Say “No” to yo-yo dieting which gives temporarily relief only with the lost fat and weight ready to pile on again. Learn the strategies to not just lose fat but to stay lean forever.
Get our Goal Setting Right. Burn Fat or Lose Weight
For most people, the goal of losing weight really means burning fat in the body for a more appealing physique. Fat Burning can inadvertently lead to muscle loss if we only rely on a restricted calorie diet. The logic seems simple, if we take in less calorie than what we use up, we will lose weight, right? Yes but the weight lost will mean loss of overall muscle mass and not just the fat that we are targeting. A prolonged calorie deficit diet is not only unsustainable, but it is also downright dangerous. We need a base amount of energy to maintain bodily functions and chronic energy deficiency will create havoc to our body and some of these damages can be long term.
Know how the body taps into our fat storage
Fats are stored as triglycerides in fat cells and are released by way of an enzyme known as HSL (hormone-sensitive lipase). Fat storage will enter the bloodstream in the form of fatty acids to combine with the protein albumin and enter muscles to be used as fuel when fast energy from blood glucose and stored glycogen are depleted.
The trick is to get our muscles to burn more fuel from fat storage rather than from protein or carbs and know the after effects of exercise on our bodies. When storage of carbohydrate in muscles is depleted, a drop in muscle glycogen stores trigger hunger and can lead to overeating. The same problem goes with protein depletion as it is protein that keeps our muscles strong and maintain our metabolism. A lower metabolic rate will make it harder for us to achieve any slimming result as the body is constantly trying to find a base metabolic rate that is most efficient to sustain bodily functions.
Know how our bodies respond to various types of exercises and their unwanted side effects (if any)
Long cardio sessions such as running and cycling can rack up a huge calorie burn count so in the long run, the absolute amount of burnt calories is much higher than a short High Intensity Interval Training, right?
Yes, provided that we do not overcompensate the lost calories from overeating.
How our bodies react
In reality, we can burn both fat and carbs during a workout as the body finds the right source of energy to continually fuel the muscles. The “fat burning” zone that we find on all cardio machines designates the rate at which we need to work when most of our energy source comes from burning fat. This is usually a zone of low intensity exercise which doesn’t call on fast energy source.
One often omitted fact about cardio workout is that the body adapts to exercises that it is put through again and again and overtime, the body becomes more efficient and uses less energy to perform the same workout. This, coupled with the mentality that we “earned” our post workout treat can easily tip the calorie scale against fat loss.
When most of us find that our cardio workout has become inefficient, that is, we are not losing the weight that we want, we increase the duration and go harder.
When we start doing this, we subject our bodies to:
- Higher risk of heart dysfunction the more we with this risk getting higher when we get older [Research conducted by Abdulla J, Neilse JR Eurospace, 2009 Sep:11(9):1156-9, “Is the risk of atrial fibrillation higher in athletes than in the general population?”];
- More stress on our bodies creating problems with knees, joints, backs, hips, tendons and bones;
- Higher risk of arterial plaque where a research shows that marathoners develop more arterial plaque than sedentary non runners which increases the risk of stroke and dementia. [Does Long Term Endurance Running Enhance or Inhibit Coronary Artery Plaque Formation? A Study of Men Completing marathons for at least 25 consecutive years. Author: Jonathan G Schwartz]
The conclusion drawn by J Schwartz in his study referred to above is that:
“Benefits of long term, high volume endurance training for overall heath including favourable BMI, heart rate and lipid panel may be counterbalanced by metabolic and mechanical considerations for enhancing coronary plaque growth. Increased calcification may be a response to high exercise levels across a lifetime”.
However, cardio is not all bad and after all we are non athletes looking for a health life and physique and are unlikely to be running marathons for over 25 years of our lives. Moderate amounts improve health but too much can have the opposite effect.
HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training
This is when we alternate between high and low intensity exercises or between high intensity exercise and a short period of rest.
What happens during HIIT (Use sprinting as an example)
For the first 10-20 seconds, we would all fly as we tap into our phosphocreatine (high intensity energy source).
After about 20 seconds or sooner, our immediate energy source runs out low and anaerobic glycolysis kicks in and dominate. At this point, lactic acid is produced and used as an energy source. We start to gasp for air. Soon we will need to slow down or come to a stop.
The two energy systems that work for us
When we are working at lower intensity, aerobic metabolism predominates and our bodies can use oxygen to break down carbohydrates and fat for energy. This is efficient but doesn’t provide the power required for intense workout. When we are working at higher intensity, for instance, when sprinting, anaerobic metabolism predominates as our bodies cannot get the oxygen it requires fast enough. Whilst an inefficient way to fuel activities, it can produce short bursts of speed and high energy.
- The high intensity periods during HIIT create a metabolic demand that is very effective for long term fat loss and overall conditioning.
- The lower intensity periods allow us to recover and use the aerobic energy system to burn fat
High intensity bursts also stresses the body so much that it is forced to adapt with the release of hormones such as growth hormone, testosterone, endorphins, adrenalin, noradrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone all increase having effects on body composition and anabolism. Cortisol, in particular, increase protein breakdown in the muscle and fat in the adipose tissue to deplete stored energy and release fuel in to the bloodstream for use.
Cardio exercises (eg done on treadmills) work by increasing the oxygen delivery to our heart and lungs. High Intensity Interval Training however, works more on the muscles to make them more efficient so our hearts don’t have to pump as much to make them perform. Both types of exercise require the body to adapt to the high oxygen demand by increasing vascular supply of blood to the muscles by growing more capillaries over time.
HIIT training not only increases our capacity to transition smoothly from burning fat (gentle work and rest periods), to carbohydrates and fat (intense work periods) and back again. It also creates excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) after a hard session. This means that we are burning more energy than we normally do at rest as our working muscle cells restore themselves back to their pre-exercise level (with improvement in efficiency and strength if we are consistent with our training).
The Question is then: Which is Better for fat loss?
A study on the Effects of high- intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels on young women conducted by Trapp E.G. et.al, Faculty of Medicine, University of NSW, Sydney, NSW (International Journal of Obesity (London), 2008 April;32(4)) showed that:
3x high intensity intermittent exercise per week for 15 weeks compared to the same frequency of static stationary exercise was associated with significant reductions in total body fat, subcutaneous leg and trunk fat and insulin resistance.
A Canadian study in 2007 found that:
Fat oxidation was significantly higher, and carbohydrate oxidation significantly lower after 6 weeks of HIIT. This was largely due to increased whole body and skeletal muscle capabilities to oxidize (burn) fat and carbohydrates in previously untrained individuals.
Perry, C.G.R. et al Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism 33(6)
So should we still do cardio? The answer is Yes but how much?
We will look into this in Part 2 of this Article.
In the meantime, come into our studio and get your muscles working!