Sunday, November 21, 2010

The One Thing that Makes Weight Loss Stick

Ever started an exercise program to lose weight and start to gain weight?

Today, the talk is about muscles. There's more than just a number on the scale to think about.

So first, let’s talk about the original scenario...

New exerciser gains weight. Why?

Gained lean muscle mass is heavier than fat. It’s not a myth. It’s absolutely true.

But if weight loss is the ultimate goal… Why is this a good thing?

After all, you want to lose weight. Not train like a bodybuilder.

Three letters—BMR. What is this? Basal Metabolic Rate. Basically, it’s how much energy is used up by your body if you lay in bed all day long. The more muscles you have, the more energy is needed to feed them.

In other words, if you’re not about constricting your diet to water, greens and grapefruit, there’s help for losing weight—gain lean muscle mass. It’s much healthier and the weight usually stays off for longer.

So, if muscle mass can be gained, can it be lost?

Absolutely. It’s like Newton’s law. Things that grow also shrink. (Okay, not quite the same, but you get the picture.)Technically speaking, it’s atrophy.

How does muscle atrophy happen? And is it really bad?

It can happen a couple different ways.The first two ways are often the result of one person's attempt to lose weight...

1) Not enough total calories—for their size and activity.

Thus the body feeds on itself. You read that right. Our bodies are cannibals. Proteins inside muscle cells can be broken down for energy. You’re creating a toxic environment in your body if this happens too much and too often. (And you sure won't feel good.)

2) Not enough protein—for their size and activity.

This man or woman may be getting plenty of calories—maybe even excess calories, but if there is inadequate protein supply for muscle maintenance, it will feed itself again on the protein in existing muscle fibers. Again, toxic environment. And again, you won’t feel good. (Not too mention you’re losing your little fat-burning machine!)

3) Disuse, illness and aging.

Disuse results in poor muscle tone and likely more body fat.

Muscle lost during age and disease affects muscle composition—the different types of muscle fibers responsible for stamina, strength and endurance. As a result, less contraction and less tone, more body fat and less desire to be physically active.

Fortunately, exercise and nutrition can prevent muscle loss and in healthy individuals create stronger, toned muscles and thus, stronger, healthier bodies.

So muscle growth is good... Muscle loss is not...

But do you still hate the thought of getting all "bulky"?

As the National Federation of Personal Trainers writes in their certifying manual, the type of muscle fibers within each muscle group in both random and genetically predetermined proportions… Muscle tissue structure and shape are strictly genetic.

What’s that mean to you?

Basically, there are 3 types of muscle fibers: red slow twitch, red fast twitch and white fast twitch.

(Patience here. This will mean something in a second.)

People who have it in their DNA to have more white fast twitch muscle fibers—have more potential to get bigger, shapelier muscles. They are naturally strong and speedy.

But unless they train like the magazine models, working 5 to 6 times a week just on weight—even they won’t get that huge bulky muscles. A twice a week weight training routine just won't do that. And even light 5 times a week probably won't get them to their potential either.

On the other hand, it is possible to bulk up--but bulking is not all lean muscle; it includes fat. Be honest with yourself. Are you really gaining all lean muscle mass? If you're gaining muscle and fat, it's not your weight routine it's your nutrition. (Although, if you are a body builder, this is a positive thing. The shredding comes later.)

Now, let’s talk about people who genetically have more red fast twitch muscle fibers. These people are not going to experience the same growth results as their white-twitch-blessed friend. But they can be very strong and a natural choice for sports that require stamina, kickboxing and soccer for example.

And finally, there are those who have more red slow twitch fibers in their muscle composition. Their muscles, with the same routine as the red fast twitched friends will respond differently and will not likely ever reach anything that looks bulky. Their natural athletic ability is often endurance… By the way? All the best endurance runners incorporate some type of resistance training.

In fact, unless there’s some sort of injection, it’s physiologically impossible to change shape of your muscles. (Some of us will never have huge impressive ______ (fill-in-the-blank). Darn.)

Fortunately, a good weight training routine looks good on everyone—no matter their genetics. Combining increased muscle mass and decreased body fat is always a sure bet for fitness success.

So, what do you do with all this information?

Here are some thoughts... First, analyze your exercise program. Are you working on muscle tone?

Secondly, are you expecting results that are physiologically impossible.

Work out hard, incorporate resistance training, but accept the body you were born in. It’s beautiful and more importantly it can be sculpted, changed and beautified all the while staying strong through the ages.

Final note… In a 1993 study on Sarcopenia and Age-Related Changes in Body Composition
and Functional Capacity, researchers compared a group of (average) 69 year old athletes to similar athletes in their 20s. The athletes were categorized as: runners, swimmers, weight lifters.

The results? All of the older men had less strength than their 20-something counterparts, EXCEPT for the weight lifters. The older weight lifters were just as strong as the 20-somethings!

The take away—don’t forget about the muscles. Train them. Get those dumbbells out, use the machine, use your body weight. Strong muscles will help you...

1) Lose and maintain a healthy weight
2) Get (and keep) a better body shape
3) Retain strength for balancing (aging bring inevitable body changes)
4) Feel good --loss of strength contributes to feeling tired and weak.
5) Age slower and more gracefully.

Happy Thanksgiving all. And—talk about muscle disuse—-you have no excuse, I have a brand new body toning/sculpting class. Plan ahead and make appointments with fitness. Don’t let the holiday rush take you five steps back in your fitness goals.

Start 2011 strong. Call me. (231) 773-8926 or e-mail me at

Ask me about my classes or setting up a free initial consultation for one-on-one personal training. Accelerate the change!

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