Fat loss is something many people strive for at the gym. Lower body fat leads to a leaner physique and overall better health so it’s a very important goal. In this article, I will take you through the 3 step process of how we actually achieve fat loss. I’ll also explain how you can improve each step of the fat loss process.
Before we go into the 3 steps, it’s important to understand what fat actually is.
Our body has a type of tissue called Adipose Tissue. One of the main roles of Adipose Tissue is to store energy in the form of fat. it does this so we have a reserve of energy to call upon in times of need as well as to provide cushioning to our body. There are different types of fat within the body:
– Subcutaneous Fat (Fat found under the skin and above the muscle. Reducing this is what provides a lean physique)
– Visceral Fat (Fat stored around our internal organs. This is the fat that causes most of issues)
– Brown Adipose Tissue (Helps generate heat by burning fats)
– Intra-Muscular Triglycerides (Fats stored within muscles and used as energy during exercise)
Fat is not an evil thing we must aim to rid ourselves of. It serves a very important function within the human body. We would die without it. The issue is the quantity of body fat a person has. As we increase our body fat, our subcutaneous and visceral fat levels are the ones that noticeable increase the most. An over accumulation of these is not conducive to good health or a good physique.
There are genetic and gender based differences between the distribution and use of body fat. For example, women deplete more intra-muscular triglycerides during exercise whereas males deplete higher levels of glycogen (stored carbohydrates). This means that carbohydrate intake can vary based upon gender. Hormonal variances between genders also effect the storage of body fat. Females naturally produce much higher levels of oestrogen and lower testosterone compared to males. This causes body fat to be distributed primarily around the hips and thighs. Males on the other hand produce higher levels of Cortisol which has shown to increase fat distribution around the abdomen. This leads to higher visceral fat and a bigger belly. The higher levels of testosterone in males also means that men can naturally get leaner and stay leaner compared to females who have higher Estrogen. To make it even more confusing, women’s oestrogen and cortisol levels will fluctuate substantially depending on what stage of their menstrual cycle they’re in. This means that fat can shift around the body from place to place depending on hormonal profile.
Hormones and fat loss has become somewhat ‘trendy’ but the important thing is to understand that everyone is different and things do change over time. At the end of the day, any strategy you implement to help with fat loss is dependant on a hormonal response so it’s important to know the role of hormones in fat loss.
FAT STORAGE HORMONES
– Gastic Inhibitory Polypeptide
– Acylation Stimulating Protein
FAT LOSS HORMONES
– Thyroid Hormones
The structure of body fat is important to understand also. When we think of body fat we want to think of:
Adipose Tissue – This is our storage container for fat
Triglycerides – This is fat we have stored away
If we are gaining body fat it means that we are creating more Triglycerides which are filling up our Adipose Tissue. When we are losing body fat we are breaking down and removing Triglycerides. We can not get rid of the storage containers, we can only remove the triglycerides stored within them. This leads me onto the next important feature of body fat.
Body fat has things called Adrenergic Receptors. There are 2 types of these receptors: Beta and Alpha. These Alpha Receptors are responsible for increasing the storage of Triglycerides within Adipose Tissue. This is fat gain. Beta Receptors are responsible for removing Triglycerides from Adipose Tissue. This is fat loss. This is where we will go into the first step of the fat loss process.
Step 1: Mobilization
The first step of fat loss is breaking down Triglycerides from within Adipose Tissue and releasing them into the blood stream. To do this, we need to activate the Beta Receptor on the fat cell. The hormone responsible for doing this is called Epinephrine. Epinephrine activates the receptors which releases an enzyme called HSL (Hormone Sensitive Lipase) which breaks down the Triglyceride into fatty acids and glycerol. This process is the first step in achieving fat loss.
How do we improve Step 1?
TRAINING: We need too look at training styles which create a high stress response. Epinephrine is released in response to stress. High intensity, anearobic activities are the best here. These include primarily strength training or HIIT style training. These training styles will work best to enhance step 1, although as you will learn we need some other activities to enhance the later steps.
NUTRITION: We need to structure nutrition so our body needs to rely upon our stored energy as well as what we take in through food. This is where an energy deficit works. Eating less than your body requires causes a state of stress. As a result, our body proceeds stress hormones (Cortisol and Epinephrine) which start removing some of our stored energy to make up for the deficit. The greater the energy deficit, the greater the state of the stress. The longer the energy deficit, the greater the negative effects of stress. Don’t be too aggressive with your energy deficit and under eat for long period. For our clients we tend to go no longer than 16 weeks for a fat loss phase. Within your fat loss phase you should still intermittently bring yourself out of a deficit using re-feeds or diet breaks throughout.
