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Extreme Fat Loss: Skinny-Fat Edition

warning fat loss

Many people coming from aggressive deficit dieting or low carbohydrate backgrounds get scared of minor weight gain as they start to adapt to a more performance way of eating.  It’s 100% normal to need to navigate this mentally and the best way to do that is with other people.  That is what the Science Lab does and we have Extreme Fat Loss seminars every Monday night  for more information click here.

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article.)

I think it would surprise most people how inaccessible a lot of diet authors are; most of them just write their book, promote it, and then they’re done.  After the initial campaign, they might keep a blog and publish a post once a week.  Maybe they’ll release an amendment to the book in a few years.  All-in-all, there’s very little in the way of support for their product and they rarely practice what they preach.

I have had a lot of luck conversing with high-level authors about studies I find interesting, or successes I have had putting their concepts into practice, but when things start to go awry those e-mails go unanswered.  When I mentioned my plans for the Science Lab, one of my better friends (Who is also a well- known author) said, “That sounds like a train wreck.  This is a numbers game; a lot of people fail.”  Then I said something to him that made him pause:  “What if they fail because they went the wrong way and no one was there to put them on the correct path?”

It’s been a very rewarding experience working with people on a personal level as it relates to their health and fitness journey, but the one thing that does suck a bit is that some people don’t come out on the other side.  They’re hearing a lot of other voices, and sometimes that can also become confusing.  The simple fact is this:  there is no single answer to every query.  Everybody’s path is unique, and there will be much deliberation along the way.  Most people that land at my doorstep have been on the proverbial treadmill for some time, and they want answers now.  Let’s talk about a very common problem that is oftentimes the first bug we have to squash.

what got you fat

Why Low Carb Diets Kill Performance

To begin, let’s clarify what I mean by “low carb”:  less than 100 grams of carbs a day qualifies but it depends slightly upon the person.  It’s a sliding scale; 100g is about the point where brain function is covered, so if that is all you are eating there isn’t a lot left to feed your muscles.  This doesn’t mean you will wither up and die, but it’s not optimal whether you’re a man or a woman.

I am talking to a mostly active audience.  Certainly, if you don’t do very much with your body, some level of carb restriction probably makes sense but even in that instance, it can be harmful to your metabolism to take it to an extreme.  When you add activity (Especially high-level activity like CrossFit or weightlifting), even 100g can become potentially harmful.

Let’s do the math:

  • Your brain and other vital organs use 100g of glucose or more every day.
  • Let’s say you burn 300 calories during a WOD.  Most of those calories come from glycogen storage within the muscle.  (Let’s use 60% carbs as an example.)
  • That would be 180 calories from carbs, divided by 4 calories per gram.  You end up at 45g of carbs used for the WOD.

If you have ever wondered why you feel lethargic after a WOD, now you have some idea.  Your diet barely provides enough glucose to keep your brain going, let alone fuel the workout.  Your body has to find an alternative path to produce energy, since carbs aren’t being made readily available.  It would be nice to think that you’d draw on stored body fat, but fat has to be mobilized before it can be used as a substrate to produce glucose in the liver.  This process is neither quick, nor convenient, but it works under the context of endurance activities.  As far as anaerobic exercise is concerned, muscle glycogen is your best option and you’re running low.  You CAN get by like this, but your power output and maximal strength will likely suffer.

Why Low Carb Diets Make you Skinny-Fat

As most people know by now, carbs and sugars stimulate insulin production.  Insulin is primarily a transport hormone; it helps get nutrients into cells.  This is helpful as far as building muscle goes, but when you’re in a calorie surplus, insulin also helps create fat stores.  When there’s no more room for carbohydrate in the muscles or liver, it will be converted to fat.

When you eat low carb, insulin secretion stays at a minimum and cells become hyper-sensitive to its signaling.  In the short term, this is actually great as far as fat burning and muscle retention are concerned, but it’s a problem if you want to build muscle.  A lot of the protein you’re eating is being used to produce glucose rather than stimulating growth; at best, you’ll retain your muscle mass, but over the long term you’ll start breaking down muscle tissue to produce glucose too.  If you’re not eating enough total calories, you will waste muscle and your body fat percentage will increase.

