When Bodyscan customers mention the nutritional element of their plans to lose body fat or gain muscle (and not many do), they often cite one or several of the following myths.
Look again at why these nutritional misconceptions may be undermining your fat loss efforts.
1. Eat organic food In a systemic review assessing the nutrition-related health effects of organic foods it was concluded that “evidence is lacking for nutrition-related health effects that result from the consumption of organically produced foodstuffs.” Money saver! Eating organic food without an energy deficit in place will not lead to body fat loss. Energy balance matters!
2. Eliminate carbohydrates An energy surplus or deficit determines the total amount of fat gained or lost over a 24-hour period and not the quantity of carbohydrates alone.
3. Do fasted cardio There is no plausible mechanism for it to be superior to fed cardio for fat loss once calorie intake is matched. The decision to do fasted cardio or not so be based on personal preference. Check out a more detailed explanation here.
4. Eat low fat An energy surplus or deficit determines the total amount of fat gained or lost over a 24-hour period and not the quantity of dietary fat alone.
5. Eat little and often Eating little and often and does not boost metabolism or ‘stoke the metabolic fire’. Meal frequency is relative to the amount of food consumed (metabolic response to eating correlates with volume of food). For fat loss, choose a meal frequency that suits personal preference, lifestyle, and one that leads to the greatest adherence.
6. Go on a detox diet To shed light on the popular surge in detox/cleansing diets to facilitate toxin elimination, researchers Klein and Kiat concluded that “there is no compelling evidence to support the use of detox diets for weight management or toxin elimination.” Save your money, folks - your liver and kidneys tend to do a pretty good job without the extra assistance!
7. Restrict food after 19.00 An energy surplus or deficit determines the total amount of fat gained or lost over 24-hour period and not some arbitrary time point. 100kcals at 18:59 is still 100kcals at 19:01. Pick a meal pattern that is in line with goals, preference, and lifestyle.
8. Go keto In a tightly controlled metabolic ward study published in 2016, there was no physiologically advantage in energy expenditure or body fat loss reported in response to a high carbohydrate baseline diet versus an isocaloric ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet may be a useful tool for some for fat loss and/or weight management but unnecessarily restrictive for most.
9. Remove sugar A study in overweight subjects found no significant differences in body fat levels between a low versus high sucrose diet (4% vs. 43% of total energy intake, respectively). Both calories and macronutrients were matched between groups. Again, this reiterates the point that for fat loss, energy balance matters! Choosing whole for the most part may be the process easier.
10. Eat breakfast Contrary to popular belief, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day and it does not kickstart your metabolism. If you are not hungry when you wake up and are looking to lose body fat, you don't need to force down a breakfast, particularly not a sub-optimal one (e.g. croissant and a large latte). Breakfast or no breakfast, make your first meal of the day a protein-packed nutritious one.
Adopting any one of the strategies highlighted may help you lose body fat, but only if doing so leads to a reduction in calorie intake and thus a sustained energy/calorie deficit over time.
Don’t feel you must to do any of the above to get fat loss results, particularly if it is undermining your progress – pick a strategy that you enjoy, suits your lifestyle and be consistent. Adherence trumps all.
Bodyscan Consultant and Nutritionist
There is still some debate as to whether fasted cardio is superior to fed cardio for fat loss (once total calories and protein are matched).
The general premise behind performing cardio after an overnight fast is that it accelerates fat loss more than if you completed the same work in a fed state.
To shed light on the topic, Schoenfeld and colleagues tested body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise in 20 healthy females who were randomly assigned to either group.
Following four weeks of aerobic exercises during dieting conditions (ie, being in an energy deficit), both groups lost body weight and fat mass. The key finding was that there were no significant between-group differences shown in any outcome measure. Put simply, the fasted group did not lose significantly more body fat compared to the fed group.
If that's the case, what is behind the idea that fasted cardio could be superior for fat loss?
For that to be the case, fasted exercise would have to achieve one of the following:
• Affect 24-hr energy expenditure so that the energy/calorie deficit is increased
• Suppress appetite leading to a reduction in calorie intake
• Have a protein-sparing effect delivering higher retention of fat-free mass (and therefore making a higher proportion of the weight-loss to be fat)
None of these conditions have been shown to be true!
Interestingly, a recent study on skipping breakfast before resistance training found a reduction in performance on the bench press and back squat. The male participants were resistance-trained and habitual breakfast eaters, providing solid evidence that fasted resistance-training performance among those who normally have breakfast may be compromised over the short term.
If you prefer, and feel better, training fasted without any comprise on performance, then go for it! But if you feel terrible training fasted and/or are only doing so for the proposed fat loss benefits, reconsider your strategy and include a meal/snack/shake beforehand instead. Fat loss will not differ once total calorie and protein intake remain the same. As always, for fat loss success, consistency and patience is key!
Bodyscan Consultant and Nutritonist
I typically start my Bodyscan consultations with the question "Why do you want to have a scan?", to which the answer is usually "I want to lose body fat and check my progress until I reach my target."
When I ask if the client has some sort of plan to achieve the fat-loss, the client invariably says they are going to do one or more (or even all!) of the following:
After which, I usually say the F-word out loud.
Because in perhaps 95% of cases, the client never mentions food at all.
And that's not a good start because, whatever anyone tries to tell you, exercise and activity is NOT the best strategy for shedding body fat. It certainly helps and it's something we should all do more of. Certainly, we were not made to sit at desks or in cars for most of our waking hours, and being sedentary is a huge contributor to the woeful statistics on obesity and its related diseases.
Further, exercise has been shown to improve mood and sleep, reduce anxiety, keep us mobile for longer and enhance overall wellbeing. Plus, of course, by doing exercise, we become fitter, stronger, more flexible and burn more calories, which can contribute to a calorie (energy) deficit over time. A calorie deficit occurs when we consume fewer calories than we expend. A sustained calorie deficit is essential for losing body fat.
But as a PRIMARY strategy for reducing body fat, exercise is not nearly as effective as focusing on nutrition (ie, 'what' but more importantly 'how much' we eat) because it takes a hell of a lot of exercise to burn even a relatively small number of calories.
Consider this - an hour's running on a treadmill may burn 400-600 calories. But there are 525 calories in a Pret BLT sandwich and 600 calories in just one small bag (100g) of 'healthy' almonds. So an hour of hard slog can be wiped out with a quick snack.
Equality in action
When it comes to efficiency, it is far easier and quicker (instant, in fact) to reduce calorie intake via food (by eating less of it) than it is to exert yourself for long periods. Moreover, particularly if you are not used to it, having done the vigorous exercise, you may feel hungrier than if you had not. In that sense, using exercise as your prime weapon against body fat could be self-defeating.
(At this point it may be worth drawing a distinction between cardiovascular and resistance exercise. Bodycan clients’ best fat-loss results come from a combination of calorie-cutting and weights-based training. It is still true that the exercise does not burn many calories (an hour of weights in the gym may burn around only 300 calories) but the muscle-building effect of resistance work improves the ‘quality’ of the weight loss – in other words, most if not all of the weight loss is fat. We recently had a client who lost 21kg of weight and a staggering 20kg of it was pure fat. Achieved through aggressive calorie-cutting and a disciplined resistance programme five to six days every week to preserve muscle.)
While exercise itself may not burn many calories, we are not for a moment suggesting you don't do it. Far from it! Exercise is good for you. Whether you schedule formal exercise in your day, play team sports or simply walk rather than drive, moving is good for mind, body and soul. But if you are looking to lose body fat, use nutrition as your primary weapon to reduce your energy intake, do some weights to maintain lean mass and use exercise to increase the gap between the number of calories you consume and the number you expend.
When it comes to F-words, focus on food for faster fat-loss!
If you want to improve your body composition (lose body fat and/or gain muscle), you should focus on achieving consistent, good-quality sleep.
Sleep is essential for mood, energy levels and performance. Slow-wave or 'deep' sleep is restorative and promotes anabolic processes in the body that help to build new muscle tissue and promote recovery after exercise.
Conversely, a lack of sleep or sleep deficiency can have many adverse side-effects, such as hindering exercise recovery and reducing exercise-induced adaptations (eg, the ability to gain muscle or get fitter).
From a fat loss perspective, sleep deficiency is associated with an increase in calorie consumption and a decrease in activity and exercise levels, which will ultimately lead to fat gain over time.
Insufficient sleep has also been shown to lead to unfavourable body composition results with a greater loss of lean mass during intentional calorie restriction. Similarly, sleep restriction can negatively affect appetite control through its impact on hormones that are associated with hunger, satiety and food reward, meaning you’re more likely to eat too much.
In a highly controlled, metabolic ward study on 12-healthy young males, researchers found that fragmented sleep (induced by repeated alarms at 90-minute intervals over one night) reduced rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep more than the normal, non-fragmented sleep.
Due to effects on hunger hormones, the fragmented sleep group reported less fullness and a greater desire to eat. Not what you want when your goal is to lose body fat! Interestingly, reduced REM sleep is associated with being overweight, further suggesting that REM sleep may influence appetite regulation.
