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Weight Loss Questions

  • Calories are not created equal

    The balance of our body weight can be seen as an act of balancing energy input and energy expenditure. There are four subcomponents that contribute to energy expenditure: resting energy expenditure (the energy used to just stay alive), thermic effect of food (the energy needed to digest food), activity energy expenditure (energy used from doing activities) and total energy expenditure (the combination of the 3 above). Calories-in-calories out is the traditional model for weight gain and weight loss. Many professionals hold the belief that a calorie is a calorie, no matter what you eat. However, it has became more apparent that not all calories are created equal, some calories will make you burn more energy, through altering one or more of the 4 subcomponents of energy expenditure.

     

    A study conducted by Ebbling et al and published in the prestigious The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012 compared the effects of three common diets, low-fat diet, low-GI diet and low-carb diet on energy expenditure. In contrast to the conventional recommendations, the study showed that the low-fat diet tested was probably the worst diet for weight loss and maintenance compared to the low GI and low carb diets. The authors concluded that low fat diet "produces changes in energy expenditure and serum leptin that would predict weight regain".

     

    In agreement with some available diet programs, the study showed that low-carb diet resulted in the highest resting energy expenditure and total energy expenditure in most test subjects compared to the low-fat and low-GI diets. Test subjects on a low-carb diet used on average 67kcal per day more resting energy than subjects on a low-fat diet and 29kcal per day more compared to those on a low-GI diet. The figures shown represented average data from all test subjects, there were of course exceptions, some people tested seemed to respond better and burn more energy on low-GI and low-fat diets. One has to choose what is more suitable for them based on their own experiences.

     

    Although low-carb diet is the most beneficial in terms of energy expenditure and a number of metabolic syndrome components, prolonged enforcement of this diet can increase the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. High cortisol levels may in turn promote fat gain, insulin resistance and cardiovascular diseases. Therefor, low-carb diet may not be a long-term solution to weight loss and maintenance.

     

    Low-GI diet on the other hand, appeared to be the most healthy and sustainable in the long run compared to the low-carb diet, even though the effect on energy expenditure was not as pronounced, it was comparable nevertheless and more effective than the low-fat diet.

     

    Altering the components of your diet based on how your respond to different foods can make a significant impact on the body's energy expenditure and consequently affects weight loss/maintenance. Reducing fat from your diet doesn't necessarily translate into fat loss. A low-carb diet may be an effective and safe short-term boot camp solution for some but may also be harmful in the long run for others. A low-GI diet might not have the impact of the low-carb diet but it may be good for weight maintenance. Different people will respond to different types of food differently and you will have to find what's best for you. Remember, not all calories are created equal.

  • Will high intensity cardio break down muscle if you don't have carbohydrates available? I just read your fat burning zone article - a great read!

    Thanks for the feedback on my fat burning zone article.

    It’s true if you are carbohydrate deficient that you will begin to metabolise muscle tissue. If you are depleted in carbs and are performing a high intensity cardio session working aerobically, fat is not able to supply a sustainable energy source, simply because fat is metabolised quite slowly. Muscle tissue on the other hand is utilised far more effectively than adipose (or fat) tissue.

    The key with high intensity cardio is to ensure that you do obtain adequate carbohydrates prior to your training session. A big mistake is to perform this cardio on an empty stomach first thing in the morning for this very reason – you will be carbohydrate deficient. It is also unwise to perform high intensity training when you are following a particularly low carbohydrate diet – you will most likely lose significant amounts of muscle tissue.

    Hope this helps mate. Carbs are so very important when losing weight. They have received a very negative “stigma” in the past decade, but this is really due to fad dieting myths rather than sound scientific research.

  • Does the Lite n Easy diet program work for weight loss?

    Personally, I have never investigated the Lite n Easy diet program in too much detail, but I do believe that there can be many benefits by combining a healthy approach to nutrition with an appropriate exercise regime.

    I have actually had one personal training client in the past that hasn't had the time to cook her dinners after a full day at work and then her workout at the gym. What we found was an effective solution in her circumstances was to order a Lite n Easy dinner every day, which worked out quite nutritionally sound. This fit in effectively with the remainder of her exercise and dietary intake. While she was losing weight, I was able to educate her as to the benefits of correct nutrition, while she was being supplied with healthy meals.

    A couple of things that you need to look out for with Lite n Easy. It's a great convenience model approach to weight loss. However, you do need to ensure that you implement an appropriate exercise regime into your lifestyle in conjunction with the changed eating habits. In my example above, my client found that the integration of just one meal a day and our online personal training worked exceptionally well for her.

