Archive for February, 2011
We’re now two months into the New Year–the approximate amount of time where most people abandon their resolutions to lose weight and get in shape. It’s the classic “yo-yo” effect. Dieters generally begin their quest highly motivated to lose weight, but soon thereafter are back to their old habits. At some point they’ll try another diet only to again regress. And hence the cycle continues…
There is a bigger problem with such behavior than merely the short-term weight regain. Namely, yo-yo dieting ultimately can result in “resetting” a person’s “set point” and thus make it increasingly harder to lose weight in the future. The reasons behind the yo-yo effect have been somewhat hazy, but new research may help to shed some light on the issue. First a little background info. There are two mechanisms by which you gain fat. The first is called fat cell hypertrophy. Simply stated, this means that your fat cells (i.e. adipocytes) grow larger, which is the primary means for your body to store additional fat. Once adipocytes reach a certain size, however, they undergo a process called hyperplasia. This involves a “splitting” of adipocytes so that more fat cells are available for storage. Your body can create an endless supply of new fat cells, allowing for a virtually unlimited amount of body fat storage.
With this in mind, let’s look at the study in question. Researchers from Yale University studied the Regional differences in cellular mechanisms of adipose tissue gain with overfeeding to help determine the cellular mechanisms that regulate fat accumulation. In short, 28 men and women were overfed for 8 weeks. Consistent with the First Law of Thermodynamics, they gained weight from this regimen. No surprise here. The interesting aspect of the study, though, was that in addition to an increase in size of adipocytes, the number of fat cells significantly increased, too. What’s more, the hyperplasia was regional specific, with the lower body adding more fat cells than the upper body.
What does this all mean? Simply that overeating leads to an increased number of fat cells, which makes it more difficult to lose weight in the future. Even short-term periods of overfeeding (in this case as little as 8 weeks!) was enough to result in fat cell hyperplasia. While fat cells can be “deleted” (via a phenomenon called apoptosis), it is a more complex process than reducing the size of fat cells.
Bottom line: Avoid yo-yo dieting at all costs. If you fall off the dietary wagon, get back on as quickly as possible. A few days of food bingeing won’t have a tangible effect on your physique; a couple of months surely will.
Tchoukalova YD, Votruba SB, Tchkonia T, Giorgadze N, Kirkland JL, Jensen MD. Regional differences in cellular mechanisms of adipose tissue gain with overfeeding. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Oct 19;107(42):18226-31
Posted by: Brad in Cardio
I was recently interviewed for an article on Rodale.com about my article, Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss?. The article does a nice job summing up the conclusions. Here is a link to the article:
Why Exercising on an Empty Stomach Is a Bad Idea.
Posted by: Brad in Exercise
I must get at least a half-dozen emails a day asking some sort of variation of the following question: “What exercise can I do to reduce the fat in my (fill in the blank with a problem area).” No matter how the question is phrased, my answer is always the same: sorry, but there is no such exercise…
I’ve said it over and over in my books and magazine articles and I’ll say it again here: you can’t spot reduce fat. It’s a physiologic impossibility. All the sit-ups in the world won’t give you a flat stomach; no amount of leg raises will preferentially slim down your saddle bags. In reality, trying to zap away your problem areas is literally an exercise in futility.
Here’s why spot reduction doesn’t work. When calories are consumed in abundance, your body converts the excess nutrients into fat-based compounds called triglycerides, which are then stored in cells called adipocytes (a.k.a. fat cells). Adipocytes are pliable storehouses that either shrink or expand to accommodate fatty deposits. They are present in virtually every part of the body including your face, neck, and soles of your feet.
