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

10 Popular Bro Science Myths, Busted: Part 1

broscience2

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 will first 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 difference in 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 ofpure 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:

broscience3_2e5c2031-45e4-4739-861e-43144bd0a6f6

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 long cardio 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.

broscience1_grande

It’s not that modest calorie restriction and cardio won’t burn fat and lead to weight loss; it will.  It’s the extremespeople 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 net degradation 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.

10 Popular Bro Science Myths, Busted: Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part series that examines 10 popular bro science myths.  To view the first part of this series and myths 1-5, click here.

#6: To Get a 6-Pack, Do a Million Crunches (or something equally intense)

The myth“If you want a 6-pack, it’s all about crunches.”

The facts: The six pack. The ultimate symbol of fitness: often desired, but rarely achieved.  This is because most people go about the wrong way trying to get it.

Strength training builds muscle, and over time, your skeletal muscle mass grows and your physique changes accordingly.  A strong chest is the result of working out the pectoral muscle group; huge arms are the result of working out the biceps and triceps properly. So, many people naturally assume that in order get a six pack, you need to build huge abs.

To build a 6-pack, your abdominal muscles do need to be developed. But for your abs to show, you should focus on improving your body composition and lowering your body fat percentage. You can have the strongest abdominal muscles in the world, but if they are covered by a layer of abdominal fat, you won’t have much to show off.

Think about your fat as a layer that stretches across your ab muscles.  The thinner the layer, the easier the muscles underneath can show.  What body fat percentage will reveal the 6 pack?  This depends primarily on gender, body type, and a lot of individual variance; but generally, abs will start showing up around 10% for men and 15% for women.

The takeaway: Focus on getting very lean and reducing your body fat percentage for a 6-pack.

#7: Eating 5-6 small meals a day helps with weight loss  by increasing metabolism

The myth: “Eating 3 meals a day is wrong.  If you break it up into 5 – 6 smaller meals, your body continuously burns fuel throughout the day, which increases your metabolism so you lose weight.”

The facts: This one sounds like it makes sense.  It’s like adding fuel to the fire, right?  Instead of throwing on a giant log right away to make a huge fire, you add in smaller branches over time to grow the fire and by the end, you have a huge blaze going that burns the fuel immediately.  Can the same metaphor be applied to your diet? Will small, frequent meals turn your body into a calorie-burning furnace?

The truth in this is similar to the first myth in the previous article – what’s important isn’t how often or what time you have the calories; it’s how many calories you have over a 24-hour period. A study in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism that looked at healthy people who ate one large meal a day for two weeks and then later ate the same meal spread out over five smaller meals for another two weeks concluded by observing no statistical difference in body weight gain/loss between the two eating styles. 2000 calories over 3 meals is still 2000 calories even if you eat it over 5 meals.

This myth is one of those “life-hack” myths that crop up every now and again that promises weight loss without having to make lifestyle changes.  Myths like these offer strategies that avoid the hard work and commitment that diet and exercise demand. You know the type because they often follow this formula:

“Just follow this one [insert adjective like: simple, easy, weird, surprising, etc.] rule to [insert desirable body shape or fitness goal] in [insert unreasonably short amount of time].

However, the truth is no favorable change in body composition will occur just by increasing meal frequency if you live a sedentary lifestyle.  There is no substitute for diet and exercise.

The takeaway: Instead of focusing on a fixed number of meals, it’s much more productive to focus on what and how much you eat.

#8: You can only consume 30 g of protein at one time

The myth: “There’s no point in trying to consume more than 30 g of protein at once.  Your body can’t process any more than that, so if you try to consume more than that, your body will just get rid of it and not use it.”

The facts: While it is true that different body types and fitness levels have different protein needs, it is not true that there is a protein intake limit.  In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, test subjects were divided into two groups: one that consumed virtuallytheir entire daily protein allotment in one sitting, and another that spread it out over four meals.  As the conclusion of the study, it was shown that there was no difference in protein absorption when comparing pulse pattern (all-at-once) vs. spread pattern (over four sessions).

 

This myth is particularly common with people who are trying to build muscle as quickly and efficiently as possible.  A lot of people believe that protein needs to be spaced out throughout the day so that the body can utilize all of it since different types of protein absorb at different speeds.  Although it is true that different types of protein absorb at different rates, there is nothing to suggest that there is a set “30 g limit” at one time.

