ArticlesAn in depth look into various subjects relating to fat loss and muscle gain.
My 6 week transformation
A popular trend in the health and fitness industry is the ‘before and after’ photo. Some seem perfectly doable, some are incredible, while others seem unbelievable!
I’m frequently asked about transformations:
How much can I achieve in 6-Weeks? What’s involved?
I don’t necessarily believe you can ‘transform’ a body in 6 weeks. However, you can definitely alter appearance significantly when you combine consistent training and nutrition with a few ‘camera tricks’ along the way.
Using myself as the case study (from back in 2010-2011) I’ll tell you what I did:
- Running 3-5 x Week (20-30miles Total)
- Weights 3 x Week (Chest, Back, Shoulders + Arms)
- Eating around 2000kcal a day
- High Protein
- Eating ‘clean’
- No alcohol
Did I get results on that setup? – YES
Would I recommend that setup to clients? – NO
Would I do it that way again? – NO
A couple of tweaks I’d make now would be to decrease the running mileage (<20miles for a start!) and include a ‘leg day’ in my weights routine! You live and learn. I’d also tackle the diet with a more flexible approach but that’s not something I’m going to get into here.
So what other differences are there between the photo’s:
As you can see immediately I’m several shades darker in the 2nd photo. This helps highlight muscle definition (especially when compared to it’s pasty predecessor!)
I distinctly remember banging out several sets of press-ups alongside furiously curling dumbbells prior to the 2nd photo. The muscles swell with the increased blood flow creating a ‘pumped up’ appearance you typically experience during a workout.
The 2nd photo was taken under slightly more favourable lighting. This again leads to the appearance of enhanced muscle definition.
When you get the combination right the results can look dramatic. Reducing body fat to expose the musculature underneath should be at the forefront of the process.
- Reduce Body Fat % ———–> Nutrition
- Maintain muscle mass ———–> Training
- Maximise transformation ———–> Camera ‘tricks’
If you’re interested in embarking on a transformation of your own drop me a message or call me…
Creatine, a muscle building supplement that actually works?
What is it?
Creatine is an amino acid derived compound classified as a non protein nitrogen.
Creatine is primarily stored in the muscle with small amounts found in the brain, eye, kidney and testes.
What does it do?
Provides metabolic fuel for short-duration high intensity exercise. Out of the 500+ studies looking at the performance enhancing effects of creatine, 70% have shown a statistical improvement.
- Negative impact on kidneys
- Cramping / Dehydration
To date the only consistent side effect of creatine supplementation appears to be weight gain. In the case of dehydration a meta-analysis by Sobolewski et al (2011) actually showed the complete opposite! When dosed correctly creatine supplementation was beneficial to hydration status and heat tolerance.
3-5g a day as a maintenance dose. There is no need for a loading phase per se but muscle stores can be saturated at a quicker rate by ingesting 0.3g/kg/bw a day for 3 days at the outset before moving onto the maintenance dose.
Should I take it?
If you partake in any form of high intensity, whether that be lifting weights or repeatedly sprinting around a football pitch, there’s a good chance creatine could improve exercise capacity.
Supplementing with creatine monohydrate has not shown any detrimental effects on healthy individuals and is relatively cheap to purchase.
As a coach I would always advise assessing the diet first and foremost to address any deficiencies. Take a similar approach to your training programme. With diet and training in place the next big step is consistency.
If you’re consistently following a solid nutrition and training regime there’s a good chance creatine monohydrate could provide additional benefit.
Fat Loss Starts Here - The Energy Balance Equation
“I’m eating really healthy food and not losing weight……why?!”
This is not uncommon, in fact I’d go as far to say this is starting to become the norm!
So what’s gong on?
Individual’s will always differ in their opinion of what constitutes a ‘healthy’ diet but there are a few constants:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Eating less junk
- Cutting back on alcohol
These are generally a good place to start and not wrong per se.
However, they pay no respect to the key determinant of whether an individual will lose or gain weight: the energy balance equation.
May I refer you to the diagram below:
This is drastically over-simplified admittedly but the following points still stand:
If we consume more energy than we burn off we will increase in mass.
= Caloric Surplus
If we expend more energy than we consume we will decrease in mass.
= Caloric Deficit
If energy consumed matches energy expended we will maintain mass.
