How to Tell If You’re Skinny Fat (and what to do if you are)

The term “skinny fat” has been around for a while now, but it seems to have exploded into our common consciousness following the March 2014 feature in TIME Magazine.  In it, an outwardly skinny and supposedly healthy physique was shown as having a potentially dangerous side.

They’re right. Just being skinny doesn’t always mean you’re healthy.

If you’re a little unclear on what exactly skinny fat means, it refers to someone who has a weight and BMI that are normal for that person’s height, but has much more fat than and not enough muscle recommended for optimal health.  On the outside you look skinny, but internally, your body composition is unbalanced.  Skinny fat people are not healthy.

Many people just assume that if their weight and/or BMI is normal, they have nothing to worry about.  This has a lot to do with misconceptions about BMI’s usefulness in assessing weight and health.  For example, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), if your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.99, you are considered to be in the normal range for sufficient health.  So if you have a BMI of 22, you’re automatically in the clear, right?

Not so fast – although the WHO has set these ranges, they are quick to qualify them with the following:

The BMI provides the most useful population-level measure of overweight and obesity, as it is the same for both sexes and for all ages of adults. However, it should be considered as a rough guidebecause it may not correspond to the same body fat percentage in different individuals.

Source: WHO

The fixation on weight, thinness, and BMI is where so many people get fooled into living unhealthy lifestyles.  In today’s society, people prize thinness as the ideal, so as long as they weigh a certain number and appear a certain way, most people are satisfied.  But looking the part doesn’t always mean you fit the part.

So, how can you tell if you’re skinny fat?  It’s not as easy as looking in the mirror or standing on a scale.  In order to determine if you are skinny fat, you first need to understand a little bit about how weight and fat work.

It’s Not Just About Numbers

The relationship between your weight and your fat determines whether you fall into the skinny fat category.  Weight alone cannot tell whether you’re skinny fat or not, which is precisely why so many people don’t realize that they are.

The term “skinny fat” is actually a popular term that describes a very real medical condition called sarcopenic obesity. This condition refers to an individual who may have what would be considered a normal/healthy weight, but metabolically, this person shares many health characteristics as someone who is overweight or obese – such as having a high percentage of body fat, high cholesterol, or hypertension.

These are the body composition results of someone who fits the skinny fat/sarcopenic obese body profile:

For this person, who is a 5’4” female, 127 pounds is just above her ideal weight, but within what is considered normal (BMI 21.9).  However, it’s clear to see that this person does not have enough Skeletal Muscle Mass and has excessive body fat. If you do the math, this person has a body fat percentage of 36.9%.  This surpasses all upper limits of percent body fat ranges, which are usually around 28%.

This person is skinny fat.

How to Tell If You’re Skinny Fat

One of the best ways to determine whether you may be skinny fat is to have your body composition analyzed and your percentage of body fat determined.

There are several ways to have your body composition analyzed, all of which come with differing degrees of convenience and accuracy.  Here are two common and fairly accessible ways to measure body composition:

IMAGE CREDIT: FLICKR
  • CALIPERS

Probably one of the most common forms of body composition analysis. Calipers operate by pinching the fat that is held just under the skin (subcutaneous fat) and estimating the internal (or visceral) fat, which is where many skinny fat people hide their weight.

So, although this is probably the most accessible way to measure your body fat, it won’t be the most accurate.  This is because calipers only actually measure the subcutaneous fat and then use prediction equations or tables based upon your age to guess the visceral fat.

Getting consistent results from test to test can be an issue as well because each test administrator will have a different degree of skill than the person who conducted the test before  Even if it is the same person conducting the test, there is always the risk of human error (pinching softer/harder, etc.) with each test.

  • BIA SCALES AND DEVICES

BIA devices are devices that use small electric currents to measure body composition. They are quick, easy to use, and depending on the the manufacturer, can be quite accuratein determining body composition results for all areas of the body – including the abdominal area, where visceral fat builds up over time.

When using a BIA device, it’s important to look into how the device you are using determines body composition and how accurate its results are.  Some handheld devices may only directly measure your arms and estimate the remainder, while others may only directly measure your legs and estimate the upper body.  Whenever possible, use a BIA device that directly measures the entire body for the most accurate results.

  • CLINICAL TESTS

It is possible to have your body composition determined in a clinical setting using tests and procedures such as hydrostatic weighing and dual x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). However, these procedures both require specialized equipment, and in the case of DEXA, exposes your body to radiation. Although both of these tests are regarded as being highly accurate, they may not be the easiest to access.

Once you’re able to get reliable information about your body fat percentage, you can compare it against the recommended percent body fat ranges.  The recommended ranges for healthy men are between 10-20% body fat, and for women, the ranges are 18-28%1.

If your body fat exceeds these ranges, but you have a normal weight when you stand on the scale, you may be skinny fat.

How Do People Become Skinny Fat?

Essentially, the net result of losing muscle mass (and decreasing metabolic rate) andgaining fat mass due to maintaining the same caloric intake with a lower metabolic ratecreates the skinny fat condition.  Diet and exercise (or lack thereof) play key roles here.

A diet high in carbohydrates, fat, and sugar while low on vegetables and essential minerals is a surefire way to gain fat mass if there is little or no effort made to exercise.  Carbohydrates and foods that are high in calories are great for creating energy potential in the body, but if that energy is not used, it will become stored in the body as fat.