When you exercise, triglycerides in adipocytes are broken back down into fatty acids, which are then transported via the blood to be used in target tissues for energy (note: fat cells and muscle have separate blood supplies). Because fatty acids must travel through the circulatory system—a time-consuming event—it is just as efficient for your body to utilize fat from one area as it is another. (Side note: muscles do contain their own internal fat stores called intramuscular triglycerides that can be used directly by the muscle for fuel, but these stores have no impact on your appearance.) Bottom line: the proximity of adipocytes to the working muscles is completely irrelevant from an energy standpoint. Simple, right? Well, perhaps not…
Several years ago, a research group from Copenhagen, Demark came out with a study that seemingly challenged common wisdom about spot reduction (1). In short, the study showed that fat breakdown was greater in fat depots adjacent to working muscles compared to distant muscles. This led the researchers to conclude that “specific exercises can induce ‘spot lipolysis’ in adipose tissue.”
Say what? After that extended physiology lesson, does this actually mean that spot reduction is a reality? In a word: No! Lipolysis (i.e. breakdown) does not necessarily equate to oxidation (i.e. fat burning). As noted, the fatty acids mobilized from adipocytes adjacent to working muscles aren’t just morphed into the muscle for use as fuel. They would still have to travel through the circulatory system to reach their intended destination, which may or may not occur. If not, the fatty acids would simply be repackaged into triglycerides and stored back in adipocytes. Bottom line: the study did not in any way show spot reduction; it simply showed a very slight increase in mobilization from the underlying muscle, which means next to nothing in the overall scheme of losing body fat.
Mark Young, a very astute fitness pro, did an excellent job analyzing the shortcomings of this study in his blog post, Spot Reduction is Real?. Check it out and you’ll see how research can be misconstrued if you simply look at the overall findings of a study and don’t delve into the particulars.
1) Stallknecht B, et al. Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans? American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2007 Feb;292(2):E394-9.
Posted by: Brad in Cardio
Do you drag yourself out of bed first thing every morning to perform cardio before breakfast in hopes of jacking up your fat burning capacity? If so, go back to sleep!
The fact is, performing cardio on an empty stomach does little to increase fat burning over exercising in the fed state. I recently wrote an article for the NSCA Strength and Conditioning Journal titled, Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss? that examined the research on the topic. Here is a synopsis:
1) When exercising at moderate to high intensity, the body breaks down substantially more fat than it can burn for fuel. This effect is magnified in experienced exercisers. Ultimately, the fatty acids get “trapped” due to exercise-induced ischemia and are unable to reach the muscle for oxidation. Thus, while there is an increased breakdown of fat when you don’t eat prior to performing cardio, the additional fatty acids don’t get burned and simply end up getting stored again in fat tissue.
2) Studies show a significantly greater amount of calories burned post-workout when you eat prior to training compared to if you don’t (i.e. the “thermic effect of exercise). The upshot is that performing cardio while fasting blunts fat burning following the exercise bout, which potentially can add up to a substantial amount depending on exercise intensity.
3) As much as 50% of the fat burned during exercise comes from intramuscular triglycerides (fat stored within muscle). This fat serves as a reserve energy source and has nothing to do with physical appearance. Thus, even if any additional fat was burned during the bout by not eating, the effects on body composition would be far less than simply looking at the total amount of fat burned.
4) Last, and perhaps most importantly, fat burning must be considered over the course of days—not on an hour-to-hour basis—to get a meaningful perspective on its impact on body composition. The human body is constantly adjusting its use of carbs versus fat. As a general rule, if you burn more carbs during a workout, you inevitably burn more fat in the postexercise period and vice versa. It all evens out in the end.
Bottom line: When you do your cardio is really not important. Like the Nike commercial says: Just do it!
Posted by: Brad in Interview
Joe Dowdell is a rarity in the fitness field. He’s owner of an elite gym, a fitness author, and a contributor to numerous magazines and websites. Certainly impressive credentials. But what sets Joe apart from the vast majority of trainers out there is that he’s a student of exercise science who takes an evidence-based approach to training. The results of his efforts more than attest to this fact — just check out the myriad testimonials from those who have trained with him, including many celebrities and athletes. Bottom line: the guy knows his stuff!
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Joe about his training philosophy and various other aspects of his career. I’m sure you’ll find his views of interest.