= Caloric Maintenance
A note on wording. I use calories and energy interchangeably as ‘calories’ represent the units of energy present in our food. When I refer to ‘mass’ and ‘weight’ I’m referring to the body as a whole; as well as body-fat there is also muscle, fluid and ingested food which all have to be considered.
The next logical question would be:
If the equation is that simple why can’t people lose weight?
To answer that question is less simple. What I’m going to (attempt) to do is look at the 3 components of the equation to give you a better understanding of the process. More pertinently I’m going to suggest the simple recommendation of: “eat less move more” is perhaps a little too simple!
*Note: If you want to save yourself 1500 words of reading skip to the take home points at the end of the article
The calories we consume in the form of food. These include protein, fats, carbohydrates and alcohol. Using food labels or apps such as MyFitnessPal we can get a decent estimate of the calories and macronutrient content of our food.
This relates specifically to the food we ingest but not necessarily what we digest and absorb within the body.
Ingestion = the food you’re putting in your mouth
Digestion = the breakdown of food within the body
Digestive efficiency differs across the macronutrients (Fat being the easiest, followed by protein and then carbohydrate) and can be heavily influenced by fibre content. Diets higher in fibre will see increased amounts of food ‘pass through’ without digestion. e.g. A high fibre item labelled 100kcal may not be stored in the body as 100kcal, it could be 80kcal stored (fat, muscle, fuel) with 20kcal excreted in the feces.
Even with the discrepancies the calorie label is only likely to underestimate 5-20% max.
Calculating the energy expended is certainly trickier with several component parts to consider:
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) – This is the number of calories the body requires to support it’s basic functions. Anything from breathing, circulation, protein turnover, fat ‘burning’ – literally thousand of cellular processes! For the vast majority of people (professional athletes with high training volume being a notable exception) the RMR value will make up the bulk of their daily energy expenditure.
Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA) – The energy used during and after physical activity. This number is going to depend on a multitude of training variables including type, duration, intensity and frequency of the exercise. There are also individual characteristics influencing TEA; fitness level, body weight, body composition to name just three. A few examples of the differences below:
High vs Low Training Intensity – on a per minute basis you would obviously burn more calories training at high intensity. However, a lower intensity would allow you to train longer and therefore potentially expend more energy.
Trained vs Untrained Individual – Two participants are asked to run 1 mile in 10mins. Person A is a regular gym goer (trained) person B never exercises (untrained). The untrained individual will actually burn more calories. The lack of fitness will lead to his / her body having to work harder to achieve that 10min mile. Once again in the ‘real world’ trained individual will ultimately be able to run faster, for longer, more often so although in this scenario Person A is at a disadvantage in reality it’s preferential to be fit!
Weight Training vs Cardio – During a typical session (let’s say 60mins) more energy will be expended doing cardio. However, in terms of post-exercise, weight training has been shown to elevate RMR for 24hrs+ allowing a greater calorie burn on subsequent days. Weight training will also promote the retention / gain of lean body mass which will in turn positively influence RMR in the long-term.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) – When we eat our RMR increases. This is not a surprise because it takes energy for our body to process and digest the nutrients coming into the system. When comparing protein, carbohydrates and fat it’s clear that protein scores highest in the TEF ratings:
Protein = (~15-30%)
Carbohydrate = (~5-10%)
Fat = (~0-3%)
A study from Mikkelsen et al compared subjects consuming a diet made up of 29% protein to subjects consuming 11% protein (both groups consumed an identical amount of calories). The higher protein group had a 891kJ/day higher RMR compared to their low protein counterparts. That equates to an extra 212kcal burned each day!
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – The final piece of the energy expenditure puzzle ‘NEAT‘ refers to:
“Everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.” – Levine (2002)
Examples include fidgeting, maintenance of posture, household chores, walking to work and whole host of subconscious activity we partake of on a daily basis. An individual with a manual job will likely have a higher NEAT output compared to his desk bound counterpart. It goes without saying that the calories expended through NEAT will be subject to huge individual variance.
Interestingly it appears that NEAT actually increases with overfeeding and decreases with underfeeding. This phenomenon is highlighted in the Levine (1999) study where participants were overfed 1000kcal a day for 8 weeks. The amount of weight gained varied 10-fold between individuals with NEAT being the primary influencing factor.
An individual who ‘activates’ NEAT will therefore be more resistant to putting on excess weight. Those less fortunate individuals with low NEAT will be predisposed to gaining excess fat with overfeeding.