To make matters worse, your muscles will eventually become insensitive to insulin and the fat mobilizing hormone leptin, leaving your cells inflexible and flat-footed.  This also has a negative effect on your endocrine system.  In general, it’s unnecessary and at worst it can cause all kinds of metabolic dysfunction.

You end up weak, skinny fat, and your metabolism is essentially broken.   Certainly, I am not pitching for extreme levels of dietary carbohydrate intake.  Rather just enough to support muscle maintenance, repair and a little growth on occasion.  Like most things, quality is more important than quantity.

All Carbs are not Created Equal

To replenish muscle glycogen, the quickest and most efficient sources are going to be starches.  Something like Kale or broccoli might be good as far as vitamins are concerned, but your body will derive very little net carbohydrate from these sources and you’ll have a heck of a time refueling your muscles.  Sugars are a step in the right direction, but most are inefficient as they are only partially glucose.  A notable exception is dextrose, which is a100% glucose form of sugar and is popular in supplements and sports drinks.

For a more in-depth look at optimal carb sources, review this article.

So How Does This Person Recover and Lose Fat?

The answer is actually so simple, it’s going to make you mad, but it’s also difficult to quantify immediately.  Because the person wasn’t eating enough carbohydrate to aid in protein turnover, all they need to do is eat enough to start putting on some muscle mass.  Much of the “fat” that was gained was simply the body trying to protect itself, as well as a decrease in lean body mass that artificially inflated your body fat percentage.  When you eat an adequate amount of quality carbs from whole food sources (We’re not talking three pints of Ben and Jerry’s) you start refilling your muscles with water and glucose, and as you lift heavier weight you add density and functional tissue.  The results tend to be quite extreme, and they happen relatively quickly.  It’s not uncommon for someone to gain five pounds of muscle within a few weeks.

The best part is that as long as you’re active and you eat relatively clean, all of that added weight is lean mass.  If you have been depleted for some time, you can actually mobilize some fat, but the numbers don’t tend to be quite as significant; you won’t lose 10% of your body fat but 1-2% isn’t out of the question.  What you are doing however is aiding your work capacity in a significant manner, and as you gradually build muscle mass (women may refer to this as “muscle tone”) you can start to chip away at your body fat.  Meanwhile, you end up squatting more, deadlifting more, and making Fran your bitch.

Two of the rarest commodities, patience and understanding, are required to get there.  This approach might set you back a few weeks or months before you can tell that the train is definitely on the right track.  Most people instinctively know that the direction I want them to go is the correct path, but old habits die hard.  Remember this:  I am not saying you shouldn’t eat low carb occasionally.  In fact, that is a central theme of what we teach in the Science Lab, but you should always allow for maintenance and growth of muscle tissue.   Under eating and low carbing won’t get you there.   It’s only half of the equation.

Summary:

  • A big part of why Eat To Perform is dedicated to providing support for our users is because everyone is on their own unique path and sometimes, the people who don’t succeed were the people who needed a more in-depth look.  We want to see people achieve their goals!
  • Your brain and organs use about 100g of glucose on a daily basis, just to keep you alive.  Low carb diets do not allow any energy for your muscles, and your workouts will probably suck.
  • When your workouts suck and you’re not providing your body with enough carbs to increase protein synthesis and retention, you’re going to lose muscle mass.
  • A low body fat percentage without a significant amount of muscle mass results in a damaged metabolism and a gaunt physical appearance.  Without a lot of muscle, you will never diet away the last bits of fat.
  • How do you fix yourself and get back to burning fat?  It’s simple:  you eat enough carbs and food overall to fuel performance!
  • As your performance increases, you’ll get stronger, you’ll add muscle mass, and you’ll be able to burn fat at appropriate times, resulting in an overall improved body composition and optimized health.

