CARDIO IS THE BEST TOOL FOR FAT LOSS
Cardio is a tool that can be used, but it is certainly not the best way.
Cardio isn’t sustainable, scalable, and it doesn’t build equity in your body. I’ll get to the equity part shortly, but let me first address the lack of sustainability first.
Say you are 30lbs overweight and you start biking to lose weight.
Initially the 500 calories you are burning in class puts you in a calorie deficit and you start to lose weight.
As you lose weight, you daily caloric requirements drop. Calories are energy and it requires less energy to move and fuel a 180lb human than it does a 200lb human.
So unless you drop the calories you’re consuming, you’ll find yourself at less and less of a deficit.
Then there is the adaptation of your cardiovascular system as you get more efficient at riding said bike or elliptical for 45 minutes. You were burning 500 calories, but now you only burn 400 calories.
So in order to continue to lose weight, you have to ride for 55 minutes and drop the calories you’re consuming due to metabolic adaption (which could be its own post).
Finally, there is the likelihood of losing muscle mass.
Unless you are adequately fueling your body with enough carbs and protein, you are likely going to breakdown hard-earned muscle as fuel.
The process of catabolism is the breakdown of something like skeletal or smooth muscle into energy. Weight loss occurs in a calorie deficit and in a calorie deficit you are giving the body less energy than it is burning through. Essentially, too much cardio and improper nutrition can break down your muscle instead of the small pocket of fat you’re targeting.
Look at endurance bikers and runners and you’ll see how little muscle they have.
Sure, if they are advanced level competitors, they look strong, but they are very likely to be strength training and eating appropriately in addition to their long bouts of cardio.
When I mentioned building equity in the body, I meant resistance training.
Resistance training builds muscle which in turn does three things to aid fat loss:
Muscle regulates blood glucose by storing glucose in the muscle in the form of muscle glycogen which is what your muscles use for energy output. It also helps regulate blood sugar, which is what spikes when you consume carbs or other forms of sugar. In the long term, this can help prevent diseases like diabetes.
Muscle regulates blood lipids (fats) by utilizing fat to meet energy needs or by storing them in the muscle to be used later on.
Muscle increases your metabolism. Your resting metabolic rate is the caloric expenditure you would have laying on the couch. If you have more muscle, your body requires more calories to simply function. Add on exercise and an active lifestyle and you have a recipe for indulging in your favorite treats without having to worry about “burning it off” in a cardio class.
So when I say muscle builds equity in your body, I’m saying that resistance training to build muscle allows you to build your bodies wealth, rather than continually writing checks to cover rent.
CARBS MAKE YOU FAT
That’s not true. Eating more calories than you burn creates fat accumulation. End of story.
However, let's dive into this a little more. :)
Atkins, Paleo, and more recently Keto all demonize carbs to some extent.
People lose weight on these diets because they put you in a calorie deficit by having you cut out all of the highly palatable foods that are easy to overeat.
Ben & Jerry’s.
If you consume foods like those regularly and then stop, I will almost guarantee that you will lose weight.
Fruits and vegetables are high in carbs and micronutrients that your body needs to function properly.
Then there is the value of carbs when it comes to resistance training.
Anyone resistance or aerobic training is burning through muscle glycogen on a daily basis is going to need carbs to refuel those stores post training. If you participate in resistance and aerobic training, you’ll understand how important they are for maintaining a healthy body.
Try going to the gym without any carbs in the last 12 hours and you’ll feel drained right away if you’re training hard enough.
Here are four important benefits for carbs for anyone looking to transform their body.
- Energy. We need carbs to have energy to do things like breathe, digest, move, or think. We also want carbs as they are the primary fuel source when you are exercising. Carbs are the primary and best fuel source for high energy, explosive activities like working out. This is a big one to focus on because the more energy you have for workouts, the more effort you can exert. More effort leads to moving more weight which leads to expending more energy (burning calories) and building muscle. So while you can just eat less and lose weight, eating more healthy foods and training hard allows you to eat more food and see more benefits from training. AKA WIN WIN.
- Recover. Carbs help replenish muscle glycogen for future performance. They can also help repair your muscles if protein is low. Carbs will also blunt cortisol which is an important tool for stress reduction.
- Hormone Health. A lack of carbs can risk affecting your hormones that are involved with energy balance and fat stores. A low-carb diet can lead to a low leptin profile which is responsible for signaling to the body energy stores. If energy is is perceived as low, the body will adjust thinking it needs less calories than it actually does. When this happens, your Resting Metabolic Rate might drop causing you to gain weight when you've been sticking with the same diet and routine for years.