Similarly, muscle mass decreases over time when the muscles are not being used. If you work in a 9-5 job that requires you to be seated and not move around for most of the day, skeletal muscle mass is likely to decrease over time.  Fat mass will also increase as mobility decreases.

IMAGE CREDIT: LIFESPAN

Sitting all day, eating whatever you want, and not exercising is a recipe for muscle loss and fat gain.  Many people have sedentary lifestyles due to work and are prime candidates for muscle loss and fat gain if they don’t do anything to guard against it.

However, this isn’t the only way muscle loss and fat gain can occur.

Michael Matthews over at Muscle For Life, in an exceptionally well-researched piece, has another take on how people become skinny fat. Instead of losing muscle because they don’t exercise, he shows that people can lose muscle because they don’t diet and exercise the right way:

I tend to run into the skinny fat problem with women more than men, and that’s because the common diet and exercise advice given to women is basically a prescription for becoming skinny fat.

The recipe for skinny fat is:

  1. Severe calorie restriction
  2. Excessive amounts of cardio
  3. Minimal weightlifting with an emphasis on high-rep training

Sound familiar? It should because that comprises the majority of mainstream weight loss advice (starve yourself, do a ton of cardio, and lift a bunch of light weights).

Source: Muscle For Life

Matthews argues that when people follow what they think is sound fitness advice, they can sometimes put their bodies into a position where they burn away their skeletal muscle mass in conjunction with their body fat, which is the opposite of what you must do in order to have a healthy body composition.

IMAGE CREDIT: COCONUT FITNESS

If you try to cut calories, while at the same time run on a treadmill an 1 hour a day 5 days a week, your body may not have the energy it needs to perform.  After a certain point, your body will start metabolizing muscle because it needs energy once the other options are exhausted.  Weight loss will occur at the expense of both fat and muscle loss, which will do very little to improve body fat percentage and becoming less skinny fat.

As Long as I Look Good, That’s All That Matters!

If only that were the case. Unfortunately, that attitude is exactly what causes people to become skinny fat in the first place.  The appearance of being skinny seems to outweigh being fit and healthy (which also leads towards trim bodies).  However, because of the way fat can be stored, skinny fat people risk having health problems, some of them quite serious.

Not all fat gets stored under the skin.  Fat that people can see is referred to as subcutaneous fat, but there’s a second type –visceral fat – and it’s the worse of the two.  If you’re skinny fat, you likely have a lot of this second type.

Not all fat gets stored under the skin.  Fat that people can see is referred to assubcutaneous fat, but there’s a second type –visceral fat – and it’s the worse of the two.  If you’re skinny fat, you likely have a lot of this second type.

Having large amounts of visceral fat can spell a heap of trouble, according to Harvard Medical School.  Visceral fat has been linked with:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Insulin resistance, leading to type 2 diabetes.

Another hallmark of being skinny fat – having low Lean Body Mass/Skeletal Muscle Mass – also contributes to health risks, particularly to your bones.

A low lean body mass and a high percent body fat leads to a condition known in the medical community as sarcopenic obesity.  Research has show that having a healthy amount of lean body mass is associated with high bone mineral density.  Conversely, having a high body fat percentage puts people at risk for lower bone mineral density.

Another way to think about this is in terms of losing your osseous (bone) tissue. Lessening your osseous tissue can increase the risk of having osteoporosis, especially in women (because they have smaller, thinner bones than men), and especially in women who have reached menopause (due to a decrease in estrogen production).

So while on the exterior, skinny fat people might look attractive, on the inside, their bodies may be at high risk for a number of health problems and syndromes.  This is why it is so important to determine your body fat percentage.

How To Overcome Being Skinny Fat

It goes back to body composition.

People who want to be thin – but also want to avoid becoming skinny fat – need to increase their muscle mass and reduce their fat mass.  Another way of saying this is that they need to improve their body composition.

This can be done in a number of ways, such as making dietary changes, but one of the best ways to increase Skeletal Muscle Mass is to begin resistance training, especially resistance training that focuses on heavy, compound exercises.

Why resistance training?  Lifting heavy weights is the best way to build Skeletal Muscle Mass, and correspondingly, Lean Body Mass.

With increased lean body mass, your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) increases.  Your BMR is the amount of calories that you need to support your body when you are at rest.  In plain speech, the higher your BMR, the more calories your body naturally burns when it is doing nothing (i.e. sleeping).  The more calories you burn, the more fat you are able to burn.

By increasing your Lean Body Mass, you are going to burn calories naturally, bringing your body composition back into balance and reducing your body fat percentage, pulling you out of your skinny fat body.

If you are worried that building muscle might make you look bulky instead of skinny, don’t.  Muscle is much denser than fat, meaning that if you weighed the same as you do now, but you had more muscle than fat, you would actually appear thinner.  Except in this thin body, you would be healthier.

In addition to being denser than fat, muscle is also heavier than fat.  So, perhaps ironically, if you were to increase your muscle/Lean Body Mass to the point where you were able to reduce your body fat percentage significantly, you may actually weigh more than you did when you had a skinny fat body.