Metabolic Flexibility for High Intensity Athletes

book-only

This is the only document that is written specifically for the sports most of us do.  These chapters are basically bonus chapters to the foundation materials that Science Lab members get monthly (Mike T Nelson will be updating these monthly).  Foundations is a neatly packaged version of the blog posts we do on this site and then we organize them based on your athletic profile so you can read the material that is most specific to your situation.  Both of the options below get you access to the foundations materials, unlimited access to the Science Lab seminars where you can ask questions and the Science Lab private group with materials that will help you on your new performance journey (you can ask both Mike and I questions).

To get the bonus chapters you will need to order the $49.95 year long subscription option

We now have a second option where you can cancel at any time.  Four recurring payments of $19.95 (so $79.80 total) and we will allow you to upgrade to the $49.95 year long subscription if you find you like all of the services listed below within 14 days.  This gets you the exact same services as the year long subscription with the option of basically just buying the book for $19.95 and then canceling if you are mostly interested in the Metabolic Flexibility and you want to figure it out on your own.

Click here for the $19.95 offer (with four recurring monthly payments) with the option to cancel at any point

Metabolic Flexibilty was written by Mike T Nelson, for more info on why he should be your go to guy for metabolism and optimizing your high intensity workouts check out his bio info below.

Testimonials

Elisabeth Akinwale (Crossfit Games Competitor and Science Lab member)

Elisabeth Akinwale“I have been a Science Lab member from the beginning of the private group.  Paul Nobles and I have had various conversations related to nutrition and supplements but what he and his team does is really help you develop your own plan.  I like that a lot.  As someone that came to Eat To Perform with a working knowledge of how my body works it’s helped to add a few things and see how other athletes perform better fueled and what specific foods work best.”

Jeremiah Drobney (Crossfit Level 1 Coach and former Tight End for the University of Kentucky)

 

Jeremiah Drobney“When I left the University of Kentucky I spent five years (I red shirted my first year) making my body stronger and fighting through various injuries, my body just needed a break.  It was a few years before I realized it was time to make athleticism a priority again.  When I started Crossfit it wasn’t to be a games competitor it was just to get back in shape.  At some point though the competitive fires started burning, I was doing Paleo and Zone but something clicked that if I really wanted to take this to the next level that would involve a smarter approach to food.  Learning how to “Eat To Perform” really made a difference for me, I gained 15 pounds of muscle in 6 months.  I don’t know what the future holds for me competitively with Crossfit but I know I am a better human being stronger and with more muscle.”

Our Team

Mike Nelson wrote the Metabolic Flexibility chapters for High Intensity Athletes, which is an approach to eating specific to our sport that you get with a year long Science Lab subscription. Julia Ladewski is one of the most respected people in our powerlifting and her approach to nutrition and performance is the reason she is the host of our women’s classes. Janelle Deeds has experience working with individuals related to complicated health issues and has an impressive list of accolades. All of them work in the Science Lab to varying degrees and it’s a privilege to be able to work amongst them. For info on how to join the Science Lab and what you get, click here.

Mike NelsonMike T. Nelson MSME, CSCS, has spent more than a decade of his life learning how the human body works, specifically focusing on how to properly condition it to burn fat and become stronger, more flexible, and healthier.

He’s a PhD Candidate in Exercise Physiology at the University of Minnesota. He holds a BA in Natural Science, and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (Biomechanics).

He’s an adjunct professor and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine, International Society of Sports Nutrition, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and others.

He’s been called in to share his techniques with top government military agencies, physicians, and top nutrition /health corporations.

The techniques he’s developed, and the results Mike gets for his clients have been featured in international magazines, in scientific publications, and on websites across the globe.

Speaking with Mike Nelson for just a few minutes can shave years off of your efforts, and help you get results that most people just dream about…
Julia Ladewski, CSCS, is currently the director of Parisi Speed School in northwest Indiana working with youth and adults. Previously, she spent 8 years as a Division I strength coach at the University at Buffalo.
As an Elitefts.com sponsored athlete and Q&A staff member, Julia is an Elite level powerlifter once holding the #1 spot in the 132 pound class. After having two kids, she is back on the platform making her way to the top in the 123’s. Her best lifts to date are 462 squat, 255 bench and 424 deadlift.

