Bad news about Fat loss!

With more than two-thirds of Americans being overweight or obese, and very similar patterns emerging in the rest of the (western) world, losing weight is big business. And as a result, the Internet is flooded with nutrition rules and advice.

There are tons of people and businesses out there with just as many “guaranteed fat loss programs” and more or less helpful suggestions plus nutrition rules. After having spent almost a decade as both a fitness enthusiast and having transitioned to being a fitness professional, I’ve seen my share of insane promises, long lists of “what to do”, “miracle cures” (enjoy the side effects!), more or less whacky training programs and pretty much anything “fitness” and “health” related you can think of.

But here’s the (shocking?) thing:

Fat loss isn’t actually about how much, often or hard you train.

It’s mostly about following some very simple nutrition “rules”. As people much smarter than I have stated:

You can’t out-train a poor diet! – [Click to Tweet]

I realize that it’s probably not a great idea for somebody in my position to make that statement – it seems counterintuitive to making a living by training people, but you know what? It is the truth!

And if you don’t believe me, try this pretty simple simple experiment:

The Fat Loss Experiment

Before you go to the gym next time, put on a heartrate monitor and enter the required data to ensure it’s configured to “calculate” your calorie consumption while you exercise. Then, go “do your thing”.

Fair warning; “measuring” your calorie consumption this way can be as (in)accurate as 75% at any one measurement. And, as the linked article highlights, the “measurements” (estimates) appear to be consistently overestimated. But, for for this specific case, measuring your calorie consumption this way will still serve to illustrate the point I’m making above. Having worn a calorie counting device during more than one of my many training runs while getting ready for one of the marathons I’ve completed (or for the Goofy Challenge), one fact becomes glaringly evident:

Running, continuously, at about 60-70% of max effort – a.k.a “in the fat burning zone”, for 4-5 hours resulted in my device gleefully informing me that I had burned (evaporated) somewhere between 2,800 – 3,800 calories (kcal). Awesome news for fat-loss, right?!?

Spoiler Alert – If you don’t want the depressing news, don’t read on! (But you really ought to read on. This is where things get interesting!)

The depressing news

We’ve probably all heard this presented as a fact:  1 pound (lbs) of fat, or 0.454 kilograms, represents approximately 3,500 calories (kcals). So, conventional math dictates, to lose 1 pound of fat, you will need to generate a calorie deficit of 3,500 kcals. (Those dissenting views I linked to lack links to citations in support of their stated opinions/math. But they still present interesting perspectives!)

So, back to my personal experience for a brief moment. During my marathon training runs, I ran continuously for as much as 5+ hours. During that time, my calorie consumption measurement tool told me I’d burned enough calories to equal about 1 lbs of fat lost. This “tool” would be similar to the one that typically over-reports calorie burn during training by between 33% and (in some very tightly controlled cases) 12%, according to Livestrong.com.

So, before you break out the champagne, let me also remind you: I added calories to my body on those days. I mean, I had to eat, right. Thus, the net calorie deficit was nowhere near the “between 2,800 – 3,800” reported by the counter/device!

Not think about this

Most people tell us they’d like to “lose about 10 pounds”, or more…

Is the problem with using only training as your fat loss tool becoming obvious yet?

No matter what you may think, people who are successful at fat loss have one very significant thing in common:

They have managed how and what they eat and drink! [Tweet this]

And then they trained/worked out to make sure they look great, healthy and strong once the fat came off!

Training is a key ingredient!

Does this mean you can just skip training until you’ve lost the weight? Well, frankly, you can do whatever you would like to do. BUT, if you want to spend less time working on losing the weight and more time enjoying the benefits of your (re)new(ed) body, the answer is a resounding no!

Remember, fat loss is about having created an energy deficit (calorie deficit) in your body. You supply energy to it in the form of calories from food and drink. Since fat is how your body stores any excess energy it’s been supplied, when your body needs more energy than the food it’s been supplied on a given day, it will eventually convert the fat back to energy and use it.

But beware: It’s actually easier for the body to break down muscle tissue for energy than it is to break down fat for the same purpose. And our body is, not unlike most of us, all about “bang for the buck” (max result from minimum effort).

Accelerate your fat loss

So, from a training perspective, there are a couple of “rules” to be aware of:

  • Your body burns more energy while you’re physically active
  • With the right training program, your body will burn additional calories for as much as 48 hours after each training session (Afterburn / EPOC)
  • Resistance training builds muscle
  • Muscle burn more calories than fat.[1].
  • To accelerate fat loss and not winding up looking like limp spaghetti, you need to encourage your body to (re)grow muscle
  • If the body’s energy needs aren’t met, the body “prefers” to break down muscle over fat.
  • Having more muscle = slightly higher calorie deficit = little more fat burned. It’s a beautiful cycle!

Now, repeat after me (self affirmation time!):

“Good nutrition is what I do to look good while dressed. Awesome training programs are what I do to look great naked.” – by you

Do you have fun/positive/entertaining/motivating fat loss & training experience you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments!

References

Muscle burn more calories than fat –> “[…] muscle, contributing only 20-25% of total resting metabolism[…]” – C. Bouchard, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, La. (see: “The myth of ripped muscles and calorie burns” – LA Times.)