This is why body composition knowledge is so important.  If you were just measuring your weight with a scale and judging your appearance in the mirror, you may have never known that you had a skinny fat body, and that you were potentially at risk for health problems.

Also, misunderstandings about building muscle/gaining weight due to muscle may have led you to to avoid strength training altogether and instead focused on insane levels of cardio coupled with calorie restriction. This is how many people become skinny fat in the first place.

So, now you know the facts.  Just because someone looks skinny, don’t just assume they are healthy.  Don’t aspire to be skinny, aspire to be healthy.  Because at the end of the day, health is always attractive.

1 Lee, Robert D. and David C Nieman. Nutritional Assessment 2nd Ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1995) p. 264

Resourced from: inbodyusa

10 Popular Bro Science Myths, Busted: Part 1

When you’re trying to get fit, you usually look to the people who are already fit.  They must know something, right?  So, you talk to them, ask them how they got where they are and…

Enter “bro science.”

Bro science is well-intentioned advice friends who work out together typically give each other that they trust and believe in.  This is usually because:

a) they heard it from another person who was really fit
b) they believe it and just so happens to work for them; or
c) “It’s science, look it up.”

Well, we did look it up.

The basic problem with bro science is this: as with many believable rumors, there’s usually a kernel of truth stuck in each one.  Many bro science myths begin based in good fitness science, but later, the science gets taken out of context, misinterpreted, or misunderstood.

The other problem is, in many cases, these myths have been so popular (and spread by popular media) for so long that they are simply accepted as truth. The problem is that these myths can lead to wasted time, money, and energy. They can also lead to frustration and quitting when the promised results don’t come.

To make sure you don’t fall for misguided bro science, we’ve busted 10 myths to set the record straight on what’s good science and what’s better left in the locker room.

#1 Eating at night makes you fat

 

The myth: “Stop eating meals late at night.  If you eat right before sleeping, your body turns whatever you ate straight into fat.” The facts: It’s not about when you eat your meals: it’s about your calorie intake and exercise level.  According to the Center for Disease Control, it’s the calories you burn over a 24-hour period that determines fat gain/loss, not when you intake those calories. A 2015 meta-analysis published in the nutrition journal Nutrients goes even further.  Far from being a recipe for guaranteed fat gain, nighttime meals were shown to:

 

  • improve protein synthesis in healthy individuals who ate small, nutrient-dense meals before sleeping. They built muscle, not fat.
  • have no effect on weight gain among obese individuals who participated in a high intensity cardiovascular exercise program during the day

Why do people believe this myth? It’s likely because when people do eat in the evening, they tend to eat and drink things with high caloric content: processed foods, alcohol, carbohydrates, and other things that pack on the calories.  An extra 500-1000 calories after 8pm is fairly easy to add if you aren’t careful. The takeaway: It’s about the calories themselves, not about the time.

#2 Cardio on an empty stomach is the secret to burning fat

The myth: “If you want to burn pure fat, don’t eat before doing cardio.  This way, you’ll burn pure fat. It’s like a fat-burning hack.”

The facts: This one actually has a basis in physiological research describing where the body gets its energy during aerobic exercise.  It can come from two places – either glycogen from carbohydrates or from fat tissue. During aerobic exercise, the body willfirst metabolize (or burn) glycogen and then metabolize fat for energy.

So the bro scientists take this fact and make the leap: “If I don’t eat anything before cardio, I’ll have no glycogen from carbs, and my body will go straight into burning fat! Perfect!”

Although this sounds like a logical assumption, studies have shown otherwise.

 

In a comparison of healthy men and women who trained either with or without eating before steady state cardio, a 2010 study showed that there was no significant differencein fat or carbohydrate use between the groups who were fed and the groups who had fasted overnight.  For people who perform High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) cardio, a 2013 study found no difference in body composition between groups that fasted and groups that didn’t.

Although some people may have had success in doing cardio on an empty stomach, it’s far from being a secret recipe to maximize fat loss and may have had more to do with overall calorie reduction in the first place.

The takeaway: Don’t stress about eating/not eating before cardio.  Focus on high intensity workouts and burning calories if you want to burn fat.

#3 You can lose 1 pound of fat a week by cutting 500 calories a day

The myth: “One pound of fat is equal to 3500 calories, so if you want to burn a pound of fat a week, you need to cut your calorie intake by 500 calories a day.  500 x 7 = 3500 calories (one pound of fat.)”

The facts: While it is true that running a modest calorie reduction typically results in overall weight loss, this “500 calorie a day = 1 pound a week of fat loss” is an oversimplification of how weight loss occurs.  It’s based on the faulty assumption that you can lose 100% pure fat with simple calorie reduction, which is not true.

Your body and your weight are made up of several components, including muscle, fat, and water.  Depending on how you are losing weight, you may not be losing just fat – you may be losing some of everything.  How much of each varies for each individual based on their current body composition and their activity level.

As you lose fat mass solely by calorie restriction, you are very likely going to lose Lean Body Mass as well.  How much Lean Body Mass (and Skeletal Muscle Mass) you lose has a lot to do with your current body composition. If you are overweight and have a lot of weight to lose, a greater proportion of weight loss will come directly from fat.

However, if you are already lean and start losing weight, a greater proportion of weight loss will come from Lean Body Mass.   Whether or not you are engaged in a resistance training program also plays a role.

