February 1, 2005

Shedding Fat While Maintaining Muscle

BY David Bohn ("Fitness")

I trust that everyone had a great holiday season and a very happy and safe New Year. Now that everyone has had the opportunity to go to holiday party after holiday party, hopefully you are now ready to revamp your diet program as you progress into the New Year. Like most people in the U.S., you have probably resolved to eat better, workout more, donate more to ChicagoPride… oh wait, strike that last one. Anyways, as February approaches, if you have perhaps fallen off the bandwagon already, hopefully this article will help you get back on track. Following is information on fat’s affect on health and wellness and some changes you can make, either as a lifestyle change (what we’re going for) or for the short term, as Fireball is now around the corner.

Almost everyone in the U.S. understands that excess body fat is unhealthy, but until recently the reasons we assumed excess fat was unhealthy were partially incorrect. To start off, in case you need more reasons to lose weight, excess fat has been linked to arthritis, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, several types of cancer (breast, uterus, colon, kidney, esophagus, gallbladder and pancreas for starters), depression, gallstones and even dying in car accidents.

It is beyond the scope of this article to attempt to explain all of the new research that appears almost daily on the discovery of fat-produced compounds and proteins, however I will present some of the new basics. The physics of the extra weight can produce a continuous strain on the heart muscle. Further, fat cells produce a substance called angiotensinogen (say that 10 times fast) that is a powerful blood vessel constrictor. Another clear hazard of excess body fat is its affect on the use of insulin.

Insulin is the hormone that instructs muscles to burn energy and fat cells to store it. Being “overfat” can blunt the insulin message, in part because fat can leak into the bloodstream; which also helps lead to increased plaque build-up that lines artery walls. The liver then needs to produce more insulin to maintain a “homeostasis” in the bloodstream, which can lead to insulin resistance.

Now, it’s not news that too much fat either in the body or the diet is bad for you. So, as you move into the New Year, how can you change your diet to improve your physique? One of the principle changes that people seeking lean physiques perform is to cut carbohydrates. The long-term benefit of this tactic is still in question, but there have been several studies that show at least in the short-term, carefully monitoring one’s carbohydrate intake can lead to fat loss.

When modifying your diet, either for the long term or for the beach or dance floor in a few weeks, there are a few constants to remember. In general, the diet should follow a high-protein (about 1 gram/lb of body weight), low-carb, moderate-fat intake. However, this high-protein diet is no longer the bacon cheeseburger with no bun. Protein still needs to be lean, such as chicken, turkey, tuna, eggs or extra-lean beef. Also make sure to include some non-fat dairy products in your diet because inadequate calcium intake blunts fat loss. The carbohydrates should come from low-glycemic, high-fiber sources (vegetables, legumes, etc.) not Low Fat Wheat Thins. Also, just before and after working out, take a sugar-free, low-carb protein drink to help boost muscle protein anabolism.

Obviously, diet does not do miracles on its own; however, it is actually usually the larger component of a healthy lifestyle. To add lean muscle, ideally you should hit the gym at least three times a week, or however many visits you need to workout your entire body in one week. If you’re crunched for time (i.e. Fireball is in three weeks…), try to eat a little less than normal each day. It does not need to be a huge change; but one less mocha grande a day; smaller portions when you go out to eat. If going to a restaurant; automatically divide the food on your plate and box it so that you will not be tempted to eat the entire thing without thinking if you’re actually hungry.
Lastly, cardio, cardio, cardio!! This tip is essentially a no-brainer; to help shed unwanted layers, people need to burn more calories than they consume; it’s that simply. Cardio should be done at least 4 days a week, starting at 20 minutes going up to how long you can stand it. Ideally shoot for burning around 450 calories a session. ** Big tip; most cardio machines are designed to over-calculate your caloric expenditure, when entering your weight, take it down by about 20%. Cardio levels should also be mixed up, from a “fat burning” program, to intervals, etc. This variety forces the body to adapt more frequently and thus burn more calories. Additionally, by not doing an ultra-high level of cardio, people are less likely to burn the glycogen that is needed for muscle growth and development.
Remember that an ultra-low-carbohydrate diet (30 – 50 grams/day) is not a sustainable diet over the long term; especially if you are performing high-intensity cardio workouts. However, it is a viable option when pressed for time before going on vacation or getting ready to shake your bon-bon on the dance floor in a few. Also, by tweaking the diet and limiting starchy carbs, when you eat them, and supplementing some of those calories with protein, you can sustain such diet changes to create a lifestyle change. Coupling such diet refinement with a consistent workout program of weight training and cardiovascular exercise, and you are well on your way to redefining that body for the summer; which in Chicago will come sometime in late June!