 

JanelleJanelle Deeds, Nutrition Consultant/Trainer
Janelle emphasizes the value of whole food eating with a realistic application of functional nutrition programs. Optimizing the relationships between body systems and organs and that which support health, fitness and quality of life. Offering a practical approach to nutrition from current health status to optimal capacity using diet, supplement and lifestyle choices as tools to rebalance, revitalize and restore your body’s personal potential.

Natural Health, BSc, Clayton College, emph Nutrition
Nutrition Consultant, Bauman College

Post degree courses:
Nutritional Blood Analysis,
Earth Sciences & Western Herbalism,
Clinical Microscopy & Blood Cell Analysis in Biological Medicine,
Functional Endocrinology,
Autoimmune & Leaky Gut &
Neuroendocrine Immunology

CrossFit L1

Pan Seared Scallops and Roasted Kabocha Squash

Soooo, a little more about myself before I share this yummy dinner…

I really began my love of cooking in the past 5 years or so.  I have been married for almost 20 years (20 this June!) and have two boys, ages 19 and 15.  We have never been wealthy by any means (at least not with money – fun, laughter and love we have had plenty) so dinner was very often hamburger helper, meatloaf, spaghetti, etc.  It was whatever we could afford and were able to cook when we got home from work.  Once my boys got a little older, I began having this fascination with recipes.  I found that the Food Network was the channel I watched more often than any other and really began learning more about flavor profiles and how to actually COOK!  This new world of food and cooking opened up my mind about food in general and how delicious foods can be transformed into AMAZING meals.

I will be honest, my family and my husband’s family, is well aware that I DO NOT LIKE VEGETABLES!  What is crazy is how open minded I have become about foods that I would NEVER have tried prior, especially since I began this journey with Paul and Crossfit.  Simply understanding the value certain foods has when it comes to performing has completely turned my world upside down.

I am putting this out there to a lot of people who do not know my past….

I grew up VERY athletic.  With an older brother (who is the one who turned me on to Crossfit) who played football, basketball and baseball, I was constantly trying to keep up with him.  I played soccer, basketball and softball and excelled at all of them.  Honestly, I probably could have gotten an athletic scholarship of some kind if I had any kind of drive or knowledge about how athletic I was.  Unfortunately, I grew up around very well off families, most of whom were a size 6 or smaller.  With legs like tree trunks and probably having less body fat than most of the boys in my class, let alone the girls, I thought I was fat.  I had little self confidence and I believe that helped lead me in the path of self destruction.

After a rough breakup with my first love, I moved from Massachusetts to Illinois to live with my parents at age 19.  I decided this was a great time to change myself, both inside and out.  The first step was to lose weight….ugh…thinking back, I can’t believe how stupid I was.   I was probably eating less than 1000 calories a day… a yogurt for breakfast and 2 lean cuisine meals a day…biking several miles to the gym to do the stair climber for 45-60 minutes a day and then bike several miles back home.  In my spare time, I would run with my beloved dog, Rusty, to get him some exercise….I looked DAMN good….

I cannot even fathom the trauma I had done to my metabolism in this time alone….one good thing came of this time however…I met my husband.  From that one night I decided to talk to him (despite his lack of an ass) I knew I would marry him…

There is so much more that I will share as we go, but I want everyone to know that I am a real person who has struggled with weight and food her entire life.  There is far more to read about my journey, but I don’t want to give it all in one blog….(this is how we keep you reading these blogs…you have to know what happens next, right?)