The takeaway: Eat as much protein as you need for your goals, but don’t stress about arbitrary protein limits.

#9: After working out, immediately drink a protein shake

The myth: “After you finish lifting, you have, like, 30-45 minutes where your body absorbs protein the best.  Your body will absorb it like a sponge, and you’ll bulk up faster that way.”

IMAGE CREDIT: FLICKR

The facts: If you are new to weightlifting, this is probably the first thing that people will tell you about building muscle: right after you finish working out, your muscles are exhausted, and because they are torn from all the lifting you did, they are (somehow) primed for absorbing protein at maximum efficiency.

It is true if you just completed a heavy weightlifting session, you are likely in an anabolic state. This state is best for building muscle.  Bro scientists maintain, however, that this magical protein absorbing state has a very short duration – probably no more than an hour – which is why you see people start drinking protein shakes when they walk out of the gym.

This is the so-called “anabolic/metabolic window,” and it sounds just scientific enough to be accepted without question by the average gym-goer.  However, in a comprehensive 2013 meta-analysis published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that examined the existing research surrounding the anabolic window, the authors concluded that if a metabolic window does in fact exist, the duration can last anywhere from 4 – 6 hours after high intensity exercise. This means there is no rush to eat an entire 8 oz steak and wash it down with another 30 g protein shake in 30 minutes.

The takeaway: Don’t worry about rushing the protein shake.  You have time.

#10: You need 1-2 g of protein per pound of body weight to maximize gains

The myth: “To gain muscle, take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by at least 2.  That’s the minimum amount of protein you MUST intake a day in order to gain muscle.”

This one goes hand in glove with #2 and is probably the most famous bro science myth out there.  There are many versions, but they all go something like this:

Throughout your day, in order to maximize your muscle gain, you need to consume 1-2 g of protein per pound of body weight.  So if you weigh 150 pounds, you are looking at needing to consume 150-300 g of protein every day.

One egg contains 7 g of protein.  That’s a whole lot of eggs.  Fortunately, this 1-2 g rule is a good old-fashioned piece of bro science that doesn’t hold up.

Here we go:

For starters, according to the American Medical Association, no more than 0.36 g of protein per pound of body weight was required for subjects between the ages of 18-50 to maintain lean body mass. This means for a 160 pound male to simply maintain his lean mass, he would need 57.6 g of protein a day.  This could be accomplished by:

  • One 4 oz boneless skinless chicken breast: 22 g
  • A tuna sandwich with cheese: 25 g (tuna) 6 g (cheese)
  • One cup of milk: 8 g

And that’s it.

But what about athletes or people looking to increase their muscle mass?  In this study of new bodybuilders, who were just beginning programs to put on muscle mass, there was no recorded benefit for consuming more than 0.68g of protein per pound of weight.  So if you’re new (which is usually when this myth is learned), you need to consume more protein than 0.36g, but not much more.

Fine, but what about experienced athletes?  In a 2006 study conducted with high performance collegiate athletes, the study found no evidence supporting increased lean body mass, strength, or body composition results in subjects that consumed 0.8 – 0.9 g of protein per pound of body weight.

 

The study went even further and produced another very interesting second finding: if the athletes in the study had increased theiroverall calorie consumption to their recommended levels, they would have stood to further increase strength and muscle gains.

In other words, including more protein wouldn’t have helped these athletes get bigger and stronger, but including more healthy calories that came from any number of sources would have.  Protein is very important, but it isn’t everything.

The takeaway: To gain muscle mass rather than just maintain it, you’ll need to eat more protein–just not as much as you think, and definitely not 2 g per pound of body weight.***

So there you have it.  Most bro science focuses on hacks and shortcuts to get the body you want.  But most of the time, there’s no better way to improve your health and quality of life than by working out, eating properly, and taking control of your body composition.

If you missed Part 1 of this series, click here for 5 additional bro science myths we’ve debunked. To learn more about body composition and how it relates to your health, click here.

Resourced from: inbodyusa

BMI’s Fat Secret

SOURCE: FLICKR

 

The time has come to dump BMI.

