Losing Bodyfat

Losing Bodyfat - What you need to know !

Most people who decide to start a fitness program do so because they are dissatisfied with their appearance and want to lose some bodyfat. Unfortunately many of these people don't really know what they need to do to achieve their goal. In fact, misconceptions about issues of bodyfat reduction often cause unrealistic expectations and make people waste their time and energy by engaging in the wrong types of activities and choosing the wrong exercises.

Starvation Diets don't work !

Even now many people still starve themselves in order to lose some excess pounds of bodyfat. Starving oneself, however, is the worst thing to do, as it only brings about short-lived temporary weight loss, but facilitates getting fatter and fatter in the long run. The explanation for this is easy. Fat deposits are your body's method to store excess calories for emergency situations. When you starve yourself, your body is fooled into believing an emergency situation has arisen.

In order to survive this perceived emergency situation as long as possible, your body shifts into a protective mode , holding on to fat (an important energy source) and rather using up muscle protein for energy production. The result is a temporary weight loss caused by both loss of muscle tissue and loss of body fat. Loss of muscle tissue, however, is the last thing you want to happen because loss of muscle tissue causes a decrease of the body's basal metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories). As soon as you cease starving yourself and start eating again (which you will have to do sooner or later ), you become even fatter than before even though you consume the same amount of food. With your metabolism now being lower than before your starvation diet, eating normally means already consuming excess calories, which are again stored as fat. Even worse, all the previously lost weight will not be regained in the previously lost proportions of lean muscle tissue and fat, but almost exclusively as fat alone. And with your next starvation diet, this process will start all over again causing you to end up even fatter yet. This is called the yo-yo effect, which all dieters experience.

In order to lose bodyfat permanently, you must change your lifestyle. This includes gradually eliminating the mistakes you have made to gain your excess bodyfat in the first place. If healthy bodyfat reduction is your goal, you should eat a diet low in fats and high in carbohydrates, containing plenty of fibers as well as plenty of vitamins and minerals. Drink lots of water to support the body's elimination process. Eat several small meals per day instead of only two or three big meals; your meals should not exclude any of the macronutrients, but be well balanced.

Be particularly careful with your dinner. Last but not least, increase your calorie output by participating in a regular exercise regimen.

Aerobics vs Weight Training

Another major problem is that people, who want to lose bodyfat often rely too heavily on aerobic types of activities . They tend to believe that in order to reduce bodyfat they must engage in frequent lengthy bouts of aerobic exercise.

Unfortunately, fat loss endeavors relying exclusively on aerobic exercises are doomed to failure. While it is true that aerobic type exercises are a good means to increase cardio-respiratory fitness and help burn excess calories, they only help burn more calories for the duration of the activity, but not much beyond. And as it is only possible to spend a limited time per day exercising, the impact on our overall daily caloric expenditure is not all that great.

The main focus of an exercise program for fat loss should therefore rather be on a regular weight training program, focusing mainly on the training of the large muscle groups against adequate weight resistance, emphasizing appropriate compound movements. After such a weight training session our metabolism remains elevated for a much longer time period than after aerobic exercise. What is however most important is that systematic weight training will over time develop a certain degree of muscle tissue throughout our body, thus raising our basal metabolism. After all, we burn fat in direct relation to the muscle tissue on our frame: each additional pound of lean muscle tissue burns an additional 35 to 50 kcal per day at rest. Obviously, the more lean muscle tissue we have, the more fat we burn, even while we are at rest. As everyone spends far more hours per week at rest than exercising, it becomes quite clear why weight training is the key to permanent fat loss.

Low Intensity Aerobics versus High Intensity Aerobics

Another misunderstanding related to aerobic exercise for bodyfat reduction is that aerobics should be performed at low intensity (about 60-65% of maximum heartrate) in order to be most effective.

Our body's energy is basically supplied by two different types of energy systems: the aerobic system, which mainly utilizes fat, and the anaerobic system, which relies on glycogen derived from the carbohydrates in our diet. In fact, our body is always burning a mixture of carbohydrates and fat for fuel. At rest and during activities of low intensity, almost all of the used energy comes from lipids released from the fat stores throughout our body. The more intense an activity, the lower is the fat content and the higher the glycogen content of the used fuel mix. All this has led to the misconception that fat is best burnt by aerobic exercises of low levels of intensity.

Although low intensity aerobics utilize a higher percentage of fat calories as compared to aerobics at higher intensity levels, it is most important to realize that the amount of total calories burnt during low intensity aerobics is much smaller than the total number burned while exercising intensely.

High intensity aerobics (80-85 % of maximum heartrate) burn a much higher amount of total calories, and thus - even though the percentage of fat in the used fuel mix may be somewhat lower - yet a much greater number of fat calories as compared to low intensity aerobics.

Whether the calories burnt during an exercise activity are actually derived from fat or carbohydrates is not even all that important; what ultimately counts is the total amount of calories used up during exercise. Only if you manage to create a calorie deficit between consumed calories and used calories on a daily basis and throughout an extended time period, body-fat reduction will eventually occur.

Generally, the harder you work and the harder you breathe, the more calories you burn and the more effective is your work-out in terms of body-fat reduction and cardio-respiratory conditioning. For de-conditioned individuals it is, however, recommendable to start out at low intensities and gradually work their way up to higher intensities with increasing adaption to their exercise regimen.

Spot Reduction does not work !

There are also still many people who think performing resistance exercises for one or the other body-part will affect fat loss in this particular area. Some people for example still mistakenly believe that side-bends with dumbbells would decrease fat deposits in their waist and hip area; sit-ups are thought to reduce the midsection and isolation movements such as leg adductions and leg raises performed out to the side or to the rear are erroneously believed to help reduce fat in the thigh or buttock areas.

Working any body-part systematically against weight resistance will however rather strengthen, resp. tone up the muscles of the trained area, but do nothing at all to reduce the fat, covering the involved muscles. Fat and muscle are entirely different tissues; as there is no energy pathway from the fat to the muscle tissue underneath, the fat overlying a particular muscle can not provide the energy for this muscle's contractions. Unfortunately there is no way for us to determine -neither by a particular choice of exercises nor otherwise - where the fat will come off first and where later.

To achieve permanent fat loss you must slightly reduce your daily calorie intake mainly by optimizing your food choices (no saturated fats, no sweets, alcohol or carbonated soft drinks, more fiber!); at the same time you should strive to elevate your basal metabolism by regular systematic weight training for all major muscle groups and increase your daily calorie output by engaging in regular aerobic activities of sufficient time and duration.

Useless gimmicks (such as neoprene belts, electronic massage devices etc.), weight loss formulas, herbal concoctions etc. will not separate you from your fat but will definitely separate you from your money.

Christoph Klueppel

Master of Fitness Sciences
Specialist in Performance Nutrition