With the help of my past failures and successes, Paul(Eat to Perform) and Crossfit, I think I might have it figured out…we’ll see I guess…

Anyways…when my pantry and refrigerator are scarce in supplies, I find I am at my most creative…

Today, while looking in my freezer, I found some large scallops, begging to be defrosted.  While I prefer fresh seafood, here in Minnesota, that is quite impossible…so frozen will have to do…

Kabocha squash…honestly, never tried it…  Another milestone to check of my “eating vegetables” list.  (Last night I ate FOUR pieces of broccoli!  That’s a pretty big deal for me!)  I got this recipe from Nom Nom Paleo since I had no clue what to do with it.  I am not sure if these two items really “GO” together, but they both tasted great!  Enjoy!

scallops

Pan Seared Scallops

Ingredients

  • 8 large sea scallops
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • A splash of citrus vodka

Season the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper.  Heat a skillet over medium high heat.  Melt butter in the pan and add scallops to the heated pan.  Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side (do NOT overcook scallops or they will be rubbery!) Remove the scallops from the pan and add the maple syrup and vodka to deglaze the pan, stirring constantly.  Cook the sauce for about 1 minute and pour over the scallops.  OH!  These are heavenly!

Links from this weekend

chain links

The Science Lab private group is really hopping at the moment.  If you like what we do on this site and want to support this content and be able to ask really smart people questions about how you should eat, click this link to find out how to do that.

We literally crushed it in the last few days so I thought I would create this post in case some people missed a few things.

Why “Just Eat More” is bad advice

This is a link to a transcribed version of the “Barbell Shrugged” podcast where the guest talks about how Eat To Perform and the ETP Calculator helped her figure out some problems she was having  (we actually have no idea who she it but she is awesome).

This post gives visual examples of who when your weight goes up your food intake should also go up to keep a healthy functioning metabolism

April Blackford gives examples of a carb day that corresponds with high workout volume

Are you Interested or are you Committed? 

Paul Nobles posts a “control day” where he is keeping carbs low but fats high

This is Paul’s post about a high carb day that precedes a high work capacity day

Lastly this a post for women at 30% (or men at 20%) and the approach to lose 6% Body Fat Forever

Is this what you do as your fat / weight goes up?

scale

 

 

 

Imagine if you had someone you could talk to on a daily basis that could tell you little tips like this one.  You can, ME! It costs $4.95 a month and it will get you a lot more than that latte you were buying with that money.  Actually you can even get it free, click here for details.

This concept is something I guarantee you that few people on the planet understand.  As your weight goes up so does your energy needs as it relates to keeping a healthy functioning metabolism.  So that “eat less do less” diet that everyone goes on after they come home from vacation, this is visual evidence of why that doesn’t work in very short order.

Here is the example:

At 160 pounds using some basic parameters the subject needs 2,474 calories.

Using the exact same parameters the person at 170 pounds then needs 2,557 calories, almost 100 calories more just for similar metabolic function.

Lastly at 180 pounds they need 2641 calories.  194 calories more than they needed to function at 160 pounds.

Still think obesity is an issue of over eating? What if people knew this? What if the average person who is moderately active new that their metabolism functioned the best with food and data.

I totally get people not wanting to embrace the scale, or body percentages or calories or whatever piece of information that puts the puzzle pieces together for them a bit more but to blame peoples problems on anything other than misunderstanding I think misses the depth of the issue at hand.
160 pounds

170 pounds

180 pounds

Special Offers for Extreme Fat Loss Clients

First let me say that Carb Back Loading is a book on metabolic flexibility, it’s the basic concepts of what I teach people and that is why I recommend it.  Why is it an offer for people that need to lose an extreme amount of fat though? That is simple, most of these people (as I referenced in the article) aren’t eating enough to support their new active life.  In the end Carb Back Loading is a book about fats and how to mobilize them to your best ability.  Combined with Crossfit or really any form of resistance training (you could make a strong argument and I often do to lift slower a lot more) adequate amounts of food actually allow for better body fat mobilization (mostly from whole food sources as I teach you).  So don’t get lost in the donuts and pastries conversation and allow that to excuse poor behavior.  What you used to be is going to gradually change.  It’s just a different approach than the “lose 100 pounds in 100 days approach”.  This is the lose 100 pounds approach and retain your muscle throughout that process.