BJS: Tell us a little about your gym, Peak Performance. What makes it unique?
JD: First of all, thank you for wanting to interview me for your Blog. Originally, I started Peak Performance in a 2,000 square foot training loft in Gramercy Park back in 1997. After about 3 and ½ years, my business started to outgrow the size of that location so I began to look for a bigger space. During those years at the Gramercy location, my knowledge base as both a trainer and a business owner grew as well so I wanted a space that would accommodate both.
So in 2002, I decided to relocate my business into my dream space. I had found a beautiful (although pretty much raw), sun drenched, 10,000 square foot loft in the Chelsea-Flat Iron area. It was a big move—and definitely a risky one—for me at the time because my actual business wasn’t really large enough to sustain a space that size. But, I loved the space and I felt that it would give me the ability to equip it with the all the necessary tools so that we could accommodate any type of client from the general public to an elite athlete.
In the beginning, like most business, I experienced growing pains, and lots of stress, but I just kept plugging away. And now, with the support of an amazing management team and staff, I have something that I’m really proud of. Peak is like a trainer’s paradise. We have just about every training tool that you can imagine, ranging from Kettlebells, sandbags, dragging sleds and Prowlers to Keiser Power Racks, AT/VO2 Testing equipment and a Woodway Force Treadmill.
BJS: How do you do to keep up with continuing education?
JD: : I love to learn. My Dad instilled in me at an early age that no one can ever take your education away from you. So, once I decided to get involved in the fitness industry, I made it a point to learn as much information about exercise science as I could, from as many people and resources as I could. I’ve traveled all over the place to learn and I still do to this day. In fact, I already have numerous seminars that I will be attending on my 2011 calendar.
This year is going to be a bit different for me in that I’ve also decided that I’m going to start teaching myself. I’ve developed a Program Design Seminar and I’m currently putting the finishing touches on an Energy System Training seminar. In addition to these two seminars, I’m almost finished compiling an entire educational manual for my training staff that is broken down into about 14 different modules, ranging from client intake and assessment to recovery and regeneration. I’ve pulled information from everywhere in order to put this manual together and it will be a mixture of theory and practical application of the various topics. I’m also toying with the idea of turning this entire project into a mini-mentorship program to be held at Peak for small groups of trainers.
BJS: One of your areas of expertise is program design. What do feel is the most important component of program design?
JD: I love designing training programs especially if it’s for an elite level athlete. When designing programs for athletes, I have to manipulate so many factors that it’s very mentally stimulating for me as a coach. The single biggest factor in designing a successful training program is defining what the primary goal of the client or athlete is. Once you know that, you can start to look at all of the other factors such as how much time do we have; what’s their current starting point; what limitations do we have to factor in (i.e., past injuries, current injuries, time restraints, etc.): what other kinds of training are they going to be doing; how many days a week are they willing to commit to training; how’s their nutritional habits; how’s their stress levels; how’s their sleep; etc. If you don’t consider all of these things in designing a training program for your client or athlete, than you are not doing your job as effectively as you can and in essence you are designing training program with a blindfold on.
BJS: Couldn’t agree more. Following up on this topic, what would you say is the biggest mistake that trainers make when designing routines for clients?
JD: There are several mistakes that many trainers make in designing training routines:
• The first mistake is they don’t progress their clients properly. If a client can’t perform an exercise, than you need to regress the movement pattern to something that they can perform successfully. On the other hand, if something is too easy, than you need to make it more challenging. But, you should only micro-progress them to the point where it elicits a favorable training response (i.e., positive adaptation) without over-stressing them.
• The second mistake is that they don’t vary their client’s training programs strategically. It makes no sense to vary your clients training programs just for the sake of creating variety. Make sure that there is a thought process to your decisions.
