Weight Management - A Personal Trainers View

We are part of a culture that loves to diet. Weight loss is an intricate balance between many determining factors such as nutrition, exercise and hormonal optimisation, but most importantly the consistency of these three things. Sadly most of us yoyo between two extremes, which long term gets us nowhere. Unfortunately it is human nature to be all or nothing. I am a firm believer of the no diet ‘diet’ and patience.

There are many diets out there and a lot of them do really work! For example back in the 90s low fat was extremely fashionable and that worked simply as it gave us a quick sharp drop in calories, however essential fatty acids such as the Solgar Wild Alaskan Full Spectrum Omega are a must if we are to absorb a many of the vitamins our body’s need for proper optimum metabolic function. Cholesterol has been a controversial subject as well but it’s been shown that it has to be present for a lot of the body’s hormonal processes to take place.

More recently a low or next to no carb diet has become popular. I can’t argue that this doesn’t have its place, especially with people of a much higher level of body fat or blood glucose level. There is also no such thing as an ‘essential carbohydrate’ unlike fats and proteins which we must get from a balanced diet the body is able to convert other nutrients into carbohydrate if absolutely necessary . This is why I recommend on any diet you keep a minimum base level of protein and fat in order to prevent a compromise in health. This base level will vary from person to person depending on a number of different factors, as well as their ability to utilise it. Low levels of protein can result in muscle wastage or atrophy and a lowered immune system. Reduced muscle cells will slow the metabolism as lean tissue requires calories. If essential fatty acids are not present in the diet, hair loss and skin deterioration can take place. We cannot stay in a calorie deficit or low carbohydrate diet forever because ultimately the body starts to ‘down regulate itself’ via suppression of the thyroid gland, which regulates our temperature and metabolism. If you’ve ever been really hungry or on a very low calorie diet you may have felt cold due to this. Using L-tyrosine can help to maintain healthy thyroid function. Another benefit of L-tyrosine is the production of dopamine, which is responsible for concentration and mood.

If carb stores become low enough that the liver depletes all of its glycogen stores and the body can’t use glucose as energy it sends signals from the brain to release ketone bodies which will then utilise fat as energy. Refeed and carb reload days can be incorporated to get even better results. Their needed frequency will depend on the individual. For example someone holding high levels of body fat may only need one every 3-4 weeks whereas someone of 10% body fat with a goal to get down to 5% may benefit from a re-feed every few days.

When starting a low carb diet many people claim to lose as much as half a stone in a week but the unfortunate truth is that it will mostly be water and carbohydrate weight. I recommend 1-2lbs of actual body fat loss per week, any more than this is not realistic for most people and certainly not sustainable for the rest. Do not think though by eating zero carbohydrates you can still lose weight if your other macro nutrients are not calculated properly. The problem is what happens when you reach your ultimate goal or go on holiday where it’s not realistic to maintain this protocol? You will need a carefully structured plan in place after to regulate the metabolism and get things working back to normal. This phase is as, if not more, important than the diet itself and will need close monitoring and regular adjustments specific to each individual.

Hormones play a huge role in our body’s ability to burn fat and lose weight. One of the main problems is people who in live this 21st century city life style of work, work, work, caffeine and insufficient sleep. Leptin, a hormone responsible for suppression of apatite, and ghrelin, a hormone responsible for hunger and craving of sugary foods, are both released during sleep. Studies have shown even being short by one hour of sleep can significantly alter your hormone balance in favour of ghrelin, which is problematic if we want to be lean and trim individuals. Growth hormone and testosterone are also produced in our sleep which are essential for the healthy maintenance of a lean physique and energy levels in men and women. To help with this I have a ban on all electronic equipment and work/stressful based topics an hour or two before bed. I also religiously supplement with ZMA (zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6) and have done for years. Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system which will allow better quality sleep but it also helps with brain function and absorption of vitamin D; both of which most of western societies are deficient in. Zinc helps raise testosterone levels in the body and suppresses its aromatisation to oestrogen which is responsible for water retention and fat storage in men and women.

Whenever we consume food our body produces insulin. Although this is an important hormone most of us are triggering far too much of it all the time. The easier a food is broken down the more insulin we produce so refined carbohydrates and sugars need to monitored. Insulin transports nutrients around the body and into our storages (fat cells, liver and muscle). Once the muscle and liver is full the only place left are our fat cells. Our bodies are most sensitive to insulin when we haven’t consumed food for a number of hours, which makes breakfast a very important meal. I am completely against the ‘eat like a king’ for breakfast approach. Breakfast sets up our neurotransmitter production for the day. If you were to eat a large amount of carbohydrates for breakfast such as porridge we will see a big spike in insulin that will result in an inevitable crash. This is where we feel tired and lethargic and reach for quick and easy energy foods such as bread, biscuits, chocolate or even fruit, which is high in sugar. I recommend eating a high fat and high protein breakfast such as meat/eggs and nuts/seeds to stabilise blood sugar and insulin production, but if you are typical of the 21st century life style and have little time in the morning (myself included here) a protein shake and coconut oil is a fantastic substitute. Protein shakes such as Gaspari Nurittion Myofusion Probiotic or CNP Propeptide provide a blend of different protein sources that release at times intervals giving you a sustained supply of amino acids to the body. For those of you who are lactose intolerant or just don’t deal with daily products very well, there are plenty of rice, pea or hemp based protein powders out there, such as Pulsin Hemp Protein and Lamberts Pea Protein. After breakfast our body will not be so sensitive to this hormone and your body will be more forgiving to carbohydrates.