The takeaway: While it is true that you will lose fat by running a calorie deficit, don’t expect to lose 1 pound of pure fat a week like clockwork, especially if you are not exercising.

#4 To Maximize Fat Burn, Do Cardio Workouts in the “Fat Burning Zone”

The myth: “This might surprise you, but, if you want to burn fat most efficiently, it’s better to work out in your particular Fat Burning Zone. Don’t let your heart rate (BPM) get above 60% of your recommended maximum HR for your age.”

The facts: Plastered on treadmills and ellipticals in gyms everywhere is the familiar heart rate graph.  They usually have a couple different colored bands that show what heart rate to work out at in order to achieve some kind of goal.  They usually look something like this:

This myth is based on a misinterpretation about where the body gets energy during exercise.  As mentioned in myth #9, the body has two sources of energy to choose from during exercise: glycogen and fat stores. At lower intensities, the body tends to prefer drawing energy from the fat stores.

At lower intensities, the body doesn’t burn more fat, it just burns more fat than carbohydrates during exercise.  In other words, in the “fat burning zone” you burn a greater percentage of fat, but less fat overall. In terms of total fat loss, overall calorie burn, including calories from fat, will be less if you stay in the “fat burning zone” than if you exercised at high intensity.

Furthermore, higher intensity exercise, whether it be cardio or resistance training, will burn more calories after the workout is completed.  In a study that compared low intensity continuous cycling versus high intensity interval cycling, it was found that the high intensity group used more energy over a 24-hour period, despite the fact that both groups cycled the same total time each day (60 minutes).

The takeaway: Focus on burning as many calories as possible to lose fat.

#5 The best way to get skinny is to do tons of cardio, cut calories, and avoid lifting

 

The myth: “To burn fat, you gotta do cardio and cut calories.  Cut your calories, especially carbs, while hitting the treadmill super hard, and you’ll shed off fat like it’s nothing. If you start lifting, you’ll get bigger and bulkier, not skinnier.”

The facts: This is probably one of the most common myths about burning fat and losing weight out there: endless, extremely longcardio sessions coupled with severe calorie restriction and a de-emphasis on weight lifting is the key to a skinny physique.  Primarily targeted at women, it’s this myth that fills treadmills and spinning classes in gyms worldwide.

It’s not that modest calorie restriction and cardio won’t burn fat and lead to weight loss; it will.  It’s the extremes people take with either or both of these strategies that can sabotage your goals.

Yes: aerobic exercise will burn fat and lead to weight loss.  But it’s extremely difficult to burn fat and only fat.  If you’re attempting to lose weight purely through cardio, you stand to lose muscle and water in addition to fat mass.

Research has shown that when cardio begins in a reduced glycogen state, which can result from caloric restriction (and compounded by excessive cardio workouts), a netdegradation of protein in muscle occurs. Severely cutting calories or going on a crash diet can also lead to drops in testosterone levels, which does little to guard against muscle loss

It’s also true that cutting calories in order to run a calorie deficit will lead to weight loss.   This leads some people to go to extremes in cutting calories while doing intense amounts of cardio, but this can have adverse effects.  Studies have shown that weight loss strategies that focus on calorie restriction are positively correlated with Fat Free Mass loss, meaning that by cutting calories significantly, you put yourself at risk of losing valuable muscle mass in addition to fat mass.

By going overboard with both of these strategies and not lifting any weights to “avoid looking bulky,” you actually run the risk of becoming skinny fat.  Yes, you might lose weight, but you risk losing your muscle mass as well, which will do nothing to improve your body composition. You also probably won’t achieve the beach body you were going for either, because you won’t have any definition in your physique without any muscle.  You may be skinny, but at what cost?

The takeaway: If you want to be skinny, you’re far better off being fit.  And that means eating healthy food in healthy amounts – not skipping dinner – and plenty of exercise.

That’s it for the first part of this series!  Click here to continue to Part 2.

Resourced from: inbodyusa

How to Make a Fitness New Years Resolution You’ll Actually Do

How to Make a Fitness New Years Resolution You’ll Actually Do

Raise your hand if you said something like:

“In 2016, I’m finally going to lose weight!”

If you did, you’re not alone.  According to Statistics Brain Institute, a company that compiles statistics on a variety of topics and industries, losing weight was (unsurprisingly) the #1 New Year’s resolution made in 2015.

However, according to the same research, only 8% of people reported achieving their resolution by the end of 2015.  Also not terribly surprising.

But forget 2015.  It’s now into the third week of 2016, and this year is the year that you can actually achieve your fitness/weight loss goal.  It’s completely possible; you just need to go about it the right way.

Yes, it will take hard work and dedication. No, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything you enjoy doing (unless what you enjoy doing is surviving on exclusively burgers and soda).  Follow the below steps and by this time next year, you’ll be celebrating the beginning of 2017 with a new, fitter you.

Step 1: Throw Your Scale out the Window

This is key. In 2016, you’re going to part with your bathroom scale. Why? Because it’s been serving you a steady stream of lies every time you’ve stepped on it in the past.

 

How?

You say that you want to lose weight.  But what is weight, really? It’s really just a number, and seeing a number rise or fall on the scale doesn’t tell even close to the whole story. What you’re actually trying to say when you say you want to lose weight – whether you realize it or not – is you want to lose fat. Pounds of fat.