We want to look at structuring an approach that allows us to train with intensity. The harder we can hit our workouts the greater the Epinephrine response. This can be tricky when working with a calorie deficit or when aiming to get to very low body fat percentages. Nutrient timing would be a smart approach. Your pre and post workout meals will want to be structured to enhance your workout. How would this meal look? It depends on your body fat levels, lean mass, lifestyle and other factors.
SUPPLEMENTATION: One of the most effective fat loss supplements is caffeine. Caffeine directly triggers the release of Epinephrine. Being sensitive to caffeine’s effects is important for this work along with your overall stress level and recovery. In the lifestyle point below I will highlight why stress is a problem for caffeine usage and stress’s effects of slowing down or speeding up fat loss. Other performance supplements to improve work capacity could work well here with things such as:
Creatine (Extends ATP-CP system which improves strength)
Beta-Alanine (Mixes with Histadine to form Carnosine. Carnosine eats Hydrogen Ions which is what causes the ‘burning’ sensation in muscles when training. This can improve anerobic endurance)
Alpha GPC (Drives Acetylcholine production which increases mental focus and energy)
LIFESTYLE: This is by far one of the most important factors for body composition; STRESS MANAGEMENT! To initiate the fat loss process we have to rely upon stress hormones to mobilise fat. If we are constantly under stress then our body will be producing higher amounts of stress hormones for long periods of time. If our body is exposed to a constant stimulus, guess what happens? It stops responding to it. If our body becomes desensitised to stress hormones it can really impact our ability to mobilise fat. This is where caffeine can either be fantastic or terrible for fat loss.
The goal to negate this issue is to focus on managing your stress as best as possible. Things such as nutrition, sleep, meditation and internal health need to be looked at. Your body can only tolerate so much stress in one day so be sure to emphasise recovery as much as training hard.
Step 2: Transport
Once we have released these fatty acids into the blood stream, we then need to transport them to a cell where they will be used for energy. Fatty acids are transported through the blood via a protein called Albumin. Albumin is a protein produced by the Liver. Insufficient protein intake, absorption or poor Liver health can effect our body’s ability to produce Albumin.
Insulin can also effect this step if not managed correctly. Insulin’s main job is to reduce blood sugar levels back to normal. As a result it essentially tells nutrients circulating in the blood stream to be stored away. If we mobilise fatty acids but follow it with a spike in Insulin we can cause a process called Re-Esterification. This is the process of breaking down fatty acids and then rebuilding them to form Triglycerides once again. This is not helpful for trying to burn body fat.
TRAINING: To improve transport with exercise we need to ensure we are creating good circulation. This can come as a result of strength training and HIIT. We can also use LISS cardio post workout to further improve blood circulation. Mobility work can be helpful also as tight or inhibited muscles can lead to poor circulation.
NUTRITION: If training for fat loss, it can be wise to wait until after your post workout cardio before consuming a post workout shake or meal. Give your body a chance to transport and burn the fatty acids before spiking insulin. This can also be dependant on how lean you are. If you have higher amounts of body fat, you have a much lower risk of losing lean mass. This is not true if you are already lean. How long you wait and if you need to wait at all need to be adjusted depending on the person. If you are performing 10+ minutes of LISS cardio after a weights session then this would be adequate time.
Foods that boost blood flow could also be of benefit for enhancing transport. Beetroot is high in Nitric Oxide pre-cursors. Nitric Oxide causes vasodilation which is your body’s process of increasing blood flow and circulation (to reduce blood pressure) by opening up blood vessels.
LIFESTYLE: Once again, stress is a huge consideration here. When our body is in a state of stress it shifts into our “fight or flight” state. This changes thing such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and also blood flow. In a “fight or flight” state our body redirects blood flow away from our internal organs and frontal lobe of the brain and towards our extremities. If you are needing to fight or run away from a threat then you want your arms and legs to be working as well as possible and receiving extra blood flow is one way your body ensures this. Unfortunately this can lead to poor blood flow in areas such as our stomach which can effect our ability to transport fatty acids in these areas. Training will induce a fight or flight response but this isn’t the problem. The problems is that people live their lives stuck in fight or flight mode. The chronic stress and lack of recovery and rest can be a major contributor to fat distribution surrounding the abdomen.