• Another big mistake many trainers make is that they will often allow their clients to sacrifice the quality of movement for the quantity of movement. In particular, this happens a lot when trainers are conducting metabolic resistance training programs because they are so focused on the amount of work (i.e., the number of reps that their client can get done in 30 or 45 seconds) that they forget to monitor the quality of those reps. Make sure your clients develop good, fundamental movement patterns before challenging them with things like high speeds of movement or introducing circus-like exercises. And, with the latter, make sure there’s a really good reason to be putting your client in that position (i.e., risk vs. reward &/or is it necessary to get them to their goal).
• Don’t just have your clients train for strength endurance. Make sure you improve other strength qualities in your clients as well. Even if their goal is fat loss, you should still incorporate some periodic phases of higher intensity strength training or even some power endurance training.
• Finally, many trainers develop an emotional attachment to a particular training tool or to a particular style of training. The only emotional attachment that you should have as a trainer is to your client’s goal. Period!!!
BJS: What’s your view on periodization? Do you incorporate it into your training programs?
JD: I always use some sort of periodization with all of my clients even with my general population clients. Typically, I will alternate between blocks of accumulation and blocks of intensification. Depending on the client or athlete’s goal, current ability &/or training experience will help dictate the length of time of each block and the intensity of the block. In addition, I always have one main training priority in each training block, but I will also have a secondary priority and sometimes a third one, which may just be something like as additional flexibility work.
The main priority is always going to come early on in the training session and the secondary priority will follow it. Additionally, if a client or athlete comes in and they slept really poorly the night before or were out late getting drunk (it happens) or they haven’t eaten anything in several hours, I will modify that day’s training session. But typically, I have a program that we follow and I log every workout. I believe it really important to keep accurate training logs for all of your clients/athletes.
BJS: I know you train a lot of mixed martial arts competitors. What factors go into program design for these athletes?
JD: MMA athletes are probably the most fun to train. I’ve worked with a variety of athletes from many different sports and these guys are just a breed apart. Their work ethic is awesome. Designing training programs for them is very challenging because their needs are extremely diversified. An MMA fighter requires a mixture of different strength qualities, such as strength endurance (i.e., dynamic, static and explosive), maximal strength, strength-speed (i.e. explosive strength) and speed-strength (i.e., reactive strength and starting strength). They also need to be well conditioned.
For them, in addition to evaluating their movement and structural balance, I will also consult with their other coaches; watch video tape of their past fights as well as video of an upcoming opponent (if applicable) before creating a training program for them. The key is to strengthen their weaknesses while continuing to improve upon their strengths.
Contrary to what many MMA strength coaches think, fighters do need to develop their Aerobic system, and in particular, the power of their Aerobic system. They also need to increase the power (and to a certain extent the capacity) of their Anaerobic Alactic system. You can always see the fighters that fail to develop the power of their Aerobic system because they are the ones that gas out before the end of a round or don’t come out fresh at the beginning of the next round. Anyway, I could spend hours talking about how to properly train MMA athletes.
BJS: You have a new book out, Ultimate You. What was the impetus for writing it? What do you hope that readers will take from it?
JD: : Basically, I teamed up with Dr. Brooke Kalanick (a naturopathic physician and a very smart cookie) to write the Ultimate You. I was so tired of seeing so many poorly written books on fat loss, both from a nutritional and training perspective, especially for women. I have seen so many women (and some men) over the years spin their wheels trying to get lean. There is so much misinformation out there on how to get lean and most of it is unfortunately directed at women. The reality is that a lot of this misinformation is driven by the media’s fascination with celebrities and those who train them. Don’t get me wrong, there are celebrity trainers that are very knowledgeable and do create real changes in their clients, but the reality is that the majority of them do not. I know this last statement might upset some people, but it’s my honest opinion and I think it’s important for people to know the truth. Furthermore, women love trends and they love to buy into them. If they just followed the truth, instead of the latest fitness trend, they would achieve the body they want in a less time.