Good sleep quality (with respect to timing, duration & intensity) on a consistent basis, however, can improve memory, cognition and increase total energy expenditure (meaning it’s easier to keep your weight under control.
Here are some simple but effective tips to help ensure good quality sleep:
As well as the positive effect of good-quality sleep on mood, memory and wellbeing, good sleeping habits can assist fat-loss and overall body composition.
It works the other way too – losing body fat and attaining a healthier weight can improve sleep quality and duration. A ‘virtuous circle’ of better sleep and better health!
Bodyscan Consultant and Nutritionist
A change in body tissue mass is most closely related to energy balance over time. As such, reducing carbohydrates is one viable method to initiate fat loss if it leads to a prolonged energy/calorie deficit over time. Carbohydrates alone are not inherently fattening.
Of course, carbohydrates can contribute to fat gain if in an energy/calorie surplus: indirectly by blunting fat oxidation (the burning of fatty acids for fuel) or directly via 'de novo lipogenesis' (the process of converting carbohydrates to fats). De novo lipogenesis is, however, an energy-costly process and does not occur in most real-life scenarios. Dietary fat, on the other hand, does not need to be converted and is stored in adipose tissue far more efficiently.
At this point it is important to differentiate between fat burning (i.e. fat oxidation) and loss of body fat. For most people, the term 'fat-burning' will simply mean that you’re losing body fat. For those who have a deeper understanding of human physiology, fat burning can be viewed as slang for fat oxidation. Fat oxidation occurs when we oxidise fatty acids to generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which can be used for energy production.
Key point - just because you are burning more fat for fuel (eg, on a high-fat and/or ketogenic diet) does not necessarily mean we are burning the fat that is stored in our fat tissue and thus losing body fat. Remember, changes in body fat tissue are most closely related to energy balance over time and as a result body fat loss will be determined by net fat balance (fat storage minus fat oxidation). So, yes, although you do burn more fat on a high-fat diet, you have more of it to burn.
A classic study by Hall and colleagues in a tightly controlled setting showed that carbohydrate restriction was not physiologically advantageous for fat loss. The study took place in a metabolic ward and looked to compare the effect of different carbohydrate and fat intakes on energy intake, output, and substrate balance while holding calories and protein constant during hypocaloric conditions (30% energy deficit). Interestingly, net fat balance was reduced to a greater extent in the restricted fat group i.e. subjects who restricted fat intake lost more body fat, albeit ~36g/day.
A more recent, year-long randomised control trial found that a low-carb and a low-fat diet produced similar weight loss and improvement in health markers. Insulin production was also found to have no impact on predicting weight loss success. The results of this study contribute to a large body of evidence suggesting that, for fat loss, neither low-carb nor low-fat is superior – once total calorie intake and protein intake are equated.
If insulin and carbohydrate consumption alone were truly the cause of fat gain and therefore a major contributor towards the obesity-epidemic, then why are there numerous tribes across the world who eat high carbohydrate diets and are devoid of obesity-related diseases? Some examples include the Okinawans of Japan, Kitavans of the Pacific Islands, and Kuna Indians in Panama. The Kitavans, who consume a diet with almost 70% of calories coming from carbohydrates, are described ‘by extreme leanness (despite food abundance)’.
With overwhelming evidence showing no meaningful difference between a low-fat diet and a low-carb for fat loss success, the question remains, why do so many people get fantastic fat loss results going on a low-carb diet?
It is important to acknowledge that restricting carbs from the diet leads to a reduction in a whole host of calorie-dense goodies: eg, pizza, burgers, biscuits, pastries, doughnuts, to name but a few… note - these foods contain dietary fat too! The combination of both dietary fat and carbohydrate together, positively impacts the palatability of a food. The tastier and/or more rewarding a certain food is, the easier it is to over-consume.
Restricting foods similar to the examples listed above, can often automatically improve the nutrient density/quality of the diet. Additionally, consuming less carbohydrate may have the added benefit of increasing total dietary protein intake. Increasing protein intake can lead to a spontaneous reduction in total calories, creating an energy imbalance. As a result, fat loss shortly ensues.
The truth is that cutting carbs can be a viable fat loss strategy for some, if it helps you eat less. If, however, cutting carbs negatively affects your performance, makes you feel miserable, moody, and always hunger, you should consider alternative options.
To summarise, adherence is the make or break of dieting success and the biggest predictor for long-term weight maintenance. Dietary strategies that optimise adherence should be the primary focus for those looking to lose body fat. This process can be enhanced by regular professional contact and guidance, to help implement bespoke behaviour and lifestyle modifications to support one’s goals.
A low-carbohydrate diet is simply a tool in the fat loss toolbox and works wonders for some. Is it an absolute necessity for fat loss success for everyone, in every situation? Definitely not!
Nutritionist & Bodyscan Consultant
Should I be consuming protein or carbs after a workout? Or both? Which macro is more important for muscle building or are they equally?
Protein is by far the most important macro for muscle building, which is why people can build muscle on a ketogenic (high fat, low carb) diet.
But while the hype is always around post-workout nutrition (recovery and protein shakes), in my opinion it is your pre-workout nutrition that’s more important. What you consumer before your workout will be in your system and available when it’s needed.
There isn’t a requirement for food directly after training it should be said. When you train, you up-regulate protein synthesis (the building of new protein in the muscle) but this lasts for hours post training so there is no urgent or frantic rush to down a protein shake as soon as you finish.
That said, to optimise results I would have the protein serving before training (30-40g between 60-90 mins pre training) and then have the same again within two hours of finishing training. It makes sense to add some carbohydrate to the post-workout feed to aid muscle repair and restore muscle glycogen but is not essential.
A lot of Bodyscan clients looking to build muscle mass say they do their gym workout fasted but this is something I advise against.
Protein is the building block for muscle. Therefore it is an advantage to have it in your system and available during your workout. This will avoid extra protein breakdown and promote recovery straight away.
No one wants to work out on a full stomach, so an easily digestible source, such as 30g of whey protein in a shake would be ideal, consumed about 60-90 minutes before your session. If you train in the morning (which is why most people train fasted) then the window will necessarily be smaller.
Carbs and fats are not essential and down to personal preference. Weight training doesn’t require a huge amount of glycogen like endurance training does, so there isn’t a requirement for carbohydrate intake beforehand. Some people find that eating carbs before training makes them feel less energetic (“carb coma”) whereas others find that pre-training carbs make them feel stronger, so consume as required.
If you’re one of those for whom carbs make you sluggish but you want some more energy, you could look into adding some fats to your pre workout meal. This could be 20 grams of nuts or 90% dark chocolate.
One substance I would definitely recommend before hitting the gym (in the morning, at least) is caffeine. It has been shown to improve strength and concentration, so it’s no surprise that caffeine is the main ingredient in most pre-workout supplements. A cup of coffee or a caffeine pill is much cheaper (and usually just as effective) than those hugely expensive tubs of flavoured powder.
Somewhere between 100-400mg of caffeine is a good dose depending on your build and tolerance. See what works for you. [As a guide there are 270mg of caffeine in a Costa flat white, 160mg in one at Starbucks, 80mg in a 250ml can of Red Bull and about 60mg in a Nespresso capsule.]
Stimulants in the evening are not a good idea as they can negatively impact sleep. The half-life for caffeine is roughly 6 hours (varies from person to person) so avoid caffeine about 6-8 hours before bed.
When are they going to prep a week of meals and get to the gym for an hour each day?
It's obviously good to be enthusiastic, determined and committed to your fat-loss plan. But many people approach the task with an all-or- nothing mentality that is totally at odds with their current lifestyle.
It is not uncommon for a Bodyscan client who barely exercises and makes terrible food choices to commit themselves to a plan which involves exercising for more than an hour every day and a nutrition plan that requires them to spend the same amount of time cooking.
It makes no sense to embark on a plan that doesn't fit with your lifestyle. If you rarely get up before 8.30am, being in the gym every morning at six is never going to work!
When diets and health-kicks fail, the most popular excuses are that "life got in the way" and "I travel a lot for my job". Which are other ways of saying you completely ignored your lifestyle and embarked on a programme that was never going to work.
When are you going to prepare a week's meals and get to the gym for five hours a week?
If you have a busy job and a family, you need a food plan that you can feed to your kids instead of cooking two sets of meals.
If you travel frequently (or never cook) you need to make good food choices from what's available. You don't have to have dessert or drink all those fine wines in business class.
A well-designed fat-loss strategy should achieve your goal by becoming part of the way you live your life - avoiding doing things you really don't enjoy, making it easy to keep below maintenance calories and including exercise that you can commit to easily for the long term.
Your plan should enhance and complement your life, not adversely impact it. Don't make things hard for yourself. You're far more likely to succeed if you fit your plan to your lifestyle rather than attempt a handbrake turn.
Here's a clue: Eating late rarely means salad!
While the evidence is mixed regarding meal timing and fat loss, the key point to understand when debunking the ‘eating late automatically leads to fat gain’ myth, is the principle surrounding body weight gain and body weight loss.
