by STEFAN, BAppSci, IBLS-AIS, CSCS
In this article, I will discuss a fundamental principle that is imperative
in losing weight or more specific body fat loss. I think that the
fundamentals have been drowned in an enormous mass of information.
Most of it is great and can definitely help but there is a major misconception
about weight training and it's "weight gaining" effects.
We've been lead to believe that aerobic exercise is necessary for
weight loss. Common prescription for weight loss is walking, running
or other cardio type exercises. "You run to lose weight"
is the common thinking. While this may work in some cases, research
has shown that aerobic exercise alone is not sufficient for weight
Wanna know why?
Because although you burn calories when training aerobically, you
only burn a relatively small amount. For example in a 30 min jogging
session you may burn around 200-300 calories depending on your body
weight (especially muscle), age and other things. What you've just
burned is the equivalent of a large apple and banana. But that's comparing
it to fruits. Considering a Big Mac is around 500 Calories and a Hungry
Jacks Vege Burger Supreme coming in at more than 600 Calories you
can see how that's a relatively small amount.
Don't get me wrong, I'm in no way saying that aerobic exercise has
no value. Aerobic exercise has been shown in numerous scientific studies
to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, prevent the onset of
diabetes, prevent some cancers and many other health benefits. But
aerobic exercise alone is not the most effective way to lose bodyfat
or "lose weight". And again science has proven this.
This may be not only because of the relatively small amounts of calories
burned but also due to the potential loss of muscle mass. Aerobic
exercise, especially heavy exercise may increase your chances of burning
muscle. This muscle burning effect is further enhanced when coupling
aerobic exercise with a reduced calorie diet. This is a situation
you want to avoid at all costs.
When aerobic exercise is performed your body burns both carbohydrate
and fat. But when you increase the aerobic/cardio intensity your body
also switches to burning more carbohydrates and less bodyfat proportionately.
If not enough carbohydrates are consumed your body will switch to
making carbohydrates from protein. That is called catabolism and results
in losing muscle mass, which is the exact opposite of what you should
be aiming for. Therefore, if you are already on a low calorie diet
and you add aerobic exercise, you will further accelerate this catastrophe.
But wait, you say, wouldn't that lead to more weight loss and thus
quicker and faster results?
While this may look good from a bathroom scale perspective, I assure
you that this is detrimental to your ability to achieve permanent
weight loss. That's because if you lose muscle, you lose your ability
to burn calories. With less muscle, you burn less calories. It's that
simple. People trying to lose weight should stop and think about that
And what happens when you now burn fewer calories?
You need to eat less compared to before your training program. This
means that you are now more susceptible to gaining back your bodyfat
and more. Oh yeah, and it doesn't do anything in helping you control
appetite and in developing healthy eating habits.
Eating extra protein will not counteract this destruction because
total dietary energy must be first increased to meet the body's energy
needs. Fat, be in dietary or bodyfat, will not stop this muscle wasting
because some tissues such as the brain need energy as glucose. While
amino acids, which come from muscle protein can be metabolised to
produce glucose, fats cannot. As a consequence, a person with more
than adequate fat stores may suffer loss of muscle and other tissue
if the diet is too restricted in calories.
The primary exercise prescription for those wanting permanent weight
loss must be weight training or resistance training or strength training.
I know there are some out there, particularly women, who seem to think
that their muscles grow like weeds and are afraid of becoming too
big or masculine. While the men usually can't get enough and many
unfortunately turn to anabolics. I can assure you that it's not easy
to gain lean muscle. Losing bodyfat is the easy bit. Gaining muscle
is the hard part. I laugh privately when a beginner comes to me and
says that he doesn't want to get too big, like Arnold. To be like
Arnold you have to be as great as Arnold: genetically and psychologically,
mentally and of course follow his "supplementation" program.
Almost all the bodybuilders appearing in magazines these days are
on or have used anabolic steroids. I would probably say that at least
85% of all bodybuilders in magazines today and if I include those
taking prohormones the number could go as high as 95%. (Prohormones
are biological substances one step away from testoserone or closely
mimic it. These are deemed illegal in Australia, and in most sports
organizations but are freely available in the US as sport supplements.
They have been found to increase LDL or 'bad' cholesterol and other
negative side effects which leads to cardiovascular problems.)