The book is $53 but it gets you into the Eat To Perform “Science Lab” for a  month subscription as well.

For $53 this is what you get:

  • A month of seminars that help you dial in how to eat talking to real live people that have done it using the concepts in carb back loading as a template.
  • You now have access to a private forum for a month where you can ask questions outside of the seminars and get those questions answered.
  • Once you buy the book email maggie@eattoperform.com and we will get you set up with all of the free materials from the Science Lab and then you will be able to sign up for classes.

Download Carb Back Loading using this link

Screw the switch, let’s torch some body fat

Fire (1)

This was one of the best articles we did on Metabolic Flexibility for Fat Loss which is the method we teach in the Science Lab (for info on how to receive our chapters specific to High Intensity Athletes, click here for info).

I am going to try and keep this one short because it is essentially an update to the Metabolic Switch article.  I was asked this question “what if I have to lose some weight for a competition?”.  With the open coming up (actually this probably isn’t a good article for the open because it is coming too fast), regionals and then the Crossfit Games for the lucky few amongst us, is there a way to flip the switch a little bit harder in time for a competition? That answer is almost certainly yes and possibly without changing much at all with some smart timing.  First let me say that if you drop a lot of weight too soon that leads to an energy deficit and a performance drop.  Also it is not favorable as it relates to building muscle, muscle tone and adding strength.

The case for carb cycling both intraday (same day) and alternating days around workouts

Secondly you have to remember that these are all strategies but as strategies go it’s going to be hard to find a more flexible plan.  Same day is simple, eat your carbs around your workouts and then fats, proteins and fibrous carbs the rest of the time, potentially saving some carbs before bed.  Total volume should be highish because you don’t won’t to compromise all of the work you did in the gym.

Is it possible to flip the switch harder?

I’m glad you asked because that answer is yes for a person with a high functioning metabolism.  If you don’t have one yet, try both ways and see what feels most right.  If I were to take this approach I would drop 3-5 pounds in a week.  It wouldn’t all be fat but a lot of it would be.  The reason I don’t is because a healthy fat layer is favorable as it relates to my goals as an already lean individual.

High fat days

I need you to hear me when I tell you this.  If you added up the calories for both days and your high fat days were lower than your carb days that’s fine but if they are greatly lower that’s just you getting cute.  That isn’t what I am suggesting.  So on these days we eat 85/15 grass fed ground beef and avocados for energy dense foods that keep our calories high (yes I am talking to you ladies, don’t think this is just for the dudes).  The carb days aren’t low fat but they wouldn’t be as high.

One of the concepts in the book that is often confusing I will make brain dead simple for you guys.  If you are WOD’ing you have the option to carb up the night before but you always fuel around your workouts.  I realize all of the GLUT4 talk related to the anabolic window confuses this issue because it seems to put the emphasis on post workout.  I like pre-workout carbs to fuel workouts and if you are going into a rest day the post workout carbs are OPTIONAL depending on your goals.  If the following day is a rest day you won’t need as many carbs, since you don’t need carbs for that day you want to be able to switch to fat burning since fats are preferentially burned at rest.  What about back to back WOD days, so let’s say you have a rest day then 2 WOD days back to back followed by another rest day.  I am going to just do a one week example.  This is how that looks (this is a 2 on 1 off then a 3 on 1 off example because a week is 7 days long):

Sunday (rest day) you are potentially having carbs in the evening.  The goal isn’t low carb, more like saving reasonable carbs for the evening using most of the day for fat burning (because insulin is low).

Monday (WOD day) we are having carbs both pre-workout and post-workout on this day because we are back to back fueling to perform.

Tuesday (WOD day) this is the high fat day, by high fat day I simply mean similar energy intake to the rest day with a reliance on fats for your energy dense sources (potentially a relatively aggressive calorie deficit, I will use 500 calories as an example).  Just remember if you go too aggressive on the calorie deficit it could affect your workouts for a few days.  You will keep carbs high around your workouts but other than that mostly fats, proteins and fibrous veggies.