Put simply, the total amount of body fat gained or lost over a prolonged period depends on whether you are in an energy/calorie surplus or deficit and not due to the consumption of a certain food after an arbitrary time-period. Once total calories (and protein) are matched, there will be no meaningful difference in terms of body fat between meal eaten at different times.
The late-night-eating myth likely stemmed from anecdotal reports among certain individuals consuming high calorie dense foods and snacks at night when at home watching television. If these eating habits lead to a chronic energy/calorie surplus, an increase in body fat will occur. Without an understanding of energy, it is easy to point the blame at meal timing rather than the greater influx of calories as the primary cause for body fat gain (remember, fat loss and fat gain are determined by energy balance).
The best advice I can give is to experiment and find a meal pattern (meal timing and frequency) that works for you. Don’t be put off by the time of day once total calories are controlled and in-line with your goals.
• Individual variations with respect to circadian rhythm (your 24-hour internal clock) require consideration with any approach towards calorie distribution with some research suggesting that regular eating patterns may result in beneficial effects for certain metabolic health markers.
• Similarly, it may be wise to avoid having a large meal right before bed as this can negatively impact sleep. Large meals consumed very close to bedtime are associated with sleep disturbance. Sleep decreases the activity of the digestive tract, which may become overloaded during the night if food intake is excessive. If you want to optimise your fat loss results, sleep quantity and quality need to be prioritised.
Conclusion – eating late at night does not automatically lead to fat gain unless it contributes towards a net energy/calorie surplus. As with all successful dietary strategies for fat loss, choosing a meal pattern that suits personal preference, lifestyle, goals and one that leads to the greatest adherence trumps all!
You'll put on fat 50% faster with the "healthy" organic pine nuts
A constant refrain from Bodyscan customers, when asked about their nutrition, is that they "eat healthy" or "eat clean" or "make everything from scratch".
Fresh, unprocessed foods taste good and are better for us but if you eat too much of anything, the excess calories will make you fat.
'Healthy fats' like extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, for example, may well have health benefits but they are very calorie-dense. One tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories. Add three spoonfuls to your salad and that's an easily-overlooked 360 calories.
Nuts and seeds are described as healthy additions to a diet but they are extremely high in calories. Just 100g of almonds or sunflower seeds contains 600 calories, while walnuts and pine nuts have 700 - equivalent to three jacket potatoes, a large portion of paella or 250g of tiramisu.
If you consider a lot of women on a diet aim for 1200-1400 calories a day, these so-called healthy foods will quickly eat into your target and leave you hungry.
Freshly made juices and fruit smoothies should also be treated with caution. Basically liquid sugar, these high-calorie 'healthy' drinks can create a big sugar spike followed by a dip, leading to hunger pangs that may force you to break your diet.
The ‘fat-burning zone’ is when your body uses fat to fuel exercise as opposed to carbohydrates. When exercising, as you shift from lower to higher intensities, the amount of fat versus carbohydrate shifts from one to the other. At low intensities, you burn almost entirely fat, whereas at the highest intensities, you burn almost entirely carbohydrates. Anywhere in between, you burn a proportion of the two.
For the most part, however, the amount of fat and/or carbohydrate you burn during exercise is likely irrelevant for fat loss. Why? Because body fat loss will be determined by net fat balance (fat storage minus fat oxidation) and will not occur without an energy/calorie deficit in place.
If fat loss is the primary goal, make nutrition the priority and have weight training support it. In terms of utilising cardio for fat loss, I recommend picking what you enjoy. Cardio can be used as a tool in the fat loss arsenal if needed.
Given the fact that lower intensity exercise such as walking carries a lower injury risk and a lower requirement for cardiovascular fitness compared to a high-intensity type exercise, it may be a more feasible approach for people who are overweight or obese. This in turn may improve adherence – which is one of the biggest predictors of fat loss success.
Nurtitonist and Bodyscan Consultant
For optimal muscle building (hypertrophy), most sets will fall somewhere between five and 20 reps per set as long as they are performed close to failure. Failure is defined as the point where you can’t perform another additional rep with good technique.
Generally speaking, lower reps lead to greater strength, whereas higher reps encourage muscle growth. Below five reps will lead to good strength increases but very little muscle growth (and we see this in powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters who return to Bodyscan with new personal bests but little, if any, increase in muscle mass).
Above 20 reps, the muscle adapts and becomes better at endurance and contracting at low levels for long periods. Consider a marathon runner who is, in effect, doing thousands of reps – endurance athletes like these have very low muscle mass.
You may have heard of slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibres. There may be some debate about whether there are just two types of fibre but it is accepted that slow-twitch fibres are built for endurance (the runner), while fast-twitch fibres are optimised for strength and power.
Slow-twitch endurance fibres are smaller than fast-twitch, which is why your training regime should focus on maximising stimulus on the bigger, fast-twitch type; slow-twitch fibres contribute less to muscle hypertrophy, which is why endurance athletes are skinny.
The ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibres we each have varies based on our genetics and our usual activity but it is not set in stone. How you train (your weights and reps) will encourage the increase and development of one or the other type of muscle fibre. So a runner can become a boxer (and vice versa) by changing the way they train and increasing the number of slow- or fast-twitch fibres in their muscles.
The way the body responds to different weights and rep ranges is why doing 10 reps of 20kg will not have the same effect as 200 reps of 1kg.
As for where in the 5-20 rep range you should aim for, different muscle groups and individuals respond differently, so I advocate some variety. You may feel different muscles really “working” at different ranges and giving you the best ‘pump’. Also, generally speaking, big compound movements (like squat and deadlift) lend themselves to lower ranges, while isolation exercises that target small muscles (like lateral raises and bicep curls) respond better to higher reps.
Injury prevention is very important in a successful weight training regime and so performing all your exercises with lower reps (below 8) would increase your risk. We see that muscle mass is more adaptive and faster to strengthen than connective tissue (tendons and ligaments). Adding in some higher rep work (15-20 reps per set) will allow lower loads to be lifted, less stress on the connective tissue leading to a lower injury risk whilst still maintaining the benefits for muscle growth on the muscle.
Muscle growth is an adaptive response and therefore in my opinion, it makes sense to have a variety of rep targets within the 5-20 rep range across the week of training. Just doing 10 reps for every set is likely to yield less of an adaptive response from the body as the body is receiving the same stimulus and it is the adaptation which causes muscles to grow.
In summary, keeping all sets between 5-20 reps and varying the rep target across your weekly training regime will see you yielding good results.
However, with all the above said, what matters more is the quality of your exercise. If your form is bad (and you are using momentum or gravity to move the weight, or not working the muscles the exercise was designed to stimulate) then you are wasting your time and the rep range becomes irrelevant!
Body Transformation Programme - click here
OK, mister, but where are you for the other 167 hours a week?
Many people can't understand why they aren’t losing body fat even though they’re eating less than they burn. The simple, inescapable, unassailable fact is this: if you are not losing weight you are not in a calorie deficit!
That means you'e either eating more or doing less than you think - or both. Here are two common ways to go wrong.
1. You think you’re more active than you actually are
Time and time again, Bodyscan clients will describe themselves as "pretty active" or select "moderately active" on the Bodyscan calculator. In truth, most of us are overwhelmingly sedentary.
Look at it this way - there are 168 hours in a week, so doing three one-hour workouts or exercise classes amounts to just 1.8% of your week. If for the rest of the time you don't walk, run or cycle to work, you sit at a desk, watch TV, eat and sleep, you are little more than "sedentary".
Easy to forget. And hard to remember. Weekends count, unfortunately.
2. Forgetting weekends
Many people religiously track their calories during the week but then blow everything at the weekend with high-calorie takeaways, alcohol and meals out.
If your daily calorie intake for your diet should be 1500 (and let's say that's a deficit of 500 calories from a maintenance of 2000 calories per day) you should lose about 1lb of fat each week.
But if you eat 3250 calories on each day of the weekend (a blowout of 1750) your average daily calories over the week are 2000 (ie, maintenance). That completely wipes out any deficit and means you won't lose any weight at all.
If you think the 1750-calorie blowout seems far-fetched, it's less than one Sainsbury's 500g pizza, two pints of bitter and 150g of vanilla ice cream!
Download our free ebook - '10 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Fat'
Spuds don't make you fat unless you eat too many of them
In a paper published last year, titled ‘Is there an optimal diet for weight management and metabolic health?’, the authors rather refreshingly concluded that ‘Human beings prefer things to be simple, and therefore there is a desire to pinpoint the one best diet that solves everything’. The harsh reality, however, is that ‘there is no one size fits all strategy that will work for everyone’.
Before we delve into the scientific literature and address some of the popular claims surrounding low-carb diets, let’s first acknowledge the principle for body fat loss and gain. Meaningful changes in body composition are most closely related to energy balance over time. Thus, the fundamental principle governing meaningful fat loss is adherence to an appropriate and sustained energy (calorie) deficit.
In simple terms, if we expend (burn) more calories than we consume, we expect body fat levels to reduce. Many dismiss this fat loss principle, claiming that there are alternative factors of greater importance at play and that energy balance is not the primary determinant with regards changes in body fat levels.