Exercise is our secret weapon in weight/fat loss. It’s going to allow us to eat more, use and burn more calories at rest and in turn will upregulate our metabolism. So ultimately we are training our bodies to be able cope with more food when we are sitting at home doing nothing.

Resistance training should be our base when exercising. I highly recommend training as frequently as possible, hopefully 3-4 times per week with a carefully designed program specific to you. It’s no use doing what your friend does as what works for them may not work for you. Everyone’s genetic makeup is different; for example shorter more metamorphic individuals will respond better to explosive training than ectomorphs due to their higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibres. The program should also be progressive, meaning you should try and increase the volume of your workout week to week. After 4-6 weeks a new program needs to be implemented as we get to a point of diminishing returns. In causing trauma to the muscle in the gym we are creating micro tears in the fibres. These micro tears take between 48-72 hours to repair themselves depending on the intensity of the workout and require extra calories to do so. This means our bodies are working in overdrive during this time frame and provided we don’t over consume on calories this will result in fat loss!

Resistance training also burns glycogen in the muscle (carbohydrate). This means when we eat carbohydrates later in the day it will be up taken by the muscle rather than stored in our fat cells.

As we build more muscle tissue our metabolism also increases as lean tissue requires on average 50 calories per lb.

Cardiovascular training is important too but steer more towards high intensity training. A heart rate monitor should always be used for this to ensure we are working in the correct zone to achieve optimal stimulus which will lead to fat loss. Approximately 15-20 minutes three times per week is more than sufficient for most. Unlike steady state cardio, high intensity will amplify your metabolism for longer and burn more calories in a shorter period of time resulting in greater fat loss.

I like to use some form of caffeine based supplement( I need to have a look in admin) pre training as it increases my mental focus but also helps to immobilises fatty acids to be burned as energy during exercise. Tolerance massively varies from individual so start low and build up. Taking a break every now and again is advised as well to give your adrenal gland, a rest but also to increase your sensitivity again as you will find you will be required to keep increasing the dosage as your tolerance increases.

Branch chain amino acids, for me are also a must during exercise, especially when in caloric deficit as studies have shown that the amount of muscle cells used as energy are much lower when there are free floating amino acids in the system. This will help protect our muscle tissue from as atrophy that will result in a lowered metabolism.

In conclusion there are many determining factors that contribute to fat loss.

Dieting being the most important as it doesn’t matter how much exercise you do, fat loss is impossible if you are over consuming on calories, regardless of their source. There are many diets out there and most of them do genuinely work as they reduce our calories but the problem is most of them encourage an unhealthy attitude towards food, allow us to eat foods that although get us to lose weight have other health implications (flexible dieting). The other problem is if we haven’t been eating carbs for months or only consuming 1000 calories per day we must have a carefully structured and monitored plan in place to regulate our bodies or we will put it all back on again in a vicious cycle of yoyo dieting.

I believe in the no diet ‘diet’ by making healthy choices from a large variety of whole paleo based foods. Understanding that nutrient intake should vary depending on our daily expenditure and timing carbohydrates around our activity when our body has a greater ability to uptake them. It is also important to note that the one size fits all approach to dieting does not work as everyone has a different genetic make-up. Specific plans are essential just as with exercise, what works for someone else will not necessarily work for you, but also what worked for you in the past may not work for you in the future as we are constantly changing and adapting.

Exercise will help raise the metabolism for extended periods of time enhancing the effects of the diet. Resistance training should be favoured over any other and a progressive plan with an end goal must be in place. This raises questions about whether playing sport or doing generic classes are as effective as we think.

To maintain a healthy hormonal balance we must maintain good sleep, eat essential fats and carbohydrates when appropriate.

When all of these things are combined our body will be the ultimate fat burning machine but the most important thing to remember is consistency. There is no point doing everything at once for six weeks before summer then dropping back into old habits. Start slowly at a pace you can maintain as it is a lifestyle choice not a quick fix.

We are no medical professionals; the information above is only based on our experience, opinions and of course our extreme enthusiasm to healthy living. Please seek professional medical advice before implicating any dietary change!!!

Ross Barnes @ Professional Personal Trainer London

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