All too often when we attempt to lose weight, “tone up” or “get shredded” we immediately go to the workout. We tell ourselves,”I need to begin running” or “I need to go back to that class”. With this idea comes up all these preconceived notions of what an effective workout should “feel” like. All too often this means walking out of the gym soaking wet and exhausted.
If this is your experience take a moment to slow down and wrap your head around this...
If you’re walking out of the gym huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf (forgive me, I have a 2 and 5 year old) you’ve probably just spent the last 30-45 minutes burning up a bunch of stored sugar.
See, the body stores sugar or glucose in the muscles and liver. In the past this has primarily served as an emergency energy resource or fuel. It’s typically triggered when the sympathetic nervous system (our fight, flight and freeze response) is stimulated in response to a true emergency situation, like being chased by something that wants to eat you.
You take action, whatever that may be. The heart rate goes up, certain hormones are stimulated and cells require a greater abundance of fuel that it can quickly and easily be processed. Cells begin gobbling up sugar that is immediately accessible. Your blood sugar levels begin to drop which triggers hormones that tell your body to mobilize the stored sugar (glycogen) in your liver and muscles.
The amount of glycogen stored in the body varies based on biological and lifestyle factors. How quickly these “stores” are used up also varies based on the intensity and duration of the activity.
The body likes to maintain a certain amount of stored sugar (glycogen) and it’s going to attempt to recover these lost stores quickly. That’s one of these reasons why we tend to crave quick, high-glycemic carbs right after high intensity type workouts.
What does any of this have to do with losing weight and getting “toned’ or “ripped”?
Over the years high intensity interval training or HIIT has been touted as the optimum workout for fat loss. If you haven't heard of HIIT it’s been around for quite sometime and, for some reason, always seems to be “trending” in the fitness industry. It consists of short bouts of work or exercise at a high level of intensity, jacking the heart rate up; followed by short bouts of low intensity, attempting to recover and bring the heart rate down.
Why is high intensity interval training (HIIT) all the rage for fat loss?
After performing these types of workouts a demand is continued to be placed on the body. This demand is called excess post oxygen consumption (EPOC for short). Basically, after the workout has ended, and you are no longer exercising, there is an elevated demand on the body for oxygen and energy. In short, the body continues to burn calories even after the workout is over.
This sounds great right!?
In small doses this can be helpful. However, if this is your primary form of workout and you’re doing it 3-5 times a week it can be really taxing on the body, specifically the endocrine system. Remember, you're triggering an emergency response. Something humans and other animals have evolved to do. The downside is the cascade of catabolic hormones that come with this process as well as the oxidation in the cells resulting from the quick metabolism of all that glucose.
When this response is triggered for a short period (10-30 seconds) and the body is then allowed to recover, there is minimal disruption and the “system” can return to homeostasis. Think of a deer or an antelope being chased by a big cat. The antelope gets spooked and takes off. If and when the cat gives up the chase the animal settles down and returns to normal.
Now, imagine this same antelope is continuing to do this every minute on the minute for 30 minutes, 3-5 days a week after spending all day dealing with a stressful boss (customer and/or kids), is worried about paying the mortgage, is lacking in sleep and is mostly scarfing down highly processed junk food as it runs out the door in an attempt to get to work on time.
Are you sure you want to add more stress onto an already taxed system?
Are these types of workouts bad?
No! But like anything else, too much of a good thing is just that, too much.
All too often people take on this type of training from an emotional place. They want to lose weight and they know that work is involved. They associate this work with exhaustion. The belief is you should be exhausted at the end of each workout. That is what will get you results.
Couple this with the all too often promoted notion that you can lose X amount of weight in fill in the blank weeks, weight that’s possibly been on the body for 5-30 years. It’s the fast food notion of wanting something yesterday with minimal effort toward change.