Bodyscan has a great many clients who have achieved consistent – even remarkable – fat loss with a low-carb and/or high-fat diet. Some of them believe a low-carb diet is superior to a high(er) carb one. Specifically, many low-carb/high-fat proponents believe that ‘insulin causes fat storage and a diet with low-carbohydrate reduces insulin, ergo more body fat loss’.
But the insulin argument just doesn’t hold water. Or fat!
Insulin is a storage hormone that regulates the levels of glucose in your blood. Following a carbohydrate-containing meal, insulin is released from the pancreas allowing the glucose in your blood to enter your liver, muscle and fat cells. What’s important is that insulin can be secreted by both carbohydrates and protein. In fact, one study found beef to be as potent a stimulator of insulin as brown rice.
Insulin levels are regulated throughout the day in response to meals; it goes up during the hours after a meal and back down during fasting or extended periods between meals.
Many low-carbers have read that insulin inhibits the breakdown of body fat (lipolysis) and stimulates the creation of fat (lipogenesis). Although true from a mechanistic standpoint, changes in body fat are determined by net fat balance (fat storage minus fat oxidation) over the course of days/weeks/months. That is, the total amount of body fat gained depends on whether you are in a calorie surplus or calorie deficit.
The process of converting carbohydrates to fats (known as 'de novo lipogenesis') is an energy-costly process and does not occur in most realistic scenarios. Dietary fat, on the other hand, does not need to be converted and is stored in adipose tissue far more efficiently.
Carbohydrates will contribute to fat gain if they’re part of a diet that leads to an excessive calorie intake (calorie surplus) over time.
A study by Hall and colleagues finally put a nail in the insulin-hypothesis coffin.
In a tightly controlled setting (in a metabolic ward), the study showed that carbohydrate restriction was not advantageous for fat loss. With calories and protein constant during a 30% calorie deficit, subjects who restricted fat intake lost a little more body fat than those who restricted carbohydrate.
A more recent, year-long randomised control trial found that a low-carb and a low-fat diet produced similar weight loss and improvement in health markers. Insulin production was also found to have no impact on predicting weight loss success. The results of this study contribute to a large body of evidence suggesting that, for fat loss, neither low-carb nor low-fat is superior – once total calorie intake and protein intake are equated.
If insulin and carbohydrate consumption on their own were truly the cause of the obesity-epidemic, why are there numerous tribes across the world who eat high carbohydrate diets and are devoid of obesity-related diseases? Some examples include the Okinawans of Japan, Kitavans of the Pacific Islands, and Kuna Indians in Panama. The Kitavans, who consume a diet with about 70% of calories coming from carbohydrates, are described ‘by extreme leanness (despite food abundance)’.
If this is your daily carb intake, of course you'll get fat
But with overwhelming evidence showing no meaningful difference between a low-fat diet and a low-carb for fat loss success, why do so many people (Bodyscan clients among them) get fantastic fat loss results going on a low-carb diet?
Well, restricting carbs from the diet leads to a reduction in a whole host of calorie-dense foods: pizza, burgers, biscuits, pastries and doughnuts, to name but a few. And don’t forget that all of these foods contain dietary fat too! The combination of both dietary fat and carbohydrate together makes things tasty, and the more rewarding a food is, the easier it is to over-consume.
Restricting foods like those above can often automatically improve the nutrient density/quality of the diet. Additionally, consuming fewer carbs may result in an increase in protein intake, which in turn can lead to a reduction in total calories, creating an energy imbalance. As a result, fat loss shortly ensues.
The best diet is the one you can stick to, so if cutting carbs helps you eat less and it works for you then keep doing it. But if reducing carbs negatively affects your performance, makes you feel miserable, moody, craving bread, rice and pasta and always hungry, consider some alternatives.
A low-carb diet works wonders for some. Is it an absolute necessity for fat loss and does it guarantee success for everyone, in every situation? Definitely not!
Bodyscan Consultant and Nutritionist
“Pack on the muscle and torch that fat!!”
“Turn yourself into a fat-burning inferno!!”
So scream the headlines and advertisements from just about every muscle and fitness mag you lay eyes on.
The story goes that you can increase your metabolism by 50 to 100 calories per day for every pound of muscle gained. It’s a line that’s been repeated so often by so many that it is taken as gospel, without questioning.
If your gym buddies (or, worse, your personal trainer) repeat the line that muscle gain significantly increases your metabolism, tell them to read this (or better yet, the scientific evidence) and stop perpetuating a myth.
Firstly, metabolism is often referred to as ‘metabolic rate’ or ‘resting metabolic rate’ (RMR).
RMR is just one component of energy expenditure and is, put simply, the number of calories (amount of energy) required to maintain the body’s most basic functions whilst at rest, and accounts for approximately 70% of total energy expenditure in sedentary individuals. (And if you think you have a high or slow metabolism, that’s a myth too!)
Although increasing muscle mass does have a minor effect on RMR, the magnitude of this is hugely overplayed. According to the scientific evidence, the number of calories burned by 1 pound of muscle at rest is approximately 6 calories per day, a far cry from the often touted 50 calories. (In metric that’s 13 calories per kilogram of muscle tissue per day.)
(By comparison, this study found that one pound of fat tissue burns approximately two calories per day at rest, whereas a pound of heart (yes, your heart) burns around 200 calories per day at rest. Indeed, the study labels the heart, kidneys, liver and brain as ‘high metabolic rate’ organs, and skeletal muscle and body fat both as ‘low metabolic rate’ organs.)
This means that if you gain 10 pounds (4.5kg) of muscle your RMR will go up by about 60 calories. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense – if increases in muscle mass (hypertrophy) had a significant impact on RMR, this would require a substantial increase in food intake to survive.
While rippling muscles may not turn you into a “fat-burning inferno” there is an elevation in oxygen consumption, termed excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) for over 24 hours post-exercise. This elevated response (the “after-burn”) equates to about 50-100 calories, and is due to an increase in protein synthesis (muscle building) and remodelling within the muscle tissue to adapt and recover.
With all the above said, we have to be mindful of results from the lab versus real-life scenarios. Specifically, an increase in muscle mass will also see an increase in total body weight which will have a small increase in your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Because you weigh more, you will burn more calories moving around and doing daily tasks. Having more muscle will also mean being able to train with heavier loads, again increasing recovery demands and the calories needed to recover from this.
These real-world consequences mean that the increase in total daily energy expenditure is greater than 6 calories per pound, though probably still not as high as the oft-quoted 50-100 calories.
Your total daily energy expenditure is essentially your resting metabolic rate plus the energy requirement from your daily activity. TDEE is more important than resting metabolic rate as TDEE is what you will base your calorie intake on. For example, two people could have the same RMR of 1600 calories but their different levels of activity and exercise mean that one could have a TDEE of 2200 cals and the other person a TDEE of 2600 cals. This would mean they each have significantly different calorie requirements to maintain weight, lose fat or gain muscle.
Regardless of what muscle does in the battle against fat and in terms of RMR, it’s important to emphasise that gains in muscle mass and the resistance exercise performed to achieve those gains provide numerous unique benefits for both appearance and performance. What’s more, building muscle can increase bone density, improve posture/mobility and quality of life. At Bodyscan we are very much in favour of resistance training.
To conclude, although intensive resistance exercise with heavy weights can lead to an increase in the body’s metabolic rate within the hours or days post-workout, when at rest or outside of that window muscle tissue by itself contributes very little to the body’s resting metabolic rate.
This blog was updated with the three paragraphs in purple on 3rd June.
Written by Kevin Garde, Nutritionist and Bodyscan Consultant
A popular notion among many dieters is that some people are blessed with a fast metabolism, meaning they can eat whatever they want without gaining significant weight. (Or, conversely, a slow metabolism that makes it hard to stay slim and easy to put on fat.)
We’ve all heard such comments and maybe even said it about ourselves, but does this idea really hold true?
Resting metabolic rate (RMR) simply refers to the amount of energy required by your bodily organs to stay alive and accounts for approximately 70% of total energy expenditure in sedentary individuals. With that in mind, is it possible that lean individuals have a higher or ‘faster’ metabolic rate when compared to those who struggle with maintaining or losing weight?
Although there can indeed be differences in RMR between individuals, the difference is a lot less than often assumed. In fact, most people, at a given body weight, will remain within a range of just 100-300 kcal/day (the equivalent of a chocolate bar) to sustain the body’s most basic functions.
And contrary to popular belief, individuals who have excess body fat have a higher metabolic rate due to carrying a heavier body mass.
The greater discrepancy among sedentary individuals and the most variable component of total daily energy expenditure is 'non-exercise activity thermogenesis' or NEAT.
NEAT involves spontaneous activities such as fidgeting, maintaining one’s posture, walking etc. and has been shown to be significantly more responsible for an individual’s likelihood to gain weight.
One classic overfeeding study found that NEAT can account for a ten-fold difference in body fat accumulation (0.36kg to 4.23kg) over an eight-week period, despite participants being over-fed the exact same number of calories.