BMI, also known as Body Mass Index, is probably the most well-known health measurement after height and weight. It’s a simple mathematical ratio of your weight in kilograms divided by your height in meters squared, and it’s commonly used by physicians, insurance companies, and regular people around the world to determine if a person is considered overweight or obese.

However, relying on BMI as a health indicator at the individual level is not only unhelpful; it can also be downright misleading and even mask your risk for serious health issues.

This is because BMI leaves you in the dark regarding your visceral fat content.

Visceral fat is a special kind of fat that is hidden deep inside your abdomen and surrounds your inner organs. Everyone has some.  Unlike surface level (subcutaneous) fat, it’s not easy to gauge how much visceral fat someone has just by looking at them.  That’s because visceral fat is hidden away in the abdominal cavity, in between your organs.

BMI will not and cannot detect any kind of fat, including visceral fat.  If you rely on BMI as your primary tool to assess weight, you may have significant amounts of visceral fat and not know it.

What is Visceral Fat?

Although surface level fat is what most people (and the media) focus on, visceral fat is actually the worse of the two.  That’s because visceral fat acts likeanother, living organ inside your body.

Unlike the organs that you were born with that sustain life, visceral fat actively works from the inside out to sabotage those organs and ruin your bodily functions.

According to Harvard University, visceral fat secretes a number of hormones and chemicals.  One group of these chemicals is called cytokines. Cytokines play an important role in the human body, but increased levels of cytokines due to excess visceral fat can be problematic. Once cytokines enter the liver, they influence the production of blood lipids, which has been linked to higher cholesterol and insulin resistance. This can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is typically associated with people who are overweight or obese, and individuals whose BMIs above the normal range (18.5-24.9) are said to be at a significantly greater health risk. However, BMI can misrepresent people who are either near or slightly over the 24.99 mark.

Depending on lifestyle factors, some people can have large amounts of visceral fat, yet a “normal” BMI because they don’t have much skeletal muscle.  Due to the trend towards sedentary lifestyles, this is becoming more and more common.

The Visceral Fat Recipe

Excess visceral fat is unnecessary fat and develops as a result of having a caloric surplus.  Unsurprisingly, visceral fat develops as a result of adopting unhealthy lifestyle habits.  Some of these factors include:

  • Little or no exercise
  • Poor diet, high in carbohydrates and saturated fat
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Stress
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking

For people living sedentary lifestyles, it is quite easy to pick up several of these unhealthy habits.  Over time, these habits will lead increased amounts of body fat, including visceral fat.

Why BMI Fails

After being calculated, BMI scores are compared against the BMI ranges set by the World Health Organization or another medical body (like the CDC), and if your BMI falls between 18.5 – 24.9, you are said to be “normal” weight.  Using the formula, anyone with a calculator and a BMI chart can tell you if you’re overweight in a matter of seconds.

SOURCE: WHO

Unfortunately, that’s where problems can begin. That’s because BMI was never intended to be used to measure individuals at all.

The World Health Organization, whose BMI ranges are often cited in fitness centers and health clinics, doesn’t try to hide the fact that BMI has limitations (emphasis added):

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 guide because it may not correspond to the same body fat percentage in different individuals.

SOURCE: WHO

Despite this clear message, many doctors, physicians, and regular people continue to use BMI as a diagnostic tool simply out of convenience.

Fortunately, a growing number of people are beginning to take notice. BMI’s usefulness as a reliable weight index for individualshas been repeatedly debunked by a variety of sources by pointing to flaws such as:

Recall that BMI is determined by the simple division of weight and height.  Weight is determined by standing on a scale; height is determined by measuring tape.  These are very basic measurements.  BMI cannot determine if you are lean, overweight, or somewhere in between.  It’s all just raw numbers with BMI.

People with healthy BMIs are sometimes overheard as saying things like: “My metabolism is really high,” “My body just burns fat naturally; I’m lucky,” or “I guess I just have good genes.”  You probably know the type.

However:  No one should expect to eat a diet high in calories and saturated fat, totally ignore exercise, and expect to be healthy their entire life.

Assessing Your Risk

How can you figure out if you’re at risk for having large amounts of visceral fat?  Don’t stand on the scale; that won’t help.  Here are some options.