Wednesday (rest day) lowish carb saving most of your carbs for the evening.  The goal for this day is low but not uncomfortable.

Thursday (WOD day) carbs around your WOD’s definitely post pre and post.

Friday (WOD day) same as Thursday.

Saturday (WOD day) carbs pre-workout for sure but post workout is optional maybe saving some carbs for a nice glass of wine or two in the evening.

Oh yeah, on high fat days lean meats can bite it.

Five Things You May Not Know About Fat Loss

Fire

Metabolic Flexibility is the book you get when you become a Science Lab Member.  Here is a link on what other benefits you get as well as the costs. 

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

This post will be quick and dirty.  These aren’t commonly acknowledged tips (although they really should be).  As it relates to mobilizing fat, athletic populations have some unique needs and abilities that need to be discussed.  The standard path to fat loss (eat less and exercise more) may be applicable to completely sedentary individuals, but as far as high-performing athletes are concerned, it grievously leads them astray.

1.  Not only do you not need a deficit to mobilize fat, but if you’re very active, it can oftentimes work against your favor.  Most sport training is a distinctive combination of cardiovascular conditioning and resistance training; as such, it places an incredible strain on both your central nervous and musculoskeletal systems. While acute bouts of stress are necessary to trigger positive adaptations, chronic metabolic stress kills progress as it relates to body composition.  As an athlete, you are infinitely better off keeping your calories high so you have the materials and energy necessary to recover from your training, especially when you first start off.   Don’t fall into the trap of eating chicken and broccoli every day because conventional wisdom says it’s “healthy”.  This brings me to my next point; energy density.

2.  Whether you follow “Paleo” or “The Zone”, you are probably doing it wrong.  The diets themselves aren’t necessarily to blame; a lot of my frustration stems from individual application under improper context.  Despite the “marriage” between the two, Paleo was not intended specifically for athletes.  It does not provide us with many energy-dense food options. For a sedentary person, this is an advantage; however, for athletes, it can become a big problem. Because of the emphasis on eating high quality animal proteins and fats, it’s incredibly common to feel satiated on Paleo while operating on a caloric deficit.  This can lead to a highly efficient metabolism that will gradually stall fat loss, muscle gain, as well as performance. I’m not crazy about The Zone diet either, but I’m not a real hater; it’s my experience that for the effort, it’s not worth it to adhere to strict 40:30:30 ratios of carbs, protein and fat.  You should ask yourself, “Can I do this for life?”  For most people, I don’t think The Zone fits that criterion.  Paleo has similar shortcomings that can be made up for by exercising a little common sense and integrating “friendly” starches around training.  Human metabolism is flexible and athletes can benefit from both high fat and high carb days.

3.  People often come to me and say, “I have twenty pounds to lose.  Can you help me?”  The answer to that particular quandary is typically “No.” because they likely don’t have nearly as much to lose as they think they do.  You can bet that they’ve been riding the “eat less, do less” train for a while and more often than not, they’re using a low carb approach to do it.  When I suggest to them that going very low carb could potentially be part of their problem, they are baffled.  Here’s why:

  • For each gram of carbohydrate you eat, your body is required to hold roughly 4 grams of water.  This is part of the reason why a lot of people are chronically inflamed and heavy.
  • If you lose 20 lbs. on a low carb diet, a good portion of that weight loss will come from systemic dehydration; your fat, muscle, bone, skin, and other organs will expel water.
  • This dehydration means that your body will also deplete glycogen storage, leaving your muscles starved for energy during your training.  This makes it increasingly difficult to perform at a high level and maintain a healthy metabolism while you lose weight.  In the end you will be weaker, skinny-fat, and as confused as ever.

By following a more balanced approach, one that doesn’t put you into a state of chronic cellular dehydration, you get a much better idea of how much fat you’re actually losing.  Eat more food, stop restricting carbs too severely, lift more heavy things; you may establish that you only needed to lose 5 pounds, and that by focusing on your performance, it just kind of came off naturally.  If you Eat To Perform, you can lose fat, build some muscle on the way, and achieve the lean, athletic physique you’re after.