Age can also affect metabolic rate, which decreases slightly in later years. Part of this decline is simply an effect of the age-related loss of lean body mass, coupled with a reduction in overall activity and food intake. Getting older, however, does not have to be synonymous with a decrease in metabolic rate. Interestingly, the decline in RMR with age does not seem to occur in those who maintain exercise volume and/or energy intake to match their younger counterparts.
To sum up, it is true that some people find it harder than others to lose body fat but the idea that it’s down to your metabolism is almost certainly false, at least for the vast majority. That's why 'eat less and move more' is still the best advice if you want to lose body fat.
Written by Kevin Garde, Nutritionist and Bodyscan Consultant
As surely as night follows day, January will see gyms everywhere packed with newbies as resolutions to fight the flab take hold. Treadmills, cross-trainers and rowing machines that lay idle in December will attract queues of new members impatient to shed the results of their festive over-indulgence.
If you're planning on being one of those newbies (or you've become one already), here is one big reason why you shouldn't join a gym and another big one why you should.
But before that, recognise that you did NOT become overweight between Christmas and New Year! It actually happened between January and December! Putting on fat is due to consistently being in an energy surplus (consuming more calories from food and drink than you expend in all your activity) over an extended period of time.
If you ate an excess of 500 calories a day for the two weeks of Christmas you'd gain just two pounds (less than a kilo) of body fat. But continue that habit until NEXT Christmas and you'd put on 23.5kg, almost four stone, in fat.
1. DON'T join a gym to lose fat
Regular exercise is great for us. It improves our mood, self-esteem, energy levels and sleep quality. It reduces stress and the risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, dementia and depression.
Further, if we are inactive we burn barely more calories than our bodies use to just tick over and it's very easy therefore to be in an energy (calorie) surplus and start storing body fat.
HOWEVER, for a lot of people joining a gym to spend an hour on the treadmill or rower is NOT the best way to get rid of body fat. In fact, it can prove to be a very poor strategy for weight loss.
Why? Because it takes a HELL OF A LOT of exercise to burn a significant number of calories, which are wiped out the next time you put food in your mouth.
Almost regardless of the speed at which you run, an average person will burn about 100 calories per mile. An hour on the treadmill at 10 minutes per mile will therefore burn about 600 calories.
LUNCH AT PRET: 720 calories. AN HOUR ON THE TREADMILL: 600 calories.
If you then lunch on a Pret chicken and avocado sandwich (484 calories) your lunchtime calorie deficit is almost gone. Add a 'healthy' Berry Blast smoothie (240 calories) and you can see that your slog in the gym wasn't quite the fat-burner you'd hoped.
Of course, you shouldn't be thinking about a calorie surplus or deficit on a meal-by-meal basis (see point 3 below) but rather of your total energy balance on a daily or weekly basis.
Other reasons why exercise may not be a good fat-burning strategy for you:
1. If you don't actually like doing scheduled activities (like running, rowing or swimming) then the chances are you'll give them up.
2. If you have a busy job, putting aside 45-60minutes every day could be very hard to achieve.
3. If you're new to exercise and you're using it to reduce body fat, it can lead you into a mindset where you end up trying to offset or mitigate the effects of exercise with food, along the lines of: “I just burned 600 calories on the treadmill so I can eat more now.” That way of thinking is almost certain to put you back into a calorie surplus.
4. Exercising makes a lot people hungry, so you could end up eating more than you normally would and putting yourself into an even bigger overall calorie surplus than if you hadn't gone to the gym in the first place.
LESSON: Rather than try and 'burn' calories through formal, scheduled exercise, it is much more effective and infinitely quicker to simply not eat the calories in the first place. In other words, use nutrition as your prime weapon in the fight against fat.
That certainly doesn't mean we should aim to be sedentary (remember all those amazing benefits of exercise above plus the fact that going to the gym may make encourage you to make better food choices). But increasing our activity (especially our step count) throughout the day is a much easier way to build exercise more effortlessly into our lives. Walking to and from work (or from a more distant bus stop), taking the stairs and going for a walk at lunchtime are simple, realistic, sustainable ways to increase activity. Ten thousand steps a day is a great target.
REMEMBER: If you can put yourself into a consistent calorie deficit of 500 below 'maintenance' (what your body needs to maintain the same body weight) and you will lose 12 pounds (5.5kg) in three months.
To estimate your maintenance calories based on your activity level, use our Bodyscan calculator.
2. DO join a gym to improve the quality of your fat loss
So, if I want to lose weight, I should steer clear of the gym?
No! Because you don't want to lose weight. You want to lose fat!
If you're on a calorie-restricted diet (ie, eating fewer calories that you expend) you want to be sure that most, if not all, of your weight loss is actually fat and not muscle.
To preserve muscle when in a calorie deficit you need to do resistance training and ensure you have sufficient protein in your diet (a good rule of thumb is 2g per kilo of body weight).
That means bypassing the treadmills and using free weights (dumbbells and barbells) or weight-machines. The process of building muscle is more complex, variable and takes longer than losing fat, but suffice to say that the weights room is the main reason you should join a gym if fat loss is your goal.
LESSON: Resistance training and nutrition are the best tools for you to look better in the buff.
Happy New Year!
Sticking to your diet (dietary adherence) is the make or break of fat loss success and the biggest predictor for long-term weight maintenance.
A common theme among dieters who have been successful in losing body weight is the belief that their method is the only one that works and that success with any other method is inconceivable. They become evangelical about, and emotionally attached to, one particular, restrictive dieting protocol.
The truth is, different diets work differently for different people. Why? Because there are countless methods to lose body fat, but the best one for you is the one you can stick to.
Calorie counting is one such method, and I am very much a proponent of it as a tool in the fat loss arsenal. Tracking calories for a given period can be educational and eye-opening and, for most people, a method worth trialling at least once.
But is not the be-all-and-end-all for dieting success nor a prerequisite for losing body fat.
Calorie counting can certainly be tedious; so if you shudder at the thought of meticulously tracking and/or weighing out your food, or if the diet that worked so well for your friend didn’t work for you, why not try some, or all, of these simple-to-follow tips to help steer you towards achieving your fat loss goals.
THE PRINCIPLE OF FAT LOSS
Before we delve into some non-tracking methods, let me first outline the principle for body fat loss and gain. A change in body tissue mass is most closely related to energy balance over time – i.e. the total amount of fat gained, or lost, over a prolonged period depends on whether you are in a calorie surplus or calorie deficit.
Thus, the fundamental principle governing meaningful fat loss (beyond short-lived fluctuations) is adherence to an appropriate and sustained energy (calorie) deficit. This can be achieved via calorie restriction through the diet, an increase in energy expenditure, or a combination of both.
You do not have to count calories to lose body fat, but there’s no denying that calories count.
TIP 1: AMPLE PROTEIN
Protein is known to have the highest satiating effect (meaning it makes you feel full for longer), per unit calorie, compared to fat and carbohydrates. In free-living conditions, increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of total energy has been shown to result in a spontaneous drop in energy/calorie intake by 440kcal/day – leading to a body weight decrease of 4.9kg in 12 weeks. Inclusion of a higher protein diet may help combat hunger between meals, thus making the dieting process slightly more pleasant.
Further, with better hunger control, one may reduce the temptations (often experienced when in an energy/calorie deficit) to make poorer food choices, leading to overconsumption of calories, which can ultimately undermine fat loss efforts.
It is worth bearing in mind that dietary protein intake does not need to be overdone. Ideally, ‘how much protein’ should be assessed on an individual level based on age, body composition, training requirements and goal(s), and not using a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
That being said, a pragmatic recommendation of about 2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight works well for most, when looking to lose body fat. If you are overweight/obese, you may wish to aim slightly lower (if hunger is not an issue); if you are leaner, it may be prudent to go slightly higher.
TIP 2: ONE CARBOHYDRATE-FREE MEAL PER DAY
While carbohydrates don’t directly make us fat, per se, there is a tendency for sedentary individuals (e.g. office workers) to over-consume them and therefore ingest too many calories, with respect to their activity levels and lifestyle.
This is particularly true for carbohydrate sources that are nutrient-poor (low in fibre and micronutrients). Consuming one low-carbohydrate, or carbohydrate-free, meal per day can often increase the nutrient quality and protein content of that meal and potentially lead to a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake (because you feel full quicker), meaning greater fat loss!
Note - to maximise training quality, it may be prudent to have the higher carbs closer to your exercise session to aid performance. Trial and error works best here, to figure out what is most suitable for you, considering the nature of your session.
TIP 3: RESISTANCE TRAINING
The health benefits associated with regular exercise are multi-faceted, both with, or without, fat loss, e.g. reduction in visceral fat, decrease in insulin resistance, better mood and increased cardiorespiratory fitness. Regular participation in resistance training, in particular, during an energy deficit can help maintain or even build muscle and therefore improve the quality of the weight loss (ie, most or all of your weight lost is fat, not muscle) Do this in conjunction with ample protein and you’re golden.
