Thursday, July 19, 2012

Exercise and Weight Loss, Part 3

To summarize the last two posts, some folks say exercise is great for weight loss, and others say the science is ambiguous on the topic.  I've said I think there are too many variables, and the powers that be have not agreed which are the important variables, therefore the experiments that have been done have not been conclusive.   What's left to discuss, you might wonder - and the answer is that there is a way to think about food and diet to see how they might be complimentary for changing one's body composition towards more muscle, less fat.

First, training should be focused on desired physical outcomes - do you want to compete in endurance events?  Do you want to prepare for a fight or a sport or the needs of a profession (firefighting for example)?  Well then, you have a different priority than those many who simply want to look good naked.  Either way, burning calories doing mindless exercise that does not increase your work capacity is a dead end game.  Train for strength, speed, stamina, endurance, agility, balance, coordination, accuracy, power and skill - or any subset of the above.  Of those listed above, strength is often the most amenable to large, long term gains, but the best performance increases in the short term come from short, high power output workouts that demand and develop anaerobic fitness.  Go hard, rest, do it again, as many different ways as you can think of to go hard.  This is the CrossFit model, but you don't have to be an expert in CrossFit to either see/experience the virtue of this approach or to implement it.

Will this help you lose body fat and gain muscle?  Yes to the latter, but I can only offer a "maybe" to the former.

That's because, as has been said many times, you cannot out train a bad diet.  If you are pounding down 300g/day of "complex, whole grain carbohydrates", you better be training 2-4 hours per day or you are likely to be fat and sick.  A 30 minute drill on the elliptical trainer is not going to beat back the impact of that much sugar.

The goal of eating, if you are already fat and sick or if you feel yourself sliding down that pathway, must be to eat for glycemic control and nutrient quality.  Thus the prescription - eat meat, eggs, vegetables, nuts and seeds, little fruit or starch, no sugar/wheat.

Eating in this protein adequate, high fat, and relatively low carb template gives your body a chance to regulate blood sugar, and redevelop the capacity to run itself on the best human fuel - fat.  Most people on this type of a diet find that their body's 1.5 million year old system of feedback loops gives them a chance to eat only what they need, to trust hunger signals as legitimate signals of need, and therefore to eat what they need for health, and not more.  When eating this way, exercise may help to speed recomposition, especially if you train for intensity in short workouts.  

Avoid the big nasties of neolithic nutrition - wheat, sugar (HFCS, table sugar) and polyunsaturated oils.

Establish a baseline of carb intake - if 100g/day of carbs lets you lose weight over time, you have yourself a solution.  For many, especially if they've been punishing their metabolic systems for years, 100g/day will be too much.

Lastly, once you stabilize on your carb intake and food quality, experiment with fasting.

Whatever you do, don't think of it as a diet.  Think of ways you can sustain the new eating patterns for a lifetime.  There's no going back - if you lose weight and then start eating like you used to, you are no different than the alcoholic who relapses or the smoker who takes up the habit again.  Save yourself the hassle!

My recommendation - don't exercise for weight loss, that's a fool's game and wasteful.  Eat the right way (carb restriction, high quality food), and exercise to optimize improvements in desired physical capacity.  As you do this you are also heading off most of the diseases of civilization - osteoporosis, obesity, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome - and the "A List" of diseases that follow metabolic syndrome:  cancer, vascular disease (heart attack and stroke), and neurological disease (Alzheimer's and the rest).
(edited 21 July)

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