    You also need to approach such a program as the Lite n Easy diet as a lifestyle approach. Do not expect to subscribe for a finite amount of time, lose weight and then expect to be able to revert back to old lifestyle habits. If you plan on changing your eating habits, you must implement them into the long term so you achieve sustainable results. If you plan on learning how to eat in a healthy fashion by subscribing to such a programme, you must be able to continue these healthy eating habits if you plan to eventually quit and cook for yourself.

    Having said this, Liz, who wrote an article "Getting Started - A Guide for the Obese Individual" raises a very important downside to the Lite n Easy diet. She has been obese and lost a phenomenal amount of weight - yet the Lite n Easy diet failed her, but rather by hiring a personal trainer. She believes, and I agree with this based on what I have read, that the Lite n Easy approach to nutrition does not work in the long-term because they do not educate you effectively about nutrition. According to Liz, they provide you with the food and calories required to eat to lose weight, but do not teach you how to sustain this in the long-term.

    So, Lite n Easy can be advantageous if approached in the correct fashion, but only in the correct circumstances. It can be quite convenient in conjunction with a personal trainer who can be your "personal co-ordinator"  between healthy eating, exercising, education and generally following a healthy lifestyle. If you would like some specific advice, please do not hesitate to contact us regarding our online personal training services.

  • Is cardio on an empty stomach good for weight loss?

    Great question.

    Research has strongly concluded to date that the most effective form of cardiovascular exercise for weight loss is high intensity interval training (HIT). Considering that there are no medical concerns and that you have been cleared by a professional (both medical and fitness) to perform this style of cardio safely, then this is the form of cardio that you should be considering.

    Cardio exercise on an empty stomach with high intensity training does have significant drawbacks as I'll explain below:

    Intensity

    With high intensity cardio that you will be performing, the primary energy source that you will be utilising during your workout will be carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is available both from the foods that you consume and also glycogen (carbs stored within the muscles).

    If you exercise having not eaten for over eight hours, your ability to source carbohydrates will be greatly diminished. Your glycogen levels will be quickly depleted and you will have no ready access to carbs from your diet. Thus, your intensity will greatly diminish. A lower intensity means that fewer calories will be expended, potentially resulting in a decreased ability to oxidise fat AFTER your workout has completed. Also, a lower intensity means that your body's fitness response will be reduced.

    This also brings us to the second point:

    Muscle Catabolism (or muscle breakdown)

    Since carbohydrate is not readily available, your body has two other desirable (in it's eyes) options: fat tissue and muscle tissue.

    Fat tissue is slowly oxidised (or broken down) - hence why it is a primary energy source for low intensity cardio. When it comes to high intensity cardio, fat cannot provide the required energy quickly enough to sustain this level of output. Consequently, muscle tissue is utilised at a higher priority. This means that a significantly higher degree of muscle tissue is broken down to generate energy to fuel your body through the workout.

    In order to reduce the degree of muscle that is lost during (and after) your workout, the optimal approach is to consume a carbohydrate rich food prior to your workout, in addition to a protein source also.

    Optimal Fat Oxidation (or fat breakdown)

    The majority of fat loss occurs after your workout, when you go through a period of "excess post-exercise oxygen consumption" (or EPOC). The notion that it is more effective to perform cardio on an empty stomach is based on the premise that most of the fat loss occurs during your workout and thus by exhausting other energy options, you can "target" fat oxidation more effectively. However, at a high intensity, minimal fat loss occurs "during" the workout. The vast majority of fat loss occurs after the workout, during the EPOC period.

    Here are a few articles for further reading that I strongly recommend you review if you haven't already:

    Myths Under the Microscope - Fat Burning Zone
    The Fat Burning Zone
    Fasted Cardio

  • Are supplements that thin your blood safe to take to raise your metabolism? I have heard of a thermogenic supplement that thins the blood and is not suitable for long-term use. Wouldn

    Great question. Often supplements geared at raising the metabolism do so through a thermogenic effect.  Thermogensesis is the process of heat production in organisms, so a thermogenic supplement aims to dissipate more heat, thus expending more energy and creating a greater calorie deficit.

    Personally, I am not familiar with this particular supplement as Australia is highly regulated in the supplement industry. Consequently, all the thermogenic supplements sold through our online supplement store adhere to strict Australian standards and are often composed of different blends than are found in other countries.

    I would strongly advise against taking a supplement of this nature, unless instructed to do so by a medical professional. Thinning of the blood can result in some undesirable consequences.

    You’re right on the money when you suggest that raising your metabolism naturally would be ideal through exercise and nutrition. The combination of both exercise and nutrition can have a far more profound effect upon raising your metabolism and burning fat tissue than any supplement on the Australian market can do. Supplements are only of value once you have established an exercise and nutritional regime that is conductive toward your goals. From there, a supplement can “enhance” your results. Always keep in mind that a supplement is there to “supplement” exercise and nutrition – not to replace it.

    You may be interested in reading more in my blog post entitled The Best Fat Loss Supplement.

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