The truth is: your body isn’t just a vessel that weighs a certain amount; it’s made up of a lot of different things, including fat, muscle, bone mineral, and body water.  This way of dividing your body into its parts is called your body composition.  When you lose (or gain weight), the actual changes in your body that your scale registers as weight changes are actually changes in one or more parts of your body composition – changes in muscle, changes in fat, etc.

Weighing yourself on the scale when you’re trying to lose weight – or worse: weighing yourself every day – can set you up for failure by not accurately reporting your progress, causing you to become discouraged. Here’s how.
results1

Here’s a profile of someone who is just beginning their fitness program, and is doing moderate to heavy weight lifting as part of their plan.  Here’s the same person, about three months later.

results2

As a result of a proper diet and consistent exercise, this person has lost 5 pounds of fat. But because this person has been building muscle as well, their weight hasn’t changed at all.

If this person’s goal was simply “weight loss,” despite their positive gains in muscle and losses in fat, this person might think that no progress was made.  After months of kicking yourself into shape and being super careful about your diet, a lack of movement on the scale can be extremely discouraging.

This is why you need to focus on improving your body composition – not weight loss.  Weight loss doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know what you’re losing and gaining.

Step 2: Learn a bit about calories

nutritionfacts_12756843-5b84-432f-a3ba-88cb0eda6aae

“Counting calories.”

For some people, this phrase brings feelings of the purest dread.  Not only do people think it’s a lot of work, but that it also means the end of eating anything delicious.

Fortunately, keeping track of calories isn’t that hard, and depending on what your goals are, you may be able to eat more than you think.  But first, here are some basic truths on calories.

First: let’s get something straight right now – from an energy storing perspective, it doesn’t matter all that much how often/when you eat.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (bold text added):

The time of day isn’t what affects how your body uses calories. It’s the overall number of calories you eat and the calories you burn over the course of 24 hours that affects your weight.

It helps to think of your caloric needs like a daily budget.  If your needs are 2,400 calories and you “spend” a 1,000 calories on breakfast, that’s fine – it’s just that you only get 1,400 calories until breakfast the next day.

Second: everyone’s caloric needs are different; so that 2,000 daily recommended calorie intake on the nutrition label? Consider that to be the most general, vaguest set of guidelines that almost certainly will set you up for failure, especially since it was picked in no small part because it was just an easy number to remember, rounded off to the nearest thousand for convenience 1.

To find your individual caloric needs, you need to estimate something called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure– the amount of calories that you burn in a 24-hour period.  Generally speaking, your TDEE has two major components:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): the total number of calories your body requires to “stay on” and power bodily processes like brain activity, pumping blood, breathing, digesting, etc.
  • Activity Rate: an estimated index of how active you are over 24 hours

To get TDEE, multiply BMR with Activity Rate. For example, someone with a BMR of 1600 calories and is moderately active (exercises 3-5x a week) would have a total caloric need of around 2,480 calories, nearly 500 calories more than the traditional 2,000 calorie diet.

Use your TDEE as the baseline from how you create your diet.  “Cutting calories” doesn’t mean “starvation” – it means making a moderate reduction in your caloric intake as determined by your daily needs.

Based on what your goals are, designing a diet and knowing what’s an appropriate caloric intake does get a little more complicated, but there’s a complete guide to using BMR to creating a diet right here.

Step 3: Choose 1 Goal (from 2 options) and Plan Your Diet

workout_grande

In 2016, you’re not going to think about “weight loss” any more.  Instead, you’re going to think about choosing from one of the two following goals: “fat loss” or “muscle gain.”  Both of these goals will have the effect ofreducing your overall body fat percentage but achieve it in different ways.

But just one goal – not both at the same time? Can’t you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? Maybe. But it will be extremely difficult to effectively do both over any extended period of time.  This is because the nutritional and caloric needs your body requires to gain muscle effectively are different from those when you want your body to lose fat.

  • FAT LOSS

If you want to lose fat, you need to encourage your body to enter what’s called a catabolic state – a state when your body breaks down body tissue instead of building it.  This requires you to take in fewer calories than you bring in.

But remember: your TDEE is made of two parts, BMR and Activity Level, so taking in fewer calories doesn’t necessarily (and shouldn’t) mean you have to cut out breakfast completely or something equally drastic.  If you weren’t working out at all before, simply increasing your activity level by starting an exercise program whilemaintaining your caloric intake may be enough to trigger fat loss.  If this sounds like you, simply beginning an exercise program is a good way to get started.

However, most people will need a combination of caloric reduction and exercise to achieve consistent and healthy fat loss.  How many calories you need to reduce will vary based on your individual body composition and goals.

  • MUSCLE GAIN

You can’t lose fat forever, and at some point you will need to work on developing muscle – or at the very least, work to preserve the muscle that you have already.  This will require a different diet and exercise plan than the one designed for fat loss.  Instead of getting your body into a catabolic state, you’ll want to enter into an anabolic state – a state where your body builds tissue instead of breaking it down.

