Friday, February 11, 2011

Stoking your furnace

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I had a conversation today with a gal who regularly takes group fitness classes (Cardio 4-5x plus 1 BodyPUMP per week). She has been trying to lose weight but seems to be very frustrated that her body fat % has not changed one bit.
"How could I have lost 4 lbs. but stayed the same percentage of body fat?", she says. I said, "Maybe you've lost lean body weight instead of fat". Then when I asked her how many calories she was taking in daily, she said, "I can barely get to 1,000 a day". To which I said.."there's your problem".
Believe it or not, she wasn't taking in enough calories to help her lose weight. 
Say what?????
Excess weight is because we are giving our bodies more that our metabolism needs. Our metabolism is our body’s engine; it needs energy but usually has energy to spare. So the "spare" gets stored in places like our bellies or our hips.

There are ways to increase our metabolism but it’s NOT easy.
If you subscribe to a calorie restrictive diet (< 1,200 for women and 1,500 for men), your body goes into “starvation mode” and your metabolism reacts to this by lowering itself to conserve energy. You end up becoming malnourished and your body finds ways of getting its nourishment from muscles, bones and even fat. In the long run, you’ll put on more weight than when you started. Not a good scenario.
Exercise does boost metabolism but most exercises only attack 20% of the metabolism and only lasts for as long as the exercise does.
So your body needs a bigger furnace to burn your fat for higher and longer amounts. This furnace can also target a bigger portion of your metabolism. Therefore, your diet requires you to balance between keeping your metabolism happy (so it knows to require energy from your fat stores without lowering itself), and giving yourself enough (and the right kind) of food (energy) to get you through your workouts.
Your metabolism is influenced by 3 things:
Exercise, digestion = 30%
Normal body functions = 70%
Exercise raises your metabolic requirements by using up energy. Cardio is great for heart and lung health. But aerobic exercise alone is not the most effective way of losing body fat (aka "losing weight"). In fact, heavy exercise paired with calorie restriction can increase the chances of burning "muscle".
"When aerobic exercise is performed your body burns both carbohydrate and fat. But when you increase the aerobic/cardio intensity your body also switches to burning more carbohydrates and less body fat proportionately. If not enough carbohydrates are consumed your body will switch to making carbohydrates from protein. That is called catabolism and results in losing muscle mass, which is the exact opposite of what you should be aiming for. Therefore, if you are already on a low calorie diet and you add aerobic exercise, you will further accelerate this catastrophe." (source)

When you lose muscle,  you also lose the ability to burn calories. With less muscle, you burn less calories. So how do you build more muscle? You incorporate weight training/resistance training or strength training to your fitness regimen. So the more muscle you have, the more furnaces you have operating to burn more calories.
Unfortunately, the natural aging process makes it even harder because as we age, we also loss muscle mass.
Digestion can increase your metabolism by combining the right type of food that you eat and when you eat them. This is called thermic effect of food so that your body uses up more energy for digestion.
And finally, normal body function or Basal Metabolic Rate (also closely related to Resting Metabolic Rate) is the biggest target as it requires the most energy. Increasing this rate can therefore increase our metabolism so that our bodies burn fat even hours after a workout or training. And how can we increase BMR/RMR?
BOTTOM LINE: When you increase muscle mass, you increase metabolism. So regular exercise + strength training and a balanced diet = increased metabolic rate!
It is important to find out what your estimated BMR/RMR is. The more activity/exercise/weight training you do, the more you are able to "tinker" with this caloric value. 
DO NOT try to consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day. 
A safe way for weight loss would be to:
A. Decrease your caloric intake by 20% fewer calories based on your BMR. (Ex. BMR of 1,800 ~ 20% is 360 = 1,440 calories)
B. Increase your workout frequency or intensity to burn 360 extra calories.
Re-check your RMR when you lose weight and compare this with what you are eating.
Further Reading:
Disclaimer:  This advice is based on my own experience and research. I am not a trained nutritionist. I only want to share and write about my experiences with healthy living. Always consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in Frost Bites. Please consider YOUR life, YOUR needs and YOUR situation when reading my blog. Any content or information provided here is for informational and educational purposes only and any use thereof is solely at your own risk. Frost Bites bears no responsibility thereof.

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