The ones that do it naturally would have had to work out optimally
for at least 3 years with a sound diet before you can achieve anywhere
near that. I'm not being negative I'm being real. But of course you
do get the genetically gifted ones that gain considerable muscle after
a year or two training naturally. For that to happen you must be on
the right program for you. (And in case you're wondering, bodybuilding
magazines and gyms are amongst the worst place for great resistance
So, that's the men.
Bodybuilding women on the other hands, especially those that appear
in magazines are on a very tough diet and strength program and some
even supplement with the illegal steroid: testosterone. Testosterone
is a predominantly male hormone and is not plentiful in women. In
fact males have around 18 times the testosterone of women. Without
it, your body has a hard time building lean muscle mass. With all
this talk of muscle you may be wondering what advantage will having
more muscle bring apart from being stronger? Lets face it, when are
you ever going to be required to lift a 50 kg object?
Apart from increasing strength, preventing osteoporosis (which two
in three women will develop and 3 out of four guys) and other health
related benefits which even go so far as to conditioning the heart
and the respiratory system, building muscle is an essential part in
controlling bodyfat. Yes, if you want to lose bodyfat and more specifically
keep it off forever, you need to perform muscle building exercises
such as weight or resistance training.
It does that by allowing your body to burn more calories, so that
less excess calories remain to be stored, usually as bodyfat. You
see muscle is a vital component in your body's furnace. Basically
the more muscle you have, the more furnaces you have operating in
burning energy or food. In fact putting on around 0.5 kg of muscle
will allow you to eat an extra 300 calories per week without affecting
your weight. This inevitably allows you to control bodyfat by allowing
you to eat more and still stay lean. Yes, you'll be able to eat more,
stay lean and feeling great.
No way you say?
Surveys from the Australian Bureau of Statistics* have confirmed this.
They discovered that men with body mass index (BMI) see our calculator)
in the acceptable range reported having the largest intakes of energy
as well as most vitamins and minerals. Conversely obese males reported
the smallest intakes of energy. Wow, how's that for radical thinking!
So I know you love to eat, everybody does?
Still not convinced?
That's the reason 100 kg bodybuilders eat two chickens, one kilo of
rice, twenty egg whites and seven rolls plus 2 protein shakes and
that's just his desert, yet they're still leaner that you and even
me. Clearly, muscle mass is proportional to metabolic rate. The more
active muscle you have the more calories you burn throughout the day.
We've all heard of metabolism and metabolic rate. (This is the energy
expenditure that the body undergoes continuously, even at rest. This
energy is burned in order to keep your body functioning normally.)
With that usually comes the misguided thinking that we were just born
with a slow metabolism. When you increase muscle mass you increase
metabolism. Since most of our day is spent at rest, on the couch or
at a desk, by simply having more muscle, literally on you, you burn
more calories compared to your less muscular self. More muscle, more
calories burned. It's as simple as that.
Conversely, this also means that those with a high bodyfat level,
have a lower metabolic rate and therefore burn less calories. They
burn less calories while driving, sitting, walking, or whatever the
activity. They burn less calories when compared to an identical individual,
at the same weight but with lower bodyfat.
So as you can see it's a win-win proposition. GET MORE MUSCLE!!!
MORE MUSCLE = INCREASE METABOLISM = MORE CALORIES
BURNED = INCREASE FOOD INTAKE = LESS BODYFAT
The metabolic rate increases as you achieve maturity but it's downhill
from then. In fact by the age of 65, some 25% of peak force will be
lost. This is almost all due to the loss of muscle mass as you age
and a great contributor to this is inactivity. Thus if you reduce
muscle, you reduce metabolic rate and we all know what happens next.
Calorie accrual, leading to higher bodyfat levels and overall weight
So, stop laying the blame squarely at your slow metabolism or your
body type, and shift your focus to what can be done about it. The
answer doesn't lie in a 30 min cardio session or in severely reducing
calories (also known as the billion dollar industry of dieting). Stop
looking to burn calories or severely reducing them. Instead help yourself
in building a better body that allows you to eat more and stay lean,
thus supporting your eating habits. Building muscle is perhaps the
most fundamental component in staying lean. So please, use it!