Aside from the health and muscle retention benefits, building healthful training/exercise habits, and continuing them post-dieting period, can be fundamental to weight loss maintenance success.
TIP 4: INTERMITTENT FASTING
For many with busy lifestyles, families and work commitments, it is those who combine consistency with simplicity that often reap the best results. One such fat loss and/or weight management tool is intermittent fasting (IF), or time-restricted feeding. IF simply refers to periods of food consumption followed by extended periods of no-to-low food intake, e.g. an 8-hour period of normal-pattern eating, in combination with 16 hours fasting (aka 16:8), the 5:2 Diet; Eat-Stop-Eat (24-hour fasting); and alternate day fasting.
The beauty of this approach is the ability to alter feeding patterns to best suit you. For fat loss, there is no real right, or wrong, way to do it – remember consistency in conjunction with a structure that improves overall adherence and satisfaction is what a dieter should be striving to achieve.
IF as a fat loss tool can work wonders for some – the underlying principle being that it enables one to consume fewer calories than expended, over time. IF will not be suitable approach if it encourages you to (over-)compensate for the skipped meals, by eating more total calories later that day, or the next day, or later that week. Remember: net energy balance matters!
If you are someone who can last extended periods without food, or someone who has yet to try an IF protocol, it may be something worth considering. Experiment with different IF variants, to find out what works best for you. You may surprise yourself, and find it easier to adhere to an energy deficit compared to more traditional dieting approaches.
IF is not magical, but it may be a viable strategy for some to shed those extra pounds of excess body fat. Your best bet is to try it out for yourself.
TIP 5: KEEP YOUR STEPS UP
Finally, tracking the number of steps you take each day is a seamless way to increase energy expenditure, and thus can be a significant contributor towards creating an energy imbalance. Downloading a tracking app on your phone or investment in a tracking device can be hugely beneficial to ramp up activity levels outside of formal exercise and lead one to become more health conscious.
Similarly, activity trackers can also act as an invaluable awareness tool, provide accountability, and enable one to set realistic/achievable targets. Recent research has also shown greater fat loss for individuals who regularly walked throughout their diet period, compared to those that didn’t.
10,000 steps per day has been shown to help with body composition/weight management and other health-related goals. Shooting for 50,000+ steps over the course of a week is a great place to start!
IMPORTANT NOTE: Devices that track steps (like FitBit and Apple Watch) can be very good at tracking the number of steps you WALK but don’t rely on them to tell you how many calories you burn, particularly when you increase the pace to a a jog or run. They can become woefully inaccurate at higher intensities. Similarly, treadmills, bikes and cross-trainers in gyms will attempt to tell you how many calories you just burned but typically bear no resemblance to reality.
Devices that claim to count your calories can also lead you into a mindset where you end up trying to offset or mitigate the effects of exercise with food, along the lines of: “I just burned 600 calories on the treadmill so I can eat more now.” That mindset is almost certain to put you back into a calorie surplus.
To sum up, all of these suggestions ultimately work towards the fundamental principle for sustained fat loss – adherence towards a sustained negative energy balance.
Caveat – if you find you are unable to continue to progress towards your fat loss goals and/or you have experienced the dreaded weight/fat loss plateau, perhaps calorie-tracking for a given period is necessary for you to get you back on track.
Finally, food for thought (pun intended) – ‘Do you have to look at your car’s speedometer to stay under the speed limit? Not really… But if you keep finding yourself with speeding tickets, maybe it’s time to start looking at the dashboard more often.’ – Myolean Fitness
Written by Kevin Garde, Nutritionist & Bodyscan Consultant
No adult would admit to being stumped by the prep-school joke, “Which weighs more, a kilo of feathers or a kilo of lead?”
But the mainstream medical fraternity applies the same absurd premise every day when it uses body mass index (BMI) to determine if someone is overweight.
Because just as a kilo of feathers weighs the same as a kilo of lead (you weren’t stumped, right?), a muscle-bound bodybuilder of 90kg will weigh the same as a 90kg burger-munching couch potato.
And because BMI is based on weight and height, if the couch potato and the athlete are the same height, then at, say, 5’10” (178cm), they will have exactly the same BMI of 28, forcing the family doctor to label them both as “overweight”, which of course is absurd.
Body mass index was derived in 1832 by a Belgian statistician, Adolphe Quetelet. He established that, aside from growth spurts after birth and during puberty, our weight increases in proportion to the square of our height. So, in the main, BMI should be a good guide to how much each of us should weigh. And for most of us, it probably is.
But BMI is outdated because weight itself is outdated. We talk about people being overweight when what we really mean is they are ‘over fat’. Just about everyone looking to lose weight is actually looking to lose fat. The only people who need to lose weight are athletes competing in a particular weight class for their sport, such as boxing.
The UK’s obesity crisis is not about people being too heavy, it’s about people being too fat. (And here’s a sobering thought – in 2015/16 more than half-a-million hospital admissions recorded obesity as a factor.)
Weight is nothing more than your relationship with gravity and you cannot change the force that keeps your feet on the ground. What you can change, however, is your body composition – how much of you is fat and how much is muscle.
What most of us seek is a body composition that is low in fat (for good health, aesthetics and low risk of obesity-related diseases) and an ‘optimum’ amount of muscle (for strength, performance or a favourite sport).
The problem with BMI is it blind to the individual elements of body composition and, like weight, wraps everything up into just a single number.
It’s also not very culturally sensitive. You can imagine that, in 1832, Monsieur Quetelet didn’t have the same ethnically diverse population around him to establish his hypothesis, so BMI thresholds have since been tweaked for different ethnicities. In 2014, a University of Glasgow study of half a million Britons found the incidence of diabetes among white people with a BMI of at least 30 (the threshold defined as ‘obese’) was the same for those of South Asian background with a BMI of as little as 22 and for Chinese with a BMI of as low as 24. Twenty-two and 24 are both well inside the “normal weight” zone on the Anglo-Saxon-derived BMI.
So if we are to replace weight and BMI, what with?
Perhaps the most obvious candidate is body fat percentage and with any body composition test, it’s the single number that just about everybody wants to know.
But that is exactly the problem – it’s a single number. One number trying to take account of two components – fat and muscle.
To see where it falls short, meet Bruno, who weighs 80kg with a body fat percentage of 20%. It’s easy to work out he carries 16kg of fat.
After six months in the gym Bruno has reduced his body fat percentage to 19%. Instantly we conclude that Bruno has made very slow progress, dropping body fat by less than a kilo in six months.
The truth is Bruno made awesome progress – he put on 4kg of pure muscle and not a gram of fat.
You see? Bruno reduced his body fat percentage without any reduction in fat. That is the problem with single numbers – they mask the detail.
A much better way of assessing body composition is to measure fat and lean mass separately with (Mr Quetelet would be pleased) a fat mass index (FMI) and lean mass index (LMI). Essentially these indices tell you how much fat and muscle you carry relative to your height.
The huge advantage of FMI and LMI are that each index is completely independent of the other; your fat mass index is unaffected by muscle, and your lean mass index is not influenced by fat. Accordingly a change in either index is a guarantee of a change in, respectively, fat or muscle. That is not the case with weight, BMI or body fat percentage.
To measure and track your FMI and LMI reliably, you will need an accurate assessment of your body composition. The most reliable and precise method is a DEXA body scan. And you’re in the right place for that!
If there’s one topic that many people get confused about, it’s nutrition. And it’s not surprising given the non-stop avalanche of diet books and the how the media scream about a new “superfood” one day, only to brand it a “killer” the next.
Having performed almost 3,000 body composition scans, I can vouch for good improvements from almost every type of popular diet. Whether low carb, carb cycling, intermittent fasting, ketogenic or the 5:2, I’ve seen excellent results from them all.
I’ve seen very bad results too.
Most people who are unsuccessful in their fat-loss efforts are relying on enduring misconceptions about food and nutrition. Here are some surrounding carbohydrates (carbs).
1. Many people follow a low carb diet because they believe “carbs make you fat”. In reality, no food or macronutrient makes you fat (or thin).
Body fat is simply stored energy. To gain body fat, you need to be putting in more energy (calories from food) than you expend throughout the day. A “calorie controlled” diet works by restricting calorie intake. The fasting protocols do so by limiting the time period in which you can eat which leads, ultimately, to less food (fewer calories) being consumed. Other diets that restrict food groups, eg, no sugar or low-carb, stop you from eating a number of foods, especially foods you might over-eat which, again, leads to a lower calorie intake.
2. Calories (energy) from food can come from three main types: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats. There’s also alcohol but let’s just focus on food for now. Protein and carbohydrates contain four calories per gram and fats contain nine calories per gram. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, almost 30% of the calories from protein get burnt off during the digestion process, known as the thermic effect of food. Protein is also more likely to be used in the body for repairing cells and growth of muscle mass plus it’s highly satiating making it almost impossible to over eat protein to the point it prevents fat loss.
The problem with many people who follow low-carb diets is that the calories they don’t consume from carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice) they simply end up consuming from fats (nuts, oils, salad dressings). As a coach, I have seen hundreds of individual food logs and, of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats), it is fats that make up the highest proportion of the diet’s calorie intake, on average.