This way of thinking and operating keeps people trapped in a vicious cycle of starting a workout and/or diet with some success only to quit after 6 to 12 weeks because the change is too difficult to sustain. As opposed to developing healthy habits including changes in nutrition and exercise. It’s also often easier for people to add more stress and work to their lives than healthy changes to their lifestyle and nutrition.
So what is recommended?
One of my favorite sayings is, “Eat how you wish to look. Train how you wish to perform”.
If you’re an MMA fighter and you need to continue to perform exhausted and under pressure, HIIT training of some caliber will probably play a necessary role in your training. However, if you’re a stressed out executive or stay at home mom or dad trying to lose 10lbs and feel a little better about your body a well balanced approach addressing subtle changes to your life, nutrition and daily movement (including exercise) is probably going to yield more effective long term results. This is especially true if you’re being held accountable.
I recommend my clients limit any kind of HIIT training to once or twice a week; pending their level of fitness, their goals as well as the intensity and duration of the activity. I also recommend they keep the required skill level of the activity pretty low to keep the risk of injury down. Think medicine ball slams, hill walks (sprints) or stationary bike sprints as opposed to barbell snatches and clean & jerks.
Here are two things to keep in mind when you’re trying to lose weight, get “shredded” or “toned”.
1. The only way to raise your basal metabolic rate (base metabolism) is to build muscle.
By increasing the amount of muscle on your body you increase the amount of calories you burn throughout the day with no additional effort or work. Because these calories are usually burned at a “causal” level of intensity, meaning your heart rate is fairly low (that is unless you are constantly in a state of stress and anxiety) it’s likely the “primary” fuel source will be stored body fat.
2. You have to address your nutrition. This is really #1. If you’re not addressing your nutrition, you may see increases in strength and muscle, but you’re probably not going to see much change in body composition. That is unless you’re lifting heavy weights, multiple times a week and even then if you’re not fueling your body correctly your efforts to gain muscle and build strength will be undercut.
How do you address your nutrition?
A. Track your food - if you’re not tracking you’re guessing. Tracking your food is probably the quickest and easiest way to start making changes in your nutrition. Most of us have an idea of what it means to eat healthy. Sure, they’re is a lot of information and misinformation out there. However, I think for the most part people have a pretty decent idea. Eliminate sugary drinks, minimize processed carbs and alcohol, eat a decent protein source and leafy greens at each meal. I think if you can follow this one sentence recommendation you can achieve a lot.
B. Address your protein intake - This is really important if you’re lifting weights and trying to build muscle, as we’ve already addressed. A simple way to determine this is to eat a protein source roughly the size of your palm 3-5 times a day, pending your size, goals and activity level. Protein will not only help you build muscle it will also help you to feel more satiated.
🥵 Are you putting a lot of effort to loose weight only to get on the scale and see that it hasn't moved? Are you tired of your energy dipping, feeling tired mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon? If so, it might be time to dial in your nutrition and I may be able to help. If you're interested fill out my nutrition coaching application by clicking here . We'll then schedule a call to see if working with me is right for you.
💪 I'm also doing online training and programming for those interested in working out at home but are not sure what to do and/or need help being held accountable. Fill out my application and lets see if I can help you.
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Mahalo Nui Loa!
Jim Hardy, Professor of Chemistry, The University of Akron. “Glycogenesis, Glycogenolysis, and Gluconeogenesis”, Carbohydrate Metabolism Overview, Elmhurst University, 2003 http://chemistry.elmhurst.edu/vchembook/604glycogenesis.html
Haff and Triplett. Oxygen Uptake and the Aerobic and Anaerobic Contributions to Exercise,
Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, Fourth Volume. National Strength and Conditioning Association, Published June 2017 https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/kinetic-select/oxygen-uptake-and-the-aerobic-and-anaerobic-contributions-to-exercise/
St Pierre, Brian. Estimating Portion Size and Food Intake Just Got A Whole Lot Easier, Precision Nutrition https://www.precisionnutrition.com/calorie-control-guide-infographic