- Source of fiber. You want fiber in your diet and a lot of fruit and vegetables that are carb heavy are also loaded with fiber. Fiber helps you stay full longer and it will also improve digestion.
I’M IN STARVATION MODE
This myth centers around the idea that someone would eat so little that the body tries to protect itself by storing fat for hard times.
When you diet, you lower your metabolic rate. Your body adapts to running off of fewer and fewer calories.
People diet to the point of having their metabolic rate get as low as 1,400, 1,300, or even 1,200 calories.
That’s ONE Cheeseburger as some restaurants.
So there’s a couple things that could actually be going on here:
Someone is calculating their daily calorie expenditure wrong by over-estimating how much they work out and how active they are. This sets their calories higher than they are really burning and when they over-consume calories, they add on weight.
They truly eat 1,200 calories MOST of the time. But then they have a cheat meal or cheat day or enjoy a bottle of wine at a wedding. If someone’s resting metabolic rate is (RMR) is 1,200 calories, that’s 8,400 calories for a week. Say they have 1,000 for six days (not recommended ever) and then enjoy themselves to the tune of 3,000 calories because they “were good all week.” They will still put on weight because they consumed 9,000 calories for the week which is a 600 calorie surplus.
They could also be tracking wrong where they say they had a few beers and enter in calories for a Coors Light (110 calories), but they really had three IPAs that were 220 calories. Unfortunately, calories as particular as accountants when it comes to tracking.
The last thing I’ll add to this is that starvation mode puts you in the mindset that food is scarce.
We see animals gorge themselves on food when it’s available because in the wilderness, food actually is scarce.
Adopting the mindset of being in “starvation mode” can cause you to binge eat when food is available because you’re telling yourself that you are starving and this might be the only meal you’ll have all week.
I HAVE A SLOW METABOLISM
This myth has been touched upon in the previous myths, but I think the myth here is that the metabolism is an organ located next to the liver and it’s just a faulty part. Same as a slow processor would slow a computer down.
A slow metabolism, in reality, is a metabolism that has adapted to lower caloric needs.
The metabolism doesn’t care about your goals or what the latest fitness magazine says. It just wants to keep all systems balanced and ensure that you can reproduce.
There are a lot of factors that make for a balanced metabolism:
Stress & The Signs of Stressing the Equilibrium
Yes, there are people that have genetically “faster metabolisms”, but you can’t dwell on their situation in life. You have gifts and advantages they don’t have.
At the end of the day, the only thing we can control is ourselves.
If you recognize or believe that your metabolism is slow, try balancing out the factors listed above.
Rest & recover properly to mitigate stress
Start resistance training if you haven’t yet
Start going for more walks
Start working with a coach to help you reverse diet as necessary to help build your RMR to a higher level
I WANT TO TARGET THIS AREA
Fat accumulates where fat accumulates.
Some people accumulate fat in the butt and it’s glory to the heavens.
Some people accumulate fat in the face, look like they got stung by several hornets, and yet still have a six pack.
Unfortunately, there is no way to target fat loss outside of liposuction, which I would not recommend because you’re going to put fat right back on if you don’t change the habits that put the fat there in the first place.
When you eat in a calorie surplus, the extra energy is stored in adipose tissue all around your body in the form of triglycerides. These can be below the surface of your skin or on actual organs.
So when you are losing fat, you might be losing it in your legs and on your organs despite not seeing any visible results in your abdomen or arms.
One way to increase the tonality of muscles in areas that do have fat is to hypertrophy train that muscle group. Hypertrophy training is what builds the muscle so if you want to tone your triceps and lose fat in that area, what you really want to do is stick the course with your nutrition plan and remain in a calorie deficit while ALSO working out your triceps.
I think of toning as making the muscle more visible. Think of a beach where there are rocks and the tide comes in and out. If the tide is low (low body fat) the little rocks will show. If the tide is in (high body fat) only the biggest rocks will show. So you want to think about getting bigger rocks and lowering the tide.
There is also a significant correlation between stress and storing fat. When we are stressed the body releases cortisol into the bloodstream.
Cortisol directly effects fat storage and weight gain in stressed individuals.
Human visceral fat cells are located around organs and have four times the blood supply compared to other subcutaneous fat cells that are below the skin. Because your organs are located in your stomach, increased stress and cortisol will lead to greater deposits of fat around the organs in the abdomen and increase the visibility of belly fat.
If you can manage your stress better, you will help the prevent the body from storing fat in the stomach which may be an indirect way of targeting belly fat.
At the end of the day, fat loss comes from being in a calorie deficit.
Sustained fat loss comes from balancing your metabolism and making sure it doesn’t adapt to such a low RMR that eating a normal diet causes you to put the weight back on.