According to the Mayo Clinic, using a measuring tape to measure your waistline is a fairly good way to estimate your visceral fat content.  If your waist measures 35 inches (women) or 40 inches (men), you may be carrying too much visceral fat.

The most precise method of determining the amount of visceral fat deposits is by taking a medical-grade exam such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan, an MRI, or a DEXA test.

SOURCE: FLICKR

These require access to a facility that has them, and although they are accurate, they might not be the most accessible or affordable option.

Another way to measure how much visceral fat you may be carrying is to get a body composition test performed. Body composition does not rely on BMI and attempts to determine what your body is made of, such as your fat and fat-free masses.

There are several ways and methods for testing body composition.  Body composition analysis tests determine body fat percentage and accounts for visceral and subcutaneous fat.

One of the most well-known and popular method is to use skinfold calipers.  These pinch your fat that lies under your skin (subcutaneous fat), and from those results, your total body fat percentage, of which your visceral fat comprises a part, is calculated with equations.

A second option is medical-grade BIA body composition testing.  These tests measure the resistance experienced by an electric current as it travels through your body to determine your body fat percentage, which includes your visceral fat.  Some advanced BIA devices are able to report visceral fat content, although you would need to ensure that the device you are using has this capability.

Knowing your body composition will give you a much better idea about your amount of visceral fat than BMI can.  If your weight and/or BMI is considered “normal,” but your body composition test reveals you have a high body fat percentage (as with people who are skinny fat), you might want to consider making some lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of getting potentially serious diseases in the future.

Hopefully this clears things up for you – don’t rely on BMI to measure yourself!

The good news is, if you exercise, eat well, and live a generally healthy lifestyle, you’re going to avoid gaining too much visceral fat as the result of the good choices you’re making, and you won’t need to worry about BMI too much.

But if you don’t exercise, don’t eat well, yet have a “normal” weight and BMI, don’t let your guard down!  Your BMI may be misleading you.  Body composition testing will always give you much more information than your BMI ever will, and can give you a much better picture of everything that makes up your weight, including your visceral fat.

Resourced from: inbodyusa

4 Reasons Calipers Fail to Give Accurate Body Fat Results

There are a lot of great things about calipers.  Many brands of calipers are relatively inexpensive, they’re portable, and they offer you a better picture of your overall health and fitness than by simply standing on a scale. Because calipers operate by physically pinching your outside skin, they’re also a reliable way of measuring body fat change over time.

However, their convenience is also the main component behind their drawbacks.  If you are using calipers to measure your or someone else’s body composition, you should be aware of the following:

#1: The results are heavily influenced by how accurately skinfold sites are located

There are several different methods to perform a caliper test, but one of the more accurate versions is the 7-site test using the Jackson and Pollock equation for body density.  The 7 sites are shown here:

Each of these sites must be located precisely, and an X should be drawn in the location to ensure proper caliper placement.  You can’t just eyeball a location; if accuracy is important to you, you must take the time to use a tape measurer to locate each site.  The abdominal site, for example, is 2 cm to the right of the belly button.

If the person performing the test has not been trained appropriately, or if two different people perform a test at different times on the same person, the chances of getting an accurate measurement drop significantly.

#2: Perfect Technique is Key

Accuracy in locating each site is just the first step; there are still difficulties even if a site is located precisely.  According to the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for caliper use, not only are there guidelines for locating each skinfold site, there are variances between how the calipers must be placed on each skinfold.  These can be only properly placed if each site is marked with an X.  However, just placing the X is only half the challenge.

For example, when pinching the subscapular (shoulder blade) site, the top caliper jaw must be placed directly on the X mark.  This is in contrast with how the caliper must be placed for the tricep pinch; in this case, the both jaws must be placed on either side of the X.  If these small but critical procedures are not followed, accuracy may drop.

Proper technique extends beyond handling the calipers.  For instance, the CDC’s guidelines dictate that a caliper reading can only be taken after pinching, holding, and waiting for three seconds.  This allows the skin to compress properly for an accurate reading.  Taking a reading immediately after pinching can distort the results.

#3: Caliper Results Take Empirical Estimations Into Account, Particularly Age

Calipers use the sum of skinfold measurements to report body fat percentage.  But in order to turn the measurements into a percentage, two equations need to be used – one to calculate density and one to change density into body fat percentage.