I’ve trained tons of celebrities over the course of my career and the one’s that got in the best, trained hard and ate well. None of them trained 6 hours a day like I’ve heard some celebrity trainers attest to. In fact, if a celebrity or any client for that matter (unless they are an endurance athlete) is able to train for more than an hour, than they probably aren’t training with enough intensity or they are spending way too much time talking during the session. Secondly, if any trainer tells a female client that they should never lift more than 15 lbs. or that they should only use 3 lb. dumbbells because otherwise they will get bulky, they are a moron. The shape of your muscles is pre-determined by your genetics. You either have long muscle bellies and short tendons or short muscle bellies with long tendons. Finally, a lean muscle is simply one with less fat covering it.
Ok, now that I got that off my chest, we wrote the Ultimate You to dispel a lot of the misinformation that liters the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble and give people the real scientific information that they need to know in order to achieve real, sustainable fat loss. We cover everything from nutrition to training to the underlying mechanisms, such as hormonal imbalances, that could be inhibiting an individual’s fat loss efforts.
Finally, I’d like to say thank you again for giving me this opportunity. I have a lot of respect for your work and when I read your review paper on Hypertrophy in the NSCA Journal, I was blown away. I’d really love to have you down to my facility to talk about the topic to my trainers as I think they would love it.
BJS: I’d be happy to Joe. Many thanks for taking the time!
You can read more about Joe at his website: Joe Dowdell
You can read more about Joe’s gym at: Peak Performance Gym
You can read more about Joes’ book, Ultimate You at : Ultimate You
Here is a link to a series of videos I did for Fitness Magazine on performance of various gym machine exercises. Enjoy!
Weight Training Gym Machine Videos
Posted by: Brad in Nutrition
From a nutrition perspective, we can look back at the 80′s as the low-fat decade where consumption of as little dietary fat as possible was believed to be the key to weight management. The 90′s saw a backlash to this notion and hence became the low carb era where steak and eggs became standard fare. Today, consumers are understandably confused as to the best way to eat. Meanwhile, the low carb vs. high carb debate continues to rage on.
A recent ABC news article titled May the Best Calorie Lose explored the subject of whether certain eating styles may have a bearing on weight loss, above and beyond simply consuming fewer calories than you expend. While the article does make for good theater, both sides in the debate seem to be missing the boat.
On a basic level, it *is* calories that count. This is consistent with Newton’s First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy can neither be created or destroyed, only transferred from one form to another. Thus, if you consume more calories than you expend, you will gain weight; if you expend more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight. Mark Haub’s recent experiment with the Twinkie Diet is ‘Exhibit A’ in support of the concept. Simple, right? Well, not exactly…
In vivo (i.e. within living subjects), there are mitigating conditions by which the body can become either more or less efficient at utilizing calories for energy production. So while over the short term you will lose weight simply by cutting calories below maintenance levels, over the long term the types of foods you eat will indeed have an effect on weight management. Unfortunately, those in the “low carb” and “high carb” camps are both off-base in their focus on the subject.
Fact is, neither carbs nor fat are inherently “evil.” Rather, it’s the *types* of carbs and fat that have the greater effect on weight maintenance. There is a big difference between consuming a slice of Wonder bread and a bowl of steel cut oatmeal. Yes, both are carbohydrates, but their effect on the body couldn’t be more different. Similarly, there is a big difference between consuming salmon versus bacon, despite both containing copious amounts of dietary fat (hint: the omega-3 fats in salmon are heart healthy and highly bioactive compared to the saturated fat in bacon). This is why it is silly for the nutritionist in the above article to cite a study comparing consumption of candy versus peanuts, and claim that it supports a low carb lifestyle. It’s an apples to oranges argument.
Yet the most important aspect of diet which seems to escape many nutritional professionals is the effect of protein consumption on body composition–irrespective of carbs or fat. Pure and simple, protein is the most important nutrient in your diet. For one, eating protein creates a sensation of satiety (i.e. fullness) that leaves a person feeling satisfied after a meal. The prevailing body of research studies show that protein induces a greater effect on satiety than either carbs or fat (1, 2, 3). It is believed this may be due to the effects of protein on various hormones involved in signaling the brain as to whether or not you are full (4, 5).