To build muscle, your body needs resources.  This means proper nutrition – sufficient protein intake is critical when trying to increase muscle mass – but equally as important is eating enough calories.  There is a popular misconception that taking in excessive amounts of protein is the key to muscle gain, but in a Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition publication, high performance athletes who failed to meet their caloric needs were found to have limited lean body mass gains, despite increasing their protein beyond their daily recommended needs.

So what is a good estimate of your caloric needs for this goal?  Although nutrition plays a large role in determining diet, from a caloric standpoint, research suggests that maintaining an energy surplus of about 15% is appropriate for developing musculature.  This means, all else being equal, the moderately active person with a BMR of 1,600 calories would want to shoot for around 2,852 calories a day.

Step 4: Plan for a Marathon, not a 100-yard dash

In a world where virtually every piece of information in all of human history can be searched for in seconds by anyone with a smartphone, people are used to getting the results they want when they want them.  Unfortunately, you can’t expect the same from your body.

 

That’s why if you hang around enough fitness people for long enough, you’ll eventually hear them talk about a “fitness journey.”  That’s because that’s exactly what fitness is – a journey. It’s not a sprint, and it will take time to make meaningful changes that last.

For example, in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, participants were divided into two groups that created a 25% energy gap between what they ate and what they burned. The first group did this by only dieting (25% caloric reduction) and the second achieving it by splitting the energy deficit by both diet and exercise (12.5% caloric reduction + 12.5% increase in energy use due to increased exercise).

The results were interesting: both groups were able to reduce their body weight by about 10% and their total fat mass by 24%, indicating that for fat/weight reduction, caloric reduction by any means is critical, regardless of how it is achieved.  For a 180 pound person, a 10% reduction comes out to 3 pounds of loss per month, which is less than a pound a week.

This can be challenging for some people – to not see any measurable changes on the scale after a week of diet/diet+exercise.  Even after two weeks, you may only see your weight decrease by a pound, maybe two.  If you’re measuring your weight by just using a scale, this can be especially frustrating (another reason why you should get rid of it).

Plan for the long term, and don’t expect to see dramatic changes right away.  And because you’re planning for the long term, that also means that you don’t need to be perfect every single day.  That’s going to put on too much pressure, cause frustration, and maybe cause you to fail.  That’s why this guide’s final step is important.

 

Step 5: Let Cheat Days Happen (and don’t feel bad about it)

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That’s right.  Break your diet every once in a while. Skip the odd gym day and go out for pizza and beer. It’s OK.

Didn’t expect that, did you?

But wait! Isn’t this how you “gain it all back”?  You hear stories about people breaking their diets and then gaining 5 pounds or more over a cheat weekend, erasing a month of hard work.

This is where your scale – if you’re still using one – really can screw you up with negative thinking and discouragement.  So you gained 5 pounds over the weekend; is your scale lying?  Not exactly. Yes you gained 5 pounds, but more than likely, it’s 5 pounds of water.

Your weight will fluctuate throughout the day based on what you eat and drink.  If you’re dieting, a pretty common/near universal strategy is to reduce your carbohydrate intake (aka “cutting carbs”).

By reducing your intake of foods rich in carbohydrates, you’re reducing your overall glycogen stores. Glycogen is a molecule your body converts into energy and is a source of short-term energy; as opposed to fat, which is typically used in cases where energy from glycogen or other short-term energy sources aren’t available.

What does glycogen have to do with scales, water, and cheat days? Everything, actually.

Water molecules love glycogen.  In fact, for every gram of glycogen in your body, there will be 3-4 grams of water bonded to it.  Your loading your body with glycogen when you’re eating your carbohydrate-dense food and drinks on your cheat day, and water is bonding to it.  So when you step on the scale the day after, it’s very possible to see yourself gain several pounds in a day.

This doesn’t mean you gained it all back.  Chances are, it’s just water and once you get back on your diet and exercise program, your weight will be back to where it was in a couple days. Watch.

5 Step Plan Review

Let’s review your 5 step plans for a weight loss plan that you’ll actually do in 2016.

  1. Throw out your scale and get your body composition tested.  If your gym doesn’t do it, join one that does. The longer you stick with a scale, the longer you’ll be frustrated.
  2. Learn the basics of calories and find your TDEE.
  3. Pick 1 goal. You can change it later.
  4. Prepare for your own “fitness journey.” Slow and steady wins the race.
  5. Have a cheat day. It will help you stay sane, and it will give you something to look forward to every week or two to keep you motivated.

Good luck!

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Muscle and Fat

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Muscle and Fat

Your body is a wonderful and complex machine. Without any conscious direction from you, your body manages to convert food into energy, regulate your body temperature, create new cells, remove waste, and perform thousands of other processes to keep you alive and healthy.

Because your body is such a complex machine, a lot of misconceptions and half-truths exist about how it works, especially when it comes to muscle and fat. This makes it hard to figure out what’s true and what isn’t, especially since nowadays there seems to be a supplement for everything and a steady stream of late night infomercials claiming to have the next greatest invention for fat loss or muscle gain.

To help shed some light on these issues and cut through the clutter, we’ve collected a few key points about muscle and fat for you to take away to help you make the right decisions when you are ready to get healthier and optimize your body composition.

#1: Muscle Isn't Just for Strong Bodies

Many people think that developing muscle is only necessary if you’re an athlete.  Why would you need to be stronger if you aren’t doing competitive sports?  Not everyone needs to fight off an opposing defensive back, but everyone needs to be able to fight off infection.