The Jackson-Pollock Equation is frequently used to measure body density and is typically the first step to determining body composition using calipers. The equation looks like this (emphasis added):

Body Density = 1.112 – (0.00043499 x sum of skinfolds) + (0.00000055 x square of the sum of skinfold sites) – (0.00028826 x age)

Notice how age acts as a variable in the equation.  This is a deliberate insertion intended to adjust and increase the equation’s accuracy.

However, by accounting for age, the Jackson-Pollock Equation makes inherent assumptions about the effect age may have on body density, which ultimately influences the final body fat percentage result.  These assumptions can misrepresent people who fall outside of normal ranges for their age.

Consider a 50-year-old man, who is relatively nonathletic. By age 50, this man will have lived more than half his life, have adopted a certain lifestyle, and will have a body composition reflecting it.

Now consider the same man, but assume that he has been more physically active for the entire duration of his life.  His body composition will be quite different.  His skinfold measurements will obviously be different as well.  However, regardless of the skinfold measurements or relative athleticism, both versions of this man will be subject to the same adjustment for age, which will skew the accuracy of the results towards what is considered average for a 50-year-old man.

This means that in our example, the very fit and athletic 50-year-old man may have his body fat percentage overestimated because he likely falls outside the average for his age group.

#4 Caliper Equations Also Make Assumptions About Body Fat Distribution

Calipers only directly measure the width of skinfolds; they rely on equations to take this data and turn it into meaningful body fat percentage results.  In order to do this, certain assumptions about body fat have to be made, such as how much body fat is due to subcutaneous fat and how much is due to visceral fat.

These assumptions can be quite large.  According to one source, 90% of fat is subcutaneous “in most people.”  However, statements like these can be problematic because they do not define what “most people” or even “normal people” are.  People may consider themselves to be included in “most people,” when they actually fall outside the expected (and undefined) ranges.

The reality is that true proportions of subcutaneous fat to visceral fat can range significantly in individuals, depending on a multitude of factors including age, gender, ethnicity, and lifestyle.

Although widely used, the Jackson-Pollock Equation was developed in the 1970s.  Since that time, obesity levels have risen dramatically, doubling between 1980 and 2000.  According to the International Journal of Body Composition, this poses a problem concerning the effectiveness of the Jackson-Pollock equation’s ability to produce reliable body density results for modern adults today.  The writers argue (emphasis added),

There can be little doubt, the Jackson and Pollock body fat equations for men, and the Jackson et al. equations for women are both accurate and valid methods of estimating body fat (%) for subjects taken from a representative population of adults observed during the 1970s. However, a representative population of adults in the 21st century will be considerably heavier and fatter.

If we examine the consequences of using the Generalized Body Density equations recommended by Jackson and colleagues to predict the body fat of overweight or obese subjects from today’s population, there is a serious danger of under estimation.

For some people, particularly those who are overweight, relying on this equation may not give a truly accurate result for body fat percentage.  And because calipers use this equation, the best they can do is provide an estimation, and a potentially unreliable one at that.

But when you’re taking your health seriously, why would you accept an estimation?

Alternatives

Fortunately, advances in technology have made finding precise body fat percentage and body composition results much less problematic, which makes relying on calipers less necessary.

For starters, hydrostatic weighing and DEXA scans are both regarded as gold standards to determine body fat percentage/body composition, although securing access to one of these tests isn’t always the easiest or financially feasible.

Among the most convenient and quickest methods to determine body fat percentage are devices that use bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA).  Although these devices are far more convenient than either of the gold standard procedures, they can range widely in quality and accuracy.

Due to the wide range in quality, the need for precise, medically reliable body fat percentage tests has led to the rise of extremely high quality BIA devices.  These devices employ advanced technology that allows for precise results without any of the inconvenience of the gold standard procedures.  They also eliminate some of the drawbacks of calipers, such using empirical estimations or the need for hours of practice and experience to perform a test properly.

Hopefully this helps you understand a little more about the potential use of calipers.  Although they can be so quick and simple to use, they do have significant drawbacks when accurate results are essential.

But shouldn’t accurate results always be essential?

Resourced from: inbodyusa