Straight in at the deep end. Who does not want to get a bit leaner and look good? Most of us want to lose a bit body fat. If you are a bodybuilder who wants to get shredded, a mother who wants to get rid of stubborn belly fat, someone involved in sport who wants to perform better or just your average gym goer who wants to feel better when they look in the mirror, one thing we can do to help all of these is shed that excess fat. I am going to share with you what I have learned from years working with all kinds of athletes from boxers, to bodybuilders to MMA fighters. I’m going to give you some science and my experience. I had very little room for error as I was 100% responsible for bringing fighters to a certain weight without a loss in performance. If these guys and gals didn’t make weight -it meant them losing out of tens of thousands of euros and me losing my reputation!
The Science of Fat
Among its many functions, fat is how we store energy in the body. We all require fat in our diet and in our body for various reasons. An average healthy male has about 15-25% body fat and women have a range of 25-30% body fat. Athletes and bodybuilders will go as low as 5% or even lower to achieve a certain look. Not generally recommended.
Fat is involved in hormone production, essential for brain health, energy production, vitamin absorption, heat production and other crucial processes. Fat is stored in adipose tissue which is kind of like a plastic bag that hold fat cells. There are different types of fat stored in different areas as well. The two types of fat are brown fat and white fat. Brown fat is brown because it contains more blood vessels. Children have more brown fat and fat can be easily utilized to produce heat. We can actually influence how much brown fat we have in our bodies to a certain degree. Exposure to cold water will increase brown fat production. Brown fat is much easiest to get rid of as well. So, I recommend regular cold dips or cold showers! White fat has less blood supply and thus is harder to get rid of! In order for us to use fat as energy, something called “lipolysis” must occur. This is essentially the breakdown fats and lipids for use in the body. High Intensity Interval training has been demonstrated as the best method to induce the most lipolysis in the body for various reasons.
Fat is involved in energy production. We have different energy pathways in the body for different reasons. These systems help each other and overlap to ensure we always have energy for the body and brain to function. Which system our body uses depends on the intensity of the exercise. Low intensity exercises use primarily fat as the main fuel. This aerobic system is “slow burn” so our heart rate must be working no more than at 65% intensity. We can burn about approximately 240 calories in an hour at this intensity, using 60% fat as fuel, so this would burn about 144 calories or 16 grams of fat! It takes a long time at this level to lose a serious amount of stored fat. If we do 30 minutes of HIIT Training, then we burn up to 500 calories! Now most of the calories burned come from glucose or glycogen, not fat. HIIT drains the muscle of energy and in the 24-48-hour period after HIIT Training, fat stores are used to replace the lost energy and metabolism is increased. This is one reason, HIIT is really effective for fat burning. You can utilize a combination of both energy systems/methods of training to optimize fat burning.
A word on any diets which advocate for stopping eating carbohydrates or eating huge amounts of fats or protein – it will mess up your metabolism, your natural “set-point” will increase and doing this will also interfere with energy levels. Doing this type of diet only encourages your body to hold onto fat. Many people find, instead of burning stored fat, what your body will do is, turn down energy levels. Your “set-point” is your natural weight and this will increase if you cut out carbohydrates. That is why many people gain extra weight after they go on a crash diet.
Often athletes need to “make weight” to qualify for a weight class. This usually involves losing kilos of bodyweight to get under a certain weight. They then have 24 hours before the fight to get ready or gain back some weight. Some resort to starvation and water loss/dehydration which can put massive pressure on their bodies and cause permanent damage. This nearly always results in a drop in performance as well as being dangerous to health. The methods we use are lasting and safe. A combination of training and good nutrition are crucial.
Take Home Messages
- Send the right signals – what we do here in ramp up foods which are high in fibre and high in nutrients. This is essentially fruit, vegetables and green leaf salads. This signals the body that everything is fine and we are well nourished. This also keeps us feeling fuller for longer as we are consuming lots of high fibre foods.
- Eat Quality Carbohydrates at the right time – So carbs are not your enemy. Imagine taking on the exact right amount of the best fuel possible to power you through a workout. That’s what we want to achieve here. How many grams is that? An approximation would be about 250 grams per day on the lower end of a 2000 calorie per day diet and 350 grams on the higher end. To fuel a good workout, make sure you are having complex carbohydrates a couple of hours before a workout. A fist sized portion of whole grain rice, pasta or starchy veg are great.
- Reduce ALL refined oils & fats – the easiest way to get your body to burn fat from stores is to stop eating it. In a couple of weeks, you will see a huge difference. Simply stop eating butter and using oil to fry things. Get all your fats from whole foods like nuts, seeds and avocados. That includes cutting out nut butters as well. This will make the biggest difference to your body composition in my experience.
- Hit the Gym HARD – Mix it up, surprise your body with different workouts. Talk to the guys at the gym and really put the work into HIIT sessions along with weights and other sessions. In order to get results you’ve never got before you must do things you’ve never done before.
- Exposure to Cold- So often overlooked but really useful strategy to encourage our body to utilize fat burning. A dip in the sea would be great but if you can’t get that then after your warm shower, turn the cold tap on for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Green Tea – The best drink to encourage fat metabolism is green tea. There is loads of research indicating the flavonoids in green tea are great for fat metabolism.
- Play the long game- be patient. You are going to be far more successful trying to lose 1lb every month for 12 months rather than 2 stone in a month for a special event. Trust the process – it didn’t go on your body in a few weeks, it isn’t going to want to come off that quick either.
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