Step 3: Oxidation (Burning)
So far we have broken down Triglycerides into fatty acids and then transported them to a cell through the blood stream. Now we need to take these fatty acids and run them through our cell’s Mitochondria to produce energy and subsequently remove this fat from our body. This process of converting fatty acids into energy is called Oxidation. The energy we are trying to produce is our body’s chemical energy, ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate).
To do this step, fatty acids must go through a process called the “Carnitine Shuttle”. This is where Carnitine takes these fatty acids and helps them to make their way into the Mitochondria where particular enzymes begin Oxidation.
Oxidation will take place when we are in an aerobic state. This means that our body is able to produce energy in the presence of oxygen. High intensity activities result in our inability to take in as much oxygen as our body needs. This means our body has to produce energy without the presence of oxygen and will use carbohydrates more so as an energy source. This state of producing energy without oxygen is called an “Anerobic” state.
Anaerobic Activities (High Intensity / Low Duration) – HIIT, Strength Training, Circuit Training, Sprinting, Spin Classes
Aerobic Activities (Low Intensity / High Duration) – Walking, Sitting, Sleeping
TRAINING – This is where LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) cardio can be beneficial for fat loss. It can help oxidise fatty acids that have already been broken down. A base level of aerobic fitness is beneficial but when we look at aerobic activities it is easy to see that most people will spend 20+ hours their day in an aerobic state. If we are only training 1 hour per day and we want to get the most out of our training, looking to perform more anaerobic activities will be a better investment. Anaerobic activities induce a process called EPOC (Excessive Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). This results in prolonged increased in the rate of oxidation anywhere up to 72 hours after training. This means that while sitting down or even sleeping, our body will be taking in more oxygen and oxidising more fatty acids.
LISS cardio shouldn’t be ignored though. There are many other benefits to LISS cardio. I prefer clients performing forms of LISS cardio such as running, walking or cycling to do it outdoors whenever possible.
NUTRITION – Low carb diets can help your body become ‘fat adapted’. This means that due to a lower supply of carbohydrates, your body relies more heavily on fats to produce energy (ATP). If your goal is fat loss then placing your body in a state where it relies on burning fats can be beneficial. Again, everybody is different and this isn’t the best approach for everyone.
Including high anti-oxidant foods to improve Mitochondrial health should be a focus when looking at nutrition. Foods such as raisins, berries and even dark chocolate are extremely high in anti-oxidants. The best strategy to get anti-oxidants into your diet is quite simple; eat a diet comprised of 90% whole foods and don’t skip the fruit and veg.
High carnitine foods will help improve the oxidation process due to carnitine’s role in the carnitine shuttle. Carnitine can be formed in the body by the amino acids lysine and methionine. This points us to the importance of amino acids from protein to help form carnitine. Most animal proteins are high in the bioavailable L-Carnitine, so looking at high quality animal proteins in your diet will help provide sufficient carnitine.
SUPPLEMENTATION – Anti-oxidants and Carnitine could be great supplements to use here for the reasons mentioned above. Look to get these in through food first before considering supplementation.
LIFESTYLE – Good overall health should be a focus to ensure your Mitochondria are able to work and function properly. Eating a diet high in whole foods, drinking enough quality water, getting enough sleep and managing stress are all basics everyone should focus on to ensure good health.
The fat loss process can be broken down into 3 steps:
Step 1) Mobilisation – Strength Training and/or HIIT + Manage stress
Step 2) Transport – Any form of exercise and stay mobile
Step 3) Oxidation – Aerobic fitness and base health
The key points to fat loss are:
– Manipulate energy deficit
– 85% of diet from whole foods
– Use nutrient timing to improve quality of life and training
– Drink enough ‘quality’ water (quality refers to filtered water with replaced electrolytes)
– The bulk of training should be Anaerobic. Eg, strength training, HIIT (This depends on personal history with health and stress)
– Cardio SHOULD be included to help fat loss and also for other health benefits
– Place a MAJOR emphasis on stress management and recovery
– Achieve 8-10 hours of quality sleep
It all sounds so simple doesn’t it? Unfortunately for many it just isn’t. Those who dedicate their lives or a large portion of it to getting in shape most likely won’t have a problem with these above points. At Real Results the majority of our client base are parents who run their own businesses or work high stress jobs. Trying to manage stress, nutrition, train 4 times a week whilst working 40+ hours per week and looking after a family is a lot to juggle. This is where we look to get the most out of our clients while getting them to do the very least. This is where personal training becomes both an art and a science.
If you are in need of help with fat loss, building muscle or improving performance, contact Real Results to learn more about our services and how we can help you.