Proetin also has a much greater thermic effect than either carbs or fat. This phenomenon, called the thermic effect of food (TEF), describes the energy cost associated with digestion. The TEF of protein is approximately 25-30% of calories while that of carbs is generally determined to be less than 10%. Dietary fat has a negligible thermic effect, depending on the type of fat consumed. Studies show that because of the TEF, diets higher in protein exert a larger effect on energy expenditure than diets lower in protein, and can even help to attenuate weight gain during times of overfeeding (6).
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, protein consumption helps to preserve lean mass (read: muscle tissue) during dieting. For every pound lost on a diet the typical “normal” protein diet (at levels prescribed by the RDA), approximately 1/3 of a pound comes from the breakdown of muscle tissue. Remember that muscle is metabolically active tissue and its loss will inevitably cause a slowing of your metabolism and subsequent weight regain. The only way to counteract this occurrence is by consuming extra protein. Keeping protein intake high helps to preserve lean tissue, preventing the negative consequences of muscle wasting (7, 8, 9).
So how much protein should you consume. The RDA for protein intake is 0.8 grams/kilogram of body weight. By all accounts, this is too low, even for couch potatoes. Recent research shows that elderly individuals lose functional ability when following the RDA guidelines resultant to losses in lean mass (10). Studies show that physically active individuals need approximately 1.4 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight, depending on types and intensity of exercise (11). My general recommendation is to round this off and consume approximately one gram of protein per pound of ideal body weight (i.e. the weight you aspire to being when you are at your leanest). This provides a margin of safety, ensuring you never fall into negative nitrogen balance. And in case you’re worried about negative health effects, rest easy. As long as you have healthy kidney function, research has debunked the claims that higher protein diets will put you on dialysis.
1. Leidy HJ, Armstrong CL, Tang M, Mattes RD, Campbell WW. The influence of higher protein intake and greater eating frequency on appetite control in overweight and obese men. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Sep;18(9):1725-32.
2. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Rolland V, Wilson SA, Westerterp KR. Satiety related to 24 h diet-induced thermogenesis during high protein/carbohydrate vs high fat diets measured in a respiration chamber. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999 Jun;53(6):495-502.
3. Hill AJ, Blundell JE: Macronutrients and satiety; The effects of a high protein or high carbohydrate meal on subjective motivation to eat and food preferences. Nutr Behav 3:133–144, 1986.
4. Leidy HJ, Mattes RD, Campbell WW. Effects of acute and chronic protein intake on metabolism, appetite, and ghrelin during weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 May;15(5):1215-25.
5. Bowen J, Noakes M, Trenerry C, Clifton PM. Energy intake, ghrelin, and cholecystokinin after different carbohydrate and protein preloads in overweight men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2006; 91: 1477–148
6. Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):373-85. Review.
7. Leidy HJ, Carnell NS, Mattes RD, Campbell WW. Higher protein intake preserves lean mass and satiety with weight loss in pre-obese and obese women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Feb;15(2):421-9.
8. Blackburn, GL. Protein requirements with very low calorie diets. Postgrad Med J. 1984;60 Suppl 3:59-65.
9. Piatti PM, Monti F, Fermo I, Baruffaldi L, Nasser R, Santambrogio G, Librenti MC, Galli-Kienle M, Pontiroli AE, Pozza G. Hypocaloric high-protein diet improves glucose oxidation and spares lean body mass: comparison to hypocaloric high-carbohydrate diet. Metabolism 1994 Dec;43(12):1481-7
10. Campbell WW, Trappe TA, Wolfe RR, Evans WJ. The recommended dietary allowance for protein may not be adequate for older people to maintain skeletal muscle. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2001 Jun;56(6):M373-80.
11. Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, La Bounty P, Roberts M, Burke D, Landis J, Lopez H, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:8