What does muscle have to do with infection? Quite a lot actually.

Protein is a major and important macronutrient that your body requires in order to function properly. Muscle is made up of primarily water and protein content.  When your body enters a stressed state (becomes sick), your body’s protein demands suddenly skyrocket, up to four times the amount it normally requires in the event of serious trauma.

If your body does not get the necessary protein it needs from your diet, it will look to your muscles – which your body can treat as large protein reserves – and begin breaking them down.  If your muscles aren’t sufficiently developed or underdeveloped, you will have a reduced ability to fight off current infections and may be more susceptible to future ones, especially in serious cases.  According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

If there is a preexisting deficiency of muscle mass before trauma, the acute loss of muscle mass and function may push an individual over a threshold that makes recovery of normal function unlikely to ever occur.

Take care of your muscles, and they very well may take care of you in return.

#2: There’s 2 types of Fat – and one is really dangerous

Most people know that being overweight can lead to health problems over the long term, but not many people know why.  Current research is now revealing that fat isn’t just empty weight like a bag of sand, but is in factmetabolically active tissue that acts like an organ inside your body.

But unlike the other organs inside your body that are designed to help keep your body in proper condition, excess fat works to sabotage it.

According to Harvard University, fat, and particularly visceral (belly) fat, can have significant negative effects on your health.  Visceral fat spreads certain types of chemical called cytokines into the body, and although cytokines aren’t by their nature harmful, the types of cytokines emitted by fat can have serious repercussions on insulin resistance, cholesterol level, and blood pressure.  

Over time, visceral fat can lead to developing serious diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  Fortunately, working to reduce fat mass in your body can help reduce some of these harmful effects visceral fat can have.  

#3: “Lean Mass” Isn’t the Same as “Muscle”

Lean Mass. Lean Body Mass. Muscle Mass. Skeletal Muscle Mass. It can be really easy to get lost in all these same-sounding terms. Are they all the same?

The most common mistake is when people use the term “lean mass” and when talking about increasing it – “lean gains.” Many people equate muscle with lean mass, which is only partially correct.

While it is true that if you develop your muscles you are developing lean mass, that doesn’t mean that your muscle gains are lean gains. Lean Body Mass is different from skeletal muscle in that Lean Body Mass includes the weight attributed to muscle, body water, bone, and everything else that isn’t fat.

To illustrate, take a look at the body composition breakdown of this 162-pound male:

muscle_6_1024x1024

Note that this subject has a Lean Body Mass of 128.5 pounds, the majority of which is reflected by Total Body Water.  The actual muscle that people try to develop in the gym – skeletal muscle – only accounts for 73.2 pounds of body weight.

While it isn’t likely that the weight of your organs or bones will change significantly, your muscles and water can change in volume and mass depending on a variety of circumstances.  Because Lean Mass includes body water, increasing your weight by hydrating your cells with sufficient intracellular water is also technically a “lean gain.”

Another way of thinking about it: All muscle gains are lean gains, but not all lean gains are muscle gains.  Get it?

#4: Muscle Doesn’t Become Fat

Admit it– you were pretty sure it didn’t work like this, but you sometimes catch yourself saying that your muscle turned into fat.

Although your body is an amazing machine, there is no process by which your body converts muscle into fat tissue.  Many people comment that their muscle has turned into fat after they stop working out regularly, and it really does seem like that’s what’s occurring – you were once lean and muscular, and now you have less muscle and look flabbier.

But what’s really going on is a change in body composition – a loss in muscle mass that occurs at the same time fat mass increases.

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This can happen for any number of reasons.  Many people, especially athletes, can experience muscle loss and fat gain in the off-season or when they stop performing entirely if they continue to eat like they did when they were playing at a competitive level. That’s because the amount of calories you use in a day – your Total Daily Energy Expenditure – decreases significantly if you change your activity level.

#5: Being Skinny Isn’t Great If You Have No Muscle

When people think of someone with an unhealthy body, they think of someone who is overweight.  So, when people think of someone with a healthy body, they naturally think of someone who is skinny.

Not so fast: just because someone looks like a runway model doesn’t mean they are healthy.  In fact, it is often the opposite.  In some cases, people who strive to be skinny – like runway models for instance –  become so excessively skinny that they become severely underweight and  develop conditions like anorexia. It was for this reason in particular that the French government imposed a ban on hiring runway models with BMIs of less than 18.0 in 2015.

However, not everyone is a runway model, and a much more common condition that some skinny people have that is certainly not healthy is something called sarcopenic obesity, something popularly referred to as being “skinny fat.”  Skinny fat people don’t have healthy amounts of muscle mass, so they can actually have a body fat percentage that is similar to someone who is obese, even though they appear to be skinny.  They often have body composition profiles resembling this one:

musclefat_3

Despite having a normal weight (within 15% of the ideal weight for this person’s height), muscle mass is very underdeveloped while body fat mass is quite high.  By dividing fat mass by weight, this person’s body fat percentage would be 36.9%, well over any acceptable range for women – including the ranges set by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise.

End the Confusion

Lots of these myths and misconceptions occur because many people do not measure their weight accurately.

