No Nonsense Fat Loss
No other fitness topic has had more articles written than how to lose body fat. With any luck this just might be the last one you will ever need. There are several camps on what would constitute the most effective regimen. This article is meant to help you sort through the grains of truth about the different aspects of body fat loss. Different approaches will work with varying results for different people. It is my job to help you decide which plan of attack will work best for you!
First let's start with the universally accepted truths about losing body fat. The main point is that both weight loss, and weight gain for that matter, are a result of mathematics. If you consume more calories than you use, you will gain weight. If you use more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. The difference is referenced at 3,500 calories per pound. Most individuals think that there is something magical about their metabolism that makes them special and exempt from the 3,500 calorie rule. This is rarely the case. A common culprit would be a thyroid condition for example. When investigated through expensive techniques, we usually discover that most people are painfully normal, and thus a normal plan of attack will work.
You can get a positive caloric balance by one of two ways. If you overeat, or if you under exercise. Most people under exercise. The general plan of attack is to change your balance to the point where you are in the red (negative). If you slightly reduce your calories, say 500 per day, the result will be an approximate 1 pound weight loss per week. If you exercise and burn off 500 calories per day you will also lose approximately 1 pound per week. If you reduce your calories by 250, and burn 250 from exercise, (hopefully you have caught on by now) you will lose approximately 1 pound per week. The last example of exercise and modest caloric restriction method works best for most folks.
This modest reduction in calories and increase in exercise will allow your body to slowly become a highly tuned fat burning machine over time. Yes, I did say slowly. The reason is, that in the fat loss game, the turtle wins the race. Large reduction in calories or Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCD = below 1000 calories) result in your body excreting an enzyme (lipoprotein lipase) which will increase your storage of fat and your metabolic rate will lower. The result is a loss of water, protein (muscle) and a protection of fat stores. Over time this is a major contributing factor to obesity. The best advice I can give you here is to avoid the diet roller coasters, take responsibility for your health and READ ON!
There are 5 different types of exercise that you can do (strength training, endurance training, cardiovascular training, flexibility and skilled activity). Only 1 of these is very effective for weight loss. That would be routine cardiovascular exercise. All 5 types are important and are necessary for your long-term goals of improving your health, and appearance. But only routine cardiovascular exercise has the high caloric demands that make it the best for reducing body fat. The guidance from the American College of Sports Medicine is that all individuals participate in cardiovascular exercise 3 to 5 times per week, for 20 to 60 minutes, with your heart rate between 60 and 90 percent of your age predicted Max for improvement of health and reduction of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Let me interject my opinion here, I feel that 20 minutes is good for maintaining where you are at and preventing heart disease. However, most people show better results with 30 minutes of routine cardiovascular exercise.
Much attention is paid to the intensity of exercise. For cardiovascular exercise, this is done with heart rate ranges (60% to 90%). You must utilize your maximal heart rate for this concept to work. This can be done with a measured number or an estimated number. Of course the measured numbers are more effective, but they are also expensive and must be done by a trained professional such as an exercise physiologist or a doctor. You can get excellent results using your estimate and that is what I recommend for the general population. To estimate your Max, take 220 and subtract your age. Now you can convert the percentages to a decimal and multiply. For a 35 year old, you would get the following example: 220-35 = 185, 185 X .60 = 111, 185 X .90 = 166. So, using the guidance from ACSM this individual should exercise with their heart rate between 111 and 166 beats per minute.
Finding your heart rate can be done by feeling your pulse in your wrist or using a heart rate monitor. During exercise using the wrist method, I like to count the beats for 6 seconds and add a zero to the end of the result. For example, if I feel 14 beats my pulse would be 140. There is some error with this method, but it is close enough, doesn't take a calculator or an abacus! If the individual from the example above was off 1 beat per minute, he would either be at 130 or 150 beats per minute. Both of which are still within the range outline by ACSM.
Now, enter the controversy surrounding heart rate ranges. During exercise your body burns different mixtures of fat and carbohydrate (sometimes protein). Some programs bank on the fact that at lower intensities, you burn a higher percentage of fat. While others rely upon the fact that you burn more total fat calories per minute at a higher intensity even though the percentage is not as high. So, you must be asking yourself "who is right"? Go back and re-read this paragraph, because both are right. What you have to remember is that intensity is only one side of the coin. Because cardiovascular exercise is guided by frequency, intensity, and time, all three factors have to be considered. If you can only exercise for 20 minutes, you should slowly increase your intensity (over weeks) so that you are exercising in the upper heart rate ranges. If you hate the feeling of pushing yourself hard, then the lower intensities are a better option and you need more time (60 minutes plus). Your goal should be to burn enough calories for a negative balance to occur on a routine basis. I recommend a goal of burning 500 to 1000 calories per session on most days of the week.
I am sure that some of you are now wondering which type of routine cardiovascular exercise I recommend to my clients. This is a trick question because I try not to recommend any one type of exercise. Let's face it, we are all different. We have different likes and dislikes. What I enjoy, you may hate. If you do not enjoy what you are doing, you will not stick with it over the long haul to reach your goals. If I told everyone that the best cardiovascular exercise is running uphill with a backpack full of rocks, some folks will jump up and give it a try. But once the reality of not liking the activity settles in, you won't return to the sport of uphill rock running.The trick is to find something that; uses large muscle groups, is rhythmical in nature and can be performed non-stop, that you enjoy. If you like what you are doing, you will stick with it, stay motivated and push yourself to reach your goals and dreams. If you really need some suggestions, walking, jogging, running, swimming, biking, cycling classes, dance aerobic classes, cross country skiing, and my personal favorite, uphill rock running.
In conclusion, your exercise must be something you enjoy (even love). You must exercise for at least 3 times per week (5 is better) for the rest of your life. Your heart rate should be somewhere between 60% and 90% of your Max heart rate. Depending on your preferred zone of exercise you should exercise 30 minutes or more (more is better). Cutting calories back modestly is also important. Just because you are working on improving your fat burning engine, doesn't mean extra cookies have been earned. Other forms of exercise are important, but they should not be your focus if you want to lose body fat. 2 to 3 sessions of strength training, stretching for 5 to 10 minutes daily, and that occasional game of racquetball are all important. Just remember to focus on the routine cardiovascular exercise and before too long you will be a lean mean fat burning machine.