In order for us to reduce body fat, we need to consume fewer calories than we expend each day (an energy imbalance). For example, if we burn 2000 calories per day but only consume 1500 calories, the body needs to find 500 calories internally to fuel the day’s activities. Although the body does have some fuel in the shape of muscle (protein and stored glycogen) this is a very small amount compared to that of body fat, so as long as you are doing some resistance training to stimulate your muscle mass, the body will be using mostly fat for the extra calories needed.
Here is a common example of how people go wrong when making food choices.
A chicken salad in Pret contains 636 calories compared to their chicken sandwich which only has 389 calories. Many people on a low-carb diet would opt for the salad in order to lose more body fat because the bread in the sandwich is a carb source. Everyone knows that a salad is healthier and will be better for fat loss, right?
As already stated, to lose body fat you simply need to be in a calorie deficit. Therefore, opting for the higher calorie salad means it’s going to be easier for you to over consume calories and end up not eating any less than you burned for the day. If you burn 2000 calories and consume 2000 calories, whether those calories are from salad or bread, your levels of stored energy in the body (fat levels) will not change. Science clearly states that energy can’t be created nor destroyed.
Most individuals are very sedentary which makes fat loss even harder as their calorie burn per day is going to be lower than an active individual. Many desk-bound Bodyscan clients say how they sit at their desk and snack on a small bag of “healthy” nuts.
That small (100gram) bag of nuts will contain about 600 calories!
An average sedentary woman will struggle to burn more than 1500 calories a day and would need to consume less than this (maybe 1200 calories) to see fat loss. So you can see immediately that the small bag of “healthy” nuts is HALF her daily calorie intake right there!
Asked to choose between the small bag of nuts and eight slices of bread, anyone on a low-carb diet would choose the nuts. But the calorie count in each is the same!
This post isn’t suggesting low carb diets are bad. In fact, people following low-carb diets have seen great results in the clinic when done correctly and followed consistently.
But reducing your carbohydrate intake and subsequently increasing your fat intake to the point where the calorie intake is exactly the same means you won’t lose any fat at all.
It doesn’t matter HOW you reduce calories (through reducing carbs, fats, other foods/food groups or the time window in which you eat) you still need to achieve an overall calorie deficit to see fat loss.
An important note: You should almost never cut calories by reducing protein intake, as protein is needed to prevent muscle loss and to aid muscle recovery.
Reduce protein and you will end up losing more muscle mass than you need to, which in turn leads to slower fat loss because your body will be using muscle instead of fat for fuel.
And with less muscle mass, your body is burning fewer calories throughout the day, which again makes it harder to lose body fat long term.
Body Composition - the 'F' word
In its recent Body Composition series, PerformancePro gave an overview of body composition and the ways of measuring the proportion of fat, muscle and bone. We confirmed the most accurate and consistent way to measure the visceral and subcutaneous fat in your body is with a DEXA scan.
As with most things in life, knowledge is power, so equipping ourselves with some essential fat facts helps us take control.
Knowing how much body fat and visceral fat you have and where levels may be abnormally high is important. Not for the sake of the number itself, but for what it implies about both your health and physical performance. There are guidelines on what is deemed healthy or excessive and this differs according to age and gender.
Also decisions as to what you do will depend upon your health and/or if your sporting or daily performance of tasks would be made easier by losing some fat mass. Or you may just want to be leaner for personal preference.
FAT FACTS – THE ESSENTIAL ROLE OF FAT
Fat isn’t bad, it’s essential. We need some fat to stay healthy and allow our bodies to function optimally. Fat has a vital role in energy storage, cell integrity, insulation and protecting us from impact injuries. It literally cushions the soft tissue around the major organs.
In the sporting arena, there are sports where extra fat levels do no harm to performance and can even play a key role in beating an opponent, such as strongman, highland games and sumo-wrestling. That is not to say, however, that increasing muscle isn’t desirable too.
For endurance sports, athletes benefit from some fat storage to maintain energy production on longer events. The only drawback to using stored body fat as fuel for exercise is that the process of getting energy from fat is slower than from a stored or consumed carbohydrate. As a result, force outputs (productivity) could be lower.
Before we look at whether or not it’s a good idea to lose any fat mass, let’s consider two types of fat we carry.
WHITE AND BROWN FAT
Fat cells (adipocytes) fall into two main types, white and brown. The existence of beige fat cells suggests a ‘browning’ effect (cells changing from white to brown) and therefore the possibility of change within the cell function.
White fat cells have lower metabolic properties, are harder to access as an energy source and are shown to be more harmful long term. Comparatively, brown fat cells are much more metabolically active, an easier to access energy source and can be protective against extreme cold.
Beige fat tends to show up after exercise. For some time, we have known that exercise increases metabolism and some types of exercise do this even beyond the calories used for the workout itself (eg, the “after burn” of HIIT and resistance training). Part of the mechanism behind this is thought to be the enhancement of brown (metabolically active) fat cells and ‘browning’ of the white cells. So this suggests that exercise, in turning white cells brown, makes them metabolically more active and they get drawn upon for energy (what most of us call “burning fat”.
Not surprisingly, research in this area is now starting to reveal potential obesity and diabetes treatments through the same mechanisms.
TAKING CONTROL OF YOUR OWN FAT LEVELS
Fat isn’t all bad. We need it in our bodies and in our diet. Too much body fat, however, can be dangerous so it’s a good idea to get a precise indication of exactly how much fat you’re carrying so you can set a target for how much you need to lose.
Whilst it doesn’t differentiate between white and brown fat cells, a DEXA scan is the most accurate and consistent way to measure your fat, how it’s distributed around your body and changes over time. You’ll also see how much visceral (internal) fat you have, how much muscle and how it's distributed.
If you’re looking for high-quality personal training to reduce body fat and/or improve health, fitness and performance, then consider Bodyscan partner PerformancePro. They are a small athlete-grade gym and training centre in the West End, just 15 minutes from both Bodyscan locations (walk from W1, tube from City). They don’t tie you in with memberships but instead offer pay-as you-go intelligent personal training for grown-ups in a beautifully designed, state of the art, calm environment. With no more than a handful of people training at any one time, it’s a space where our clients feel comfortable and motivated.
Special Offer for Bodyscan customers
Bodyscan clients can enjoy a complimentary training session when they book 5 sessions or more with PerformancePro. This is in addition to your free consultation. Take your first step and book your free (no strings) consultation with PerformancePro today.
If we believe everything we read in the mainstream media, one day something is bad for you, the next it's a life-saver. Here are four foodstuffs that often get a bad rap. But should you be avoiding them completely?
Commonly avoided due to its relatively high fat content compared to other meats (especially saturated fat), red meat is a food group that you don’t want to ignore. A small amount of saturated fat in the diet is necessary for regulating hormones such as testosterone, as fat acts as the building blocks for not only hormones, but all cell membranes too.
Red meats are also loaded with protein and contain vital micronutrients such as iron and zinc which are essential for oxygen transportation and immune system support respectively. If you want to keep an eye on saturated fat, aim for lean cuts of red meat such as fillet, sirloin, rump and 5%-fat ground beef.
Dairy products are absolutely loaded with essential nutrients for both health and exercise performance. However, like red meat, dairy products such as milk and cheese are commonly avoided due to the fear of saturated fat. But in reality they are so nutrient-dense that it makes sense to include them in your diet in moderation. Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D, required for healthy bones, and support muscle function too. Potassium, magnesium, vitamin A and a host of B vitamins (crucial for energy metabolism) also come from dairy sources and they are a great source of protein.
Dairy foods such as yoghurt that contain bio-active live cultures provide probiotics that enhance the good bacteria in the gut, essential for digestive processes and nutrient absorption. As with red meat, if you’re concerned about saturated fat, there are lower fat options such as semi-skimmed milk or reduced-fat cheese that still have all the nutritional benefits.
Ingestion of processed meat on a regular basis for long periods has been associated with an increased risk of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Excess sugar, salt and fat such as artificial trans-fat (the worst type of fat) are often added to processed meat in order to improve to the taste or texture and increase shelf life.
Carcinogenic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) can form during meat processing due to the high cooking temperatures and smoking of certain meats. Because of these potential harmful compounds and all the additives (making them very calorie dense), it’s recommended by most health organisations that intake of processed meats such as bacon, sausages, smoked meat, etc. should be limited. Eating them occasionally (everything in moderation) will provide no real health risk but a consistently high intake certainly could. The majority of your nutritional intake should be from fresh whole foods, with processed foods making up a small portion.
Sucrose is the most common form of refined sugar and known by most people as table sugar. Sucrose is a ‘disaccharide’ carbohydrate (two sugar molecules combined) made up of glucose and fructose, and rapidly increases blood glucose concentration when digested and causes large releases of insulin from within the pancreas.
Because insulin inhibits the breakdown of fat (lipolysis) and its conversion into a usable source of energy (oxidation) and actually encourages fat storage (lipogenesis), many people follow low-carb/low-sugar diets.