The only way to properly understand your weight is to have your body composition analyzed. Body composition analysis breaks down your weight into muscle, fat, and body water. Relying on a scale only leaves you in the dark as to why your weight is increasing or decreasing, which can lead you to such thoughts as “my muscle turned into fat.” To learn more about body composition, click here.

How To Read Nutrition Labels

How To Read Nutrition Labels

Ideally to achieve maximum health we would eat only fresh, natural, organic foods and we would completely avoid processed or packaged options. But nothing is ideal in reality and so there are times that we must depend on the information that is provided to us through nutrition labels on packaged food items to determine which processed options are better than others. The nutritional values of fresh, natural and organic foods are also important to consider when deciding what to purchase and consume but these are not always as easily found.

Fresh, Natural, or Organic Foods

Fresh produce, beef, and seafood don’t come with nutritional labels printed out on them, but that doesn’t mean that the information isn’t out there and available for you if you decide to look. These nutritional facts will read much like the labels on your packaged food, except that in most cases you’ll find that what you’re consuming with natural foods is much healthier than what’s packed inside processed food. Some packaged food will read as “organic”, “all natural”, or “nothing artificial” but those are not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about non-packaged and fresh fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, pork, salmon, tilapia, etc.

Packaged Foods

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Nutritional labels on packaged foods allow you to compare the calorie, fat, trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar content in any given food. With that knowledge you are in an informed position to make the most accurate decision about which foods to stay away from due to higher levels of these ingredients.

To determine which foods are better for your specific and personal dietary choices it’s also important to peruse the ingredients list to see what additives and other ingredients are present. It is always better to choose options with ingredients that you have in your own kitchen, while avoiding the chemical additives. Often times the smaller ingredient lists and larger vitamin lists provide healthier content, but this is not always the case, and the lengths of these lists should only be considered one of many things to look at when reading a nutritional label.

Some packaged food will even say “organic”, “ natural”, or “no artificial ingredients” but many people don’t know what the difference is, so they end up buying the wrong products, for their personal dietary needs.

Packaging TermWhat It Means
Organic
  • Free of growth hormones and antibiotics
  • 95% of the ingredients are organic
  • Grown with non synthetic or sewage fertilizers
  • No GMO’s
All Natural
  • No FDA requirements
  • Foods are generally made of natural ingredients but may contain hydrogenated oils, added sugars, flavoring (as long as it’s a natural flavoring), and other non natural ingredients
No Artificial Ingredients
  • Least regulated
  • Food may be made of an even mixture of natural and artificial ingredients, so you’ll have to read the nutrition label carefully

 

Making Sense Of Nutrition Labels

Although the information is laid out for you in a seemingly organized fashion, making sense of what you’re reading when looking at a nutritional label is not always an easy task. Many people don’t consume enough iron, calcium, fiber, or vitamins A and C, despite the fact that they are always included on the nutritional labels. Here are the main characteristics you should look at on a nutritional label and what they mean.

Chart SectionWhat It Tells You
Serving Size
  • How large a serving is usually in both standard and metric measurements
  • How many servings are present
Calorie Information
  • How many calories, and calories from fat are present in a single serving
Daily Value %
  • How much of your daily nutrient requirement is satisfied by a single serving (shown in percentage form)
  • Usually based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet
Nutrients
  • List of nutrients including: fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and protein
  • How many grams of each nutrient are included in a single serving
  • Usually the lower daily value percentages are the healthier options in this section (protein is the exception)
Vitamins & Minerals
  • List of vitamins & minerals that are included in a single serving (Try to consume 100% of your daily value for Vitamin A and C, iron, calcium, and fiber everyday)
Footnote
  • List of key nutrients paired with how much of each you should consume
  • Usually based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet

nutritionlabel_mediumThe footnote section is the best place to look for clarification if you’re confused about how much of a certain nutrient you should be consuming in any given day.There are also some commonly printed phrases printed on nutrition labels and packaged food containersthat be confusing if you don’t know what they mean. These are phrases that you should become familiar with so that you better understand what it is that you’re purchasing and eating. Here are a few of the most popularly printed phrases and what they really mean:

PhraseWhat It Really Means
No Fat/Fat FreeMay contain some fat, as long as it’s less that ½ gram per serving
Lower or Reduced FatWill contain at least 25% less fat per serving than the original food item
Low FatWill contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving
LiteWill contain either ⅓ of the calories or ½ of the fat that would be found in the original food item
No Calories/Calorie FreeMay contain calories, as long as it’s less that 5 calories per serving
Low CaloriesWill contain no more than 50% of the calories per serving than the original food item
Sugar FreeMay contain some sugar, as long as it’s less that ½ gram per serving
Reduced SugarWill contain at least 25% less sugar per serving than the original food item
No PreservativesWill not contain any preservatives (natural or chemical)
No Preservatives AddedWill not contain chemically added preservatives.
Low SodiumWill contain less than 140 mgs of sodium per serving
No Salt/Salt FreeMay contain salt, as long as it’s less than 5 mgs of sodium per serving
High FiberWill contain at least 5 grams of fiber (or more) per serving
Good Source of FiberWill contain 2.5 grams to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving
More/Added FiberWill contain at least 2.5 grams more fiber per serving than the original food item