Effective Strategies for Weight Loss

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Last Friday I spoke at the NSCA’s Personal Trainers meeting in Las, Vegas. They put on one heck of a meeting and I love meeting NSCA members and learning from them as well as the speakers. And one thing I really liked about this meeting was the fact that several speakers challenged commonly held beliefs about nutrition and exercise. Here’s a condensed overview (not all points included) of my talk on Effective Strategies for Weight Loss:

1) Lift Weights or engage in some other type of resistance training, regularly. Muscle tissue doesn’t burn many more calories than fat (despite what people say) – about 4 calories more per day per pound. But, those calories add up over time and more importantly, adults start a gradual slow progression of losing muscle around age 40 (sarcopenia). Less muscle means you can’t exercise as hard which means you won’t burn as many calories while working out (and those activities of daily living like washing your car or lifting groceries will seem tough at some point).

2) Calories Matter. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble who thinks you can eat as much as you want as long as you slash so called “bad calories,” but calories count. If you don’t believe me, check out how nutrition professor Mark Haub lost 27 lbs and significantly improved his blood lipids on a 10-week diet of Twinkies, Doritos, sugary cereals and Hostess cupcakes. Want more evidence published in research journals? Okay, check out the POUNDS LOST trial which found that how much you eat matters more than the proportion of fat, carbohydrate and protein. And, that adherence to a diet determines success (and sticking with extreme diets that cut out food groups sucks so many people don’t last long on them).

3) Calories Matter but Protein is Crucial. Protein preserves muscle during weight loss and the lower your diet is in calories, the more you need protein. How important is protein for preserving muscle? Well, I love the overfeeding study published in JAMA earlier this year in which the study authors overfed participants by 40% more calories than they needed to maintain their weight. The participants were randomized to receive either 5%, 15% or 25% of their calories from protein. Now, 5% may seem low but because of their total daily caloric intake that 5% meant 47 grams per day – that’s 1 gram more than the protein RDA set by our government for women! All groups gained a similar amount of fat and the 15% and 25% group also gained muscle (and therefore more total weight) but, the group consuming 1 gram of protein more than the RDA set for women LOST 0.70 kg lean body mass! Take home points: over consume calories and you’ll gain fat. Make protein a greater proportion of the calories you over consume and you’ll also gain muscle. Follow the RDA and you may lose lean body mass.

4) Change your Environment for Success. Eat off smaller plates and bowls, choose smaller packages, get the food you don’t want to eat out of your house (if it is there, you will eat it at some point). Put healthy food within your line of vision. Avoid constant refills (chip basket at restaurants, bread basket, that never ending tub of beer bottles). And, surround yourself with people who encourage your success vs. those who will get in the way.

5) Keep your stress levels down. For more information on how stress impacts weight, click here.

6) Figure out WHY you are eating. You can have all the nutrition knowledge in the world and weight loss strategies but if you don’t delve into what is making you eat vs. using other coping mechanisms, long term success will elude you.

Now, you are probably wondering “well what about Forks Over Knives, the documentary that covered the supposed evils of animal protein?” I promise I’ll give my uncensored opinion (slashing) of that documentary in my next post in addition to more about protein 🙂

For a hilarious and insightful overview of this conference, check out fitness and nutrition expert Alan Aragon’s post. And, here’s a post from another one of my favorite writers, renowned fitness expert Brad Schoenfeld.

Does Cardio on an Empty Stomach = Greater Calories Burned?

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In college I’d wake up at the crack of dawn to meet my teammates for a run. Now, I can’t fathom doing that without any food (and caffeine) to get me going in the morning. And despite evidence to the contrary, many people still insist that exercise first thing in the morning in a fasted state will help them “burn more fat.”

There are a few reasons people vouch for this theorys. First, your blood sugar is low which means your insulin levels are low (insulin is a storage hormone and facilitates fat storage if you don’t need those calories for energy). Plus, some people believe that exercising first thing speeds up your metabolism for the rest of the day.

Despite these two seemingly logical theories behind exercising on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, my incredibly smart colleague Brad Schoenfeld, MS, CSCS, did an excellent job debunking this myth. In Brad’s article in the NSCA Strength & Conditioning Journal, he goes into depth discussing why this theory is incorrect. Here are the highlights:

  • Fat burning needs to be considered over the course of a day, actually days, not only during one exercise session. Say you burn carbs during your workout, then your body will likely burn fat post exercise or later in the day.
  • HIIT, high intensity interval training, has proven to be one of the best ways to shed fat. Yet, during this high intensity exercise, you are actually burning less fat which indicates that again, the whole day, or course of days matters the most.
  • Well designed clinical trials in endurance-trained athletes show that a pre-exercise meal does not impair fat oxidation during exercise.
  • If you exercise in a fasted state you probably won’t be able to train at the same intensity as you would if you had a pre-exercise meal. Greater intensity = more calories burned.

For all of the reasons outlined above, keep in mind that the best time of the day to exercise is the time that fits in your schedule and works for you. If you love to exercise first thing in the morning, go for it! Obviously it has it’s advantages since the rest of your day is free and you won’t skip out on an after-work workout in favor of a last minute happy hour. Plus, working out in the morning may get you “up” for the rest of your day, helping you feel like you’ve accomplished something and your body is both alert and ready to tackle anything that comes your way. However, don’t sweat it if you exercise in a non fasted state. After all, you should notice a huge difference in the quality of your workout.