. Your fat cells are responsible for specific metabolic reactions as well as producing a whole slew of hormones that stimulate hunger and build muscle. You store fat cells in what’s called your adipose tissue, but you can also find some fat cells inside your muscles too. Problems arise when you overstuff your fat cells – in this case, the body can actually create new fat cells that are nearly impossible to get rid of!
Just as an FYI, a lean male (around 12% bodyfat) has around 100,000 calories of stored energy in just bodyfat (1). For comparison sakes, you can store about 1,400-1,900 calories of energy in carbohydrate. Fat is the preferred method of energy burning if you treat your body right.
Getting your body to burn fat isn’t as easy as just going for a walk. Light exercise – like walking and easy cycling – will burn a bit of fat during the training session but your metabolism will return to baseline right when the exercise session is over. High intensity exercise like circuit training, intervals, sprints, and strongman training (farmers walk, sled pushes, etc) burn a tremendous amount of fat long after the exercise session is over. When comparing high intensity cycling to long duration exercise, those who did the intervals managed to lose significant body fat(2). Even swinging a kettlebell was found to consume more energy than running on a treadmill (3).
But good exercise programming is only part of the equation. An adequate diet is required for your body to burn fat. Of course excessive eating plays a culprit, but it’s more about what you eat than necessarily how much. Once again we’re going to get an assist from our sugar article: if you have dramatic changes in your insulin (the hormone that responds to sugar and carbs) you can reduce your ability to burn fat by 50% (4)!
Speaking of diet….
Calories In, Calories Out….Right?
There’s the old adage of “calories in, calories out” that states that if you burn more energy than you eat, you’ll lose weight. There’s some truth to it, but it really comes down to what you eat since not all calories are created equal. The calories found in a hamburger bun aren’t the same as small cut of steak – even though the calories may match up perfectly.
Case in point: when subjects increased their protein intake to 30%, they lost 10 pounds along with dropping inches off their waist and lowering their blood pressure (5). In another case, simply cutting of refined carbohydrates allowed subjects to drop 10 pounds while improving their “good” cholesterol (6). It can be a little confusing, can’t it? The best way to success is to eat to your body type (I handle that part) while following a good resistance training program. However, life isn’t always perfect, so here are some things that can stop your body from burning fat:
-Chronic calorie intake (especially with refined carbs/sugars)
-Hidden calories (liquids, cooking oils)
-Not eating to your body type
-Chronic eating out (you can’t control the oils and sugar the kitchen may use)
-Excessive low calorie intake (metabolism mimics calorie intake)
-Avoidance of carbohydrates
-Chronic stress and lack of sleep
The calorie concept can be a bit confusing and very individualized. However, I will tell you that all the training in the world won’t let you lose bodyfat if your nutrient intake is not regulated. Study after study shows that those who follow an exercise program without any nutrition changes make absolutely no changes to their weight.
What to Do Now
Still have questions? Nutrition coaching is always available to you, so schedule a session! In the meantime, make sure to follow these simple guidelines:
-Build each meal around a protein (protein is your best fat burning food)
-The leaner you get/the more active you are, then the more carbs you need
-Pack your food ahead of time to get 1-2 servings of vegetables per meal
-Enjoy sweets within your compliancy rate for that week – stop at 80% full.
1. Hargreaves, Mark. Spriet, Lawrence. Exercise Metabolism. Human Kinetics; Illinois. 2006. pp 89
2. Irvin, BA., Davis, CK., et al. “Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition.”(2008) Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 40(11):1863-1872
3. Farrar, R. Mayhew, J., et al. “Oxygen Cost of Kettlebell Swings.” (2010) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24;4. 1034-1037
4. Hargreaves, Mark. Spriet, Lawrence. Exercise Metabolism. Human Kinetics; Illinois. 2006. pp 91
5. Ryberg, M., Sandberg, S., Melberg, C., et al. “A Palaeolithic-Type Diet Causes Strong Tissue-Specific Effects on Ectopic Fat Deposition in Obese Postmenopausal Women.”(2013) Journal of Internal Medicine. (274.1) 67
6. Shair, I., Schwarzfuchs, D., Hekin, Y., et al. “Weight Loss with A Low Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low Fat Diet.” (2008)The New England Journal of Medicine( 359.3): 229-241