Fat Loss 101 – Master the Basics
It seems most everyone is looking to lose some weight (namely fat), but with all the conflicting information out there it just gets more and more confusing for the average person to know what to do? Let’s back it up a little and start from the basic understand of how fat loss happens in a simple and easy manner. Once you can master the basics, that is probably 90% of where all your results will come from!
Release the Hounds!…I Mean Stored Fat
While there does have to be some calorie deficit of course (burn more than you take in), your hormones are the internal signals on whether fat is being released or stored (and will do so reacting to calorie intake as well).
So when it comes down to it, fat loss is a mainly a hormonal event. The right hormones telling the body to release the stored “energy” in the fat cells to burn off. It is also important to know that there are also fat “storing” hormones that act in the opposite way, triggering the body to store “future energy” into the fat cells. The body triggers these hormones through many different stimulus like food, drink, exercise, stress (perceived) and sleep.
Fat cells are more like the body’s emergency storage tanks afterall (storing fuel in case we need it later on to survive). If we didn’t have fat cells, we wouldn’t have survived the famines of the past. It’s a built-in survival mechanism that is unfortunately getting all the wrong signals today. The body wasn’t designed around constant intake of food, especially the processed and high in sugar kind.
You Can Burn Fat All Day
So we know that fat loss is hormonally driven (and yes I understand eating less is also a factor, but that drives the hormones involved as well).
Interesting fact, fat loss (burning) also occurs when oxygen is present, what is known as aerobic (which means “with oxygen”). The other stage is called anaerobic (which means “without oxygen”). Anaerobic training is also known more commonly as “strength training” (which you can tell by the lactic acid burn).
Here’s where people get confused when it comes to exercise. Most people think that by “doing” aerobics exercise you burn all the fat you want. Well if that was the case, obesity would of been taken care of in 1986 and your gym aerobic instructors wouldn’t have an average BF% over 25%. Who ever said you are guaranteed to burn fat? What about stored glycogen? Plus if you can burn fat in an aerobic state, well aren’t you in an aerobic state all day long (minus brief times of anaerobic activity) including sleeping??
So here’s the breakthrough, you have the ability to burn fat (mostly) all day long! The only thing left is the hormones and whether they are saying “empty the storage tanks” or “here comes some more” to the fat cells.
The Hormones Involved
The Fat loss hormones were are going to focus on briefly are insulin, glucagon, and growth hormone (GH). Insulin is primarily known as a fat storing hormone (as it reacts to high blood sugar and looks to store it somewhere…namely fat cells).
Glucagon and GH are more fat releasing (and in a sense “burning”) hormones.
If insulin is present and elevated, the other fat releasing hormones (GH and glucagon) go down. This is an important inverse relationship to realize.
Another hormone that comes into play is called cortisol (commonly known as a stress hormone, but technically more a blood sugar hormone), which can also lead to excessive muscle breakdown for fuel. Not something we want in our fat loss quest to keep our metabolism strong.
Below are some quick and easy bullet point on how to maximize the fat burning hormones and minimize the muscle breakdown/fat storing hormones (don’t think all muscle breakdown is bad, it’s when you have excessive breakdown and minimal rebuilding that is the issue and leads to a loss of muscle).
For Fat Loss You Want:
- Minimal insulin levels throughout the day (no chronic high levels/spikes)
- Maximum glucagon (which is directly inversely proportional to insulin levels)
- Maximum GH (which is controlled by insulin, exercise and sleep)
- Keep Cortisol in check (you will have some, but excessive will lead to muscle loss)
For Insulin Control (and Max Glucagon):
- Keep levels low by not eating sugar or foods that quickly break down into the bloodstream (processed foods, breads, cereals, pasta) Just say to yourself every time you are about to put sugar in your mouth, “I don’t want to burn any fat for the next 3-4 hours”...as that is exactly what you are telling your body with your hormonal response from the ingestion of sugar! (Already said that above but I want to drive the #1 important point home!)
- Have protein with every meal (as that will slow down the digestion of any sugars). Also protein intake stimulates the release of glucagon.
- Improve insulin sensitivity with glycogen draining exercise (resistance training) which will in turn reduce your insulin resistance (which is one of the biggest reasons for obesity and a serious increase of risks for many other diseases including heart disease, cancers, diabetes, accelerated aging and more!)
For Max GH Response:
- Most of your daily GH is released in the first couple hours of sleep at night (75%). Keep your insulin levels low (which means no big meals or sugar right before bed) and get to bed early enough to get the maximum response. So get your sleep, your body will thank you. People shorting themselves on sleep will also be hindering their fat loss efforts and may lead to more weight gain from improper hormonal responses (which can also trigger cravings!)
- Exercise with intensity (for fast twitch muscle recruitment, not slow twitch), whether it is resistance training with short rest periods or doing interval training like sprints. Short burst of anaerobic intense exercise (lactic acid burn) will in turn signal the body to release GH. Long aerobic activities (jogging, etc) will NOT. (The old argument of look at the body composition of a sprinter vs the marathon runner…the sprinter has more muscle and very low bf%, the marathon runner has little muscle and a higher bf% even if they look smaller) See the role of lactate in exercise induced GH response.
- Exercising in a fasted state has also shown to increase GH level. This may not be right for everyone, as you do need to make sure you have enough energy to get through the workout without blood sugar crashes (especially if you are already glycogen depleted).
Minimize Excessive Cortisol:
- Keep all your intense strength or cardio exercise under 45min (remember we want to increase the intensity in a short period, not the duration). Anything longer will just start wasting muscle as fuel.
- Practice relaxing throughout the day, don’t stress out over things that mean very little in the long run (ask yourself will this really be important in 1 week, 1 month, 1 year). Get perspective on things in your life, and detach from things that really don’t matter. Smile more, take deep breaths throughout the day, get out in nature, find your passions in life, etc. We are too stressed out and our body was only meant to use stress in short bursts (fight or flight response) not all day long events.
Wrapping it Up
So if you can master these small steps, you will see tremendous changes. Remember that fat burning/loss can be an all day event! So eat and live your life that way! Don’t worry about how many calories you burn doing something, because that is not the point. Worry about what you eat all day and how your hormones are going to react to it. Eat the foods your body was meant to eat and live the active lifestyle your body was designed for…and you will have increased health, look great, feel great and hopefully live long and stay active.
- Remember that 85% of fat loss is nutritional based (not how many calories you can “burn” doing aerobic exercise) and you have the ability to burn fat all day long if your hormones tell your body to do so.
- Eat whole “real” foods (not processed..if it wasn’t around 100 years ago, you don’t need it!), avoid all sugars (foods and drinks), have protein with every meal
- Train your fast twitch muscles with resistance training 2-3x a week and do 30-60min of “active lifestyle” based movement daily (not going to call it cardio). Go have fun doing whatever! (play tennis, go walking/hiking, ride a bike, enjoy what you do!)
- Stop stressing out, take some deep breaths, get outside to relax and get your sleep.
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