Losing fat and losing weight are two different animals. The number on the scale is influenced directly by how much water you hold or lose. Significant swings in daily scale weight are usually explained by fluctuations in fluid balance but mistaken for fat loss / gain.
Jump on the scales and weigh yourself. Now down a 500ml bottle of water. Jump back on….congratulations you’ve just gained 1lb in scale weight. The same applies if you train for an hour without taking any fluid on board (that’s not a recommendation!); the scale weight will drop from pre-post workout (the exact amount will depend on how much you sweat, temperature, intensity etc).
These are examples of changes that happen over the course of minutes of maybe 1-3lbs. When we look at days-weeks the discrepancies are magnified further.
Anyone who has adopted an Atkins / low carb approach will testify to ‘amazing’ results in the first week of dieting. Anywhere from 3-7lbs is not uncommon (sometimes more for larger individuals).
But is the person losing 3-7lbs of fat?
When we eat carbohydrates the body stores these in the form of muscle glycogen. Every gram of glycogen is bound to 3 grams of water in the muscle. So you eat a meal containing 125g of carbs, you store the entirety (for arguments sake) in the muscle alongside 375g of water; thats an instant 1lb gained. This will be reflected with an increased scale weight that has nothing to do with fat gain.
Hydration status and carbohydrate intake are two key influencers on water weight that are relatively easy to explain. The genetic component is slightly less predictable; some people seem to be predisposed to retaining water. There are different mechanisms at play with increased stress being a huge contributor.
Training hard and dieting can be a stressful experience. Once you factor in the additional ‘stressors’ of work, family and social commitments this can be a recipe for significant water retention. A person may lose 1lb of body fat and gain 2 lbs of water weight in a week. They jump on the scales and see a net 1lb gain in bodyweight, this can be incredibly demoralising!
Energy Balance Equation – ‘Shifting the goal posts’
I’m going to take a random guinea pig…..we’ll call him Dave.
Let’s assume Dave is maintaining his weight at 3000kcal a day. He eats what he wants but largely follows the same pattern every week. He trains every week without fail; duration, frequency and intensity are all in place. Dave is essentially ‘Mr Consistent’.
One day Dave decides he wants to lose weight, he’s a stone heavier than he wants to be so would ideally like to drop 14lbs.
Dave drops 1lb a week for the first 3 weeks then hits a plateau…..but he’s still sticking to his diet!
What’s going on?
A series of changes as the body adapts to lower calories:
- As bodyweight decreases so does RMR
- Hormonal changes occur reducing RMR
- Less total calories = less TEF
- Less energy coming in to fuel workout intensity (TEA)
- Less energy coming in resulting in reduced NEAT
It becomes clear the Energy Balance Equation is far from static. The points above show how reducing the ‘energy in’ directly and indirectly influence ‘energy out’.
But this works both ways.
If Dave started ramping up the intensity and frequency of his workouts he’d burn more calories right?
What about the effect that workout has on NEAT? If Dave has smashed himself in the gym for 2 hours in the morning do you think he’s likely to move more or less in the evening? I’d predict he’ll be slightly more lethargic than normal; meaning less calories burned!
Again, using the scenario above; if Dave completes his monster workout on a Monday, what about his workout the following day? Will he be able to maintain intensity and achieve his typical calorie expenditure in that second session? Probably not.
Let’s also not ignore the massive impact increased activity can have on hunger. If workout intensity starts increasing the drive to eat will only be heading on one direction – up!
This is a clear example of one side of the equation effecting the other.
Calories count – the balance between energy in vs energy is the primary driver of weight loss (caloric deficit) and weight gain (caloric surplus).
Energy In – A diet higher in fibre is useful when dieting due to a reduction in total calories digested. There’s also a positive effect on appetite helping regulate energy intake.
Energy Out = RMR + TEA + TEF + NEAT – caloric burn is multifaceted. Trying to manipulate every variable may not be necessary but being aware they exist provides a greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms.
Water – shifts in fluid balance can lead to daily fluctuations on the scales mistakenly attributed to fat loss / gain. Water retention is highly individual with fat loss often occurring independent of a change in scale weight.
Metabolism: a ‘moving target’ – manipulating calories and training will have a cascade effect as the body strives to maintain homeostasis. Respecting the shifts in metabolism and adjusting the diet accordingly is absolutely key to long term success.
So you still want to lose weight?
Just eat less, move more….simple….
…..but not easy!!!