However, consuming sugar/carbs at the right time can be very beneficial for exercise performance. Carbs/sugar are best consumed before and after exercise, when demand for energy is at its highest. The increased glucose in the blood from consuming sugar before exercise will be used to generate energy to fuel the training session, especially if the session is of an intense nature.
After exercise, consuming carbs/sugar will result in blood glucose being shuttled to muscle cells to replenish muscle glycogen and aid with the recovery process. After exertion, muscle cells are highly receptive to glucose and other nutrients in the blood and will increase their uptake to restore depleted stocks.
However, when energy demand is low (eg, sitting at your desk), muscle cells are not so receptive, so the burst of insulin from your pancreas is more likely to move blood glucose to fat cells instead. Refined sugar (and carbs in general) doesn’t have to be completely avoided, but the timing can be optimised for it to be useful and not detrimental to health, body composition and performance.
If there is one thing the Bodyscan team has learned from scanning more than 4000 people, it’s that perception does not often match reality. As an example, most men who come to us think they are taller than they really are!
We are all guilty of some embellished perception, whether it’s how well we drive, how much alcohol we drink or how much TV we watch.
This recent report from the Office of National Statistics confirms another split between perception and reality that we see at Bodyscan every day: many of us eat many more calories than we think we do and way more than we need. And that’s why we put on body fat.
At the same time, most people wildly overestimate the amount of activity they do and the number of calories they burn. Walking the dog and playing golf do not make you ‘very active’. Also, ‘rewarding’ yourself with a food ‘treat’ after exercise can create a mindset that positions overeating as something that can be mitigated by physical activity. To lose body fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit, so you cannot offset one against the other.
There are many writers, bloggers, influencers and Bodyscan customers who will say that losing weight is not about calories – that it’s about quality not quantity, or about timing. But whatever your diet – low-carb, low-fat, low-sugar, 5/2, 16/8, gluten-free, low-dairy, juice, Mediterranean – while you may not primarily set out to count or restrict energy intake, you will inevtiably consume fewer calories because they are being restricted by the now-absent foodstuffs or eating times in your diet.
Let’s be clear here: counting calories is not easy and, at its very worst, can contribute to an unhealthy psychological relationship between you and your food. So this post is definitely NOT a recommendation for everyone to measure what they eat.
But if you are overweight or gaining weight and want to reduce body fat, you certainly need to get a very good handle on (A) how many calories you eat now, (B) what your ‘maintenance’ level is (the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight based on your energy expenditure) and (C) how many calories you need to eat to lose body fat.
NOTE: The number for (C) will typically be between 10% and 30% less than your maintenance level. So depending on how much you are overeating now (ie, how much above maintenance) you may have to reduce your calorie intake by anything up to 50% or even more. A DEXA body scan will help you calculate those numbers by accurately measuring your fat and fat-free mass.
With those numbers you can estimate your maintenance calories with our body composition calculator and measure them with popular fitness apps like MyFitnessPal. If that’s not your thing then serving your food on smaller plates can be one way of cutting back.
Even then it’s easy to get it wrong and underestimate or ignore drinks, protein supplements, snacks and alcohol.
The Bodyscan DEXA report excerpt below shows the variable progress of a heavily overweight (150kg) male who carefully counted calories during two phases of his diet-and-exercise programme, and just estimated them in another.
The results are striking:
When counting calories, and in only five months, he lost more than 17kg of body fat (and just 1.8kg of muscle), shown by the orange arrows. But in the period that he stopped counting and just estimated calories he GAINED 3.2kg of fat and lost over a kilo of muscle.
The client was shocked by the fat gain because his exercise regimen had remained consistent and he believed his calorie estimations were too. In fact, the fat gain suggests he was in a calorie surplus of as much as 1300 calories a day! So much for portion control.
In the same vein a female client with very high muscle mass (from years of weight-lifting) but also increasing levels of fat was adamant that she was eating well below the estimated number of calories. But the maths simply doesn’t stack up - to be putting on muscle AND fat, short of a medical condition, she must be in a calorie surplus and therefore be underestimating her intake (and/or overestimating her activity level).
Many Bodyscan DEXA customers find it hard to believe how much fat they carry because they “eat healthily and cook everything from fresh” and “don’t eat processed foods.” Your food can be as fresh, organic and nutritious as you like, but if you eat too much of it, it will make you fat!
The latest analysis of Bodyscan data is now matched for three age categories (18-29, 30-49 and 50-plus) as well as All Ages (the entire data set). (Note: The median age of all Bodyscan clients, male and female, is 38, and the majority of clients fall into the 30-49 age range.)
From experience, we have always known that the full data set held pretty well for clients up to age 50. It was only beyond 50 or even 55 that the percentile-matching seemed to diverge with any significance, and then chiefly in relation to fat and visceral fat. Today we tend to use the All Ages data for all clients under 50.
But crunching the numbers revealed a truly shocking increase in visceral fat for clients over 50, particularly for women. You can view the full tables of Variation of Key Indicators between Age Ranges in men and women, from which the images below are excerpts, on the Bodyscan Data page.
From the Bodyscan data:
With visceral fat linked to type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other serious diseases, this data is a very loud wake-up call for all of us (especially over-50s, like me) and it is in line with formal studies (like this one by Hunter, Gower and Kane) that found even higher increases (up to 400%) in female visceral fat.
Of course, the Bodyscan data also shows that it doesn’t have to be this way. The best results in older clients show healthily low levels of all fat, including visceral, often better than for clients many years their junior.
The new year is an obvious time for alarm bells to register and resolutions to be made, but a healthier lifestyle is just that - a sustainable, long-term habit of more exercise and sensible eating. Not a flash-in-the-pan effort you keep up for a week or two.
Rather than plagiarise or paraphrase, here are three points verbatim from the 2010 Hunter, Gower and Kane study that would be worth us all (especially us maturer folk) taking on board. At Bodyscan we know from experience they are all true.
Whenever you commit to your healthier lifestyle (today would be good), the improvement in your DEXA results is a great motivational tool to keep it going. Remember that visceral fat responds very quickly to diet and exercise, so even small changes can help us live more comfortably as we age.
1. Sufficient caloric intake
Muscle mass – and fat mass – doesn’t come out of thin air. You need energy (food) to create it. So by being in a continuous energy deficit for such a long period of time, Chris was never going to have a fair crack at putting on muscle.
A calorie deficit (where you consume less energy than you expend) will return a reduction in weight but the size of the deficit and the activity you perform will determine the composition change of fat and muscle.
Also, calorie-controlled diets (or “not eating enough”) should eventually come to an end and be followed by a period of maintenance calories (to maintain your weight and body composition) or perhaps a surplus to assist in building more muscle.
Building muscle only needs “sufficient” or “adequate” energy. You don’t need to eat thousands of calories above maintenance. As a weights workout typically burns about 300 calories, eating thousands more will only get stored as fat. Generally speaking, an excess of 300-500 is plenty to build muscle without gaining much (or any) fat.
Many Bodyscan clients who achieve body re-composition (losing fat and gaining muscle) do it at close to or even slightly below maintenance.
2. Progressive overload
For two years Chris was stuck in a comfort zone, doing the same exercises for the same duration with the same kettlebell every day. In fact, as he lost weight over time this meant his pull-ups and push-ups were being performed against less resistance not more. His bodyweight exercises were getting easier, not harder, which is why he was able to do more of them (leading him to think he was building muscle).
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed on the muscles over time. Forcing your body to consistently adapt to a new and enhanced stimulus is what results in an increase in strength and size of skeletal muscles. Progressive overload can be achieved by increasing the weight lifted, the number of reps, the time under tension (how slowly you perform the reps) and the frequency with which you train a particular muscle.
The most common reason people find themselves at a muscle plateau is the absence of progressive overload – performing the same exercises with the same weights.
Another reason clients make no progress is their bad form, as observed in this article, Are you wasting your time with weights?
Truth be told, even on the fat-burning front, what Chris described as HIIT was not optimised as he did not rest at any time during the 12-minute workout (ie, no ‘intervals’) and didn’t work as hard as he could have (at up to 90% of maximum effort) as detailed in this popular blog post: If HIIT isn’t working for you, try VHIIT instead.
We advised Chris to adopt progressive overload by taking his training into the gym and moving from bodyweight exercises to lifting actual weights, as home weights and home gyms will only take you so far.
We also recommended he increase his caloric intake to a more sensible level to enable him to achieve fat loss but also provide the energy requirements to protect or even increase his lean mass.
We also emphasised the importance of protein (as he didn’t eat much of the macronutrient) and carbs around his workouts for energy. As a general guide you’ll also find this blog post about nutrition needs for different body types helpful. It’s received more positive comments than any blog we’ve ever posted! And if you're over 50, this post about building and preserving muscle as we age will be inspiring too.
One particularly interesting point to Chris's story is that all his friends and colleagues rated his muscles at about 5 or 6 on a 1 (weedy) to 10 (bodybuilder) scale. So, if you think you've got the arms of Popeye, have a DEXA scan to be sure!
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