4. No matter how much or how hard you diet, you won’t see a terrible amount of muscular definition anywhere on your body unless you’ve already spent some time building mass. If you diet down without a solid foundation of strength and dense muscle tissue, you’ll end up skinny-fat, weak and unhealthy.  You might have “abs” but they won’t be very impressive; without a doubt, you’ll have better pancreas definition than anything else.  As an athlete, you should almost always be in muscle-building mode.  Training for your sport will keep you lean, and if you aren’t there yet it might just be because you can’t stay out of your own way.  It could be (as I talked about in the previous section) that your plan isn’t working out; you’re diligently banging away but the nail won’t budge.  Listening to your body and using the signals it’s sending you to balance training and nutrition become increasingly important as you perform at a higher level.

5. Homeostasis is physiological stability.  What this means is that the systems of your body automatically regulate their functions to achieve a suitable, sustainable balance.  When your endocrine system is working, and if you provide it with the right stimuli, your homeostatic balance will shift positively towards a more muscular, lean version of you (the organism).  However, prolonged periods of improper signaling (underfeeding, overfeeding, under-sleeping, poor nutrition, overtraining) can result in a negative homeostatic shift; in extreme cases, this can manifest itself in the form of obesity, diabetes, hyper/hypothyroidism, loss of immune function, cardiovascular disease or worse.  Less insidious adaptations like stalls in weight loss and poor performance are the tip of the iceberg, so you need to pay attention to how you look, feel and perform to determine whether or not you’re giving your body the right stimulus to get where you want to go.  It could mean the difference between success and failure.

Fat loss is best achieved through a gradual, sustainable approach that allows you to maintain training intensity and continually improve at your sport.  Short-term weight loss on low carb diets is misleading and there’s really no such thing as a one-size-fits all fat loss approach; you have to figure things out for yourself and balance theory with practice.  Always take into consideration that what’s in trend isn’t necessarily what works for everyone.  A gradual approach to body re-composition is usually the best place to start, and minor adjustments that suit your lifestyle can oftentimes result in some major changes, without all the heartache.

Summary

  • You don’t need to eat at a deficit to mobilize fat; your training will keep you lean.  Stress is good, but the stress of dieting compounded with the stress of training intensely day in/day out will probably be too much and will likely have a negative impact on your body composition.  You’ve got to eat to perform and let your body do what it needs to do!
  • Most diets work, but the wrong diet for the wrong person can be a disaster.  A diet should ideally become a lifestyle that you can adhere to long-term.  There is no magic macronutrient ratio ala The Zone Diet.
  • Energy-dense foods are the way to go if you’re an athlete.  Sedentary people may benefit from the standard “eat fewer carbs” Paleo diet but active people will tend to underfeed if they avoid starches and fatty meat.
  • “Eat less/do less” low carb/low calorie diets can help you lose weight quickly, but most of it’s water.  It can be hard to tell how much fat mass you’re losing vs. how much water you’re expelling on a low carb diet, and it definitely has an impact on performance due to chronic glycogen depletion.
  • You need a significant amount of muscle mass before you worry about having abs!  You can starve yourself for months and strip off every ounce of fat on your body but you won’t look the way you want to without a solid foundation.  Focus on training and eating to fuel performance/muscle gains; you’ll look and feel much better.
  • Homeostasis is physiological stability.  Your body is great at adapting and finding its center when you feed it properly and get enough sleep.  When these factors get out of whack, body composition will degrade and you can start to underperform during your training/events.  In extreme cases, you become obese and develop metabolic disorders/cardiovascular health problems.  It’s important to look at your nutrition, training, and lifestyle as a whole when determining how you proceed with your plan.  Dynamically alter your strategy to fit in with your life, NOT the other way around.
  • A gradual, personalized approach will save you a lot of heartache and keep you free of injuries.  Don’t gamble on your health by trying to force things.

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