Before we answer the question, let me highlight some of the benefits of regular physical activity:
• Lower blood lipids. Lipids are fatty substances, an excess of which can cause fat deposits in the artery walls, increasing your risk of heart disease.
• Improved glucose regulation. The body functions better when glucose (blood sugar) is maintained within a tight range.
• Improved insulin sensitivity (if you are insulin resistant you are at higher risk of type-2 diabetes)
• Reduction in blood pressure (reduced risk of heart attack and stroke)
• Improved psychological well-being - reduced stress, anxiety and depression
I prefer, then, to emphasise the health and well-being benefits associated with any regular physical activity rather than focusing simply on calories. This is particularly true when losing body fat is the goal.
Key point: If you’re looking to lose body fat, let nutrition be the priority where your energy deficit does the ‘fat burning’ and have training/physical activity support it.
As for walking versus running over the same distance, yes, there is a difference in calories per mile and variation will depend on an individual’s age, weight, body composition, running experience, pace and physical fitness.
The more intense the activity, the greater demand for fuel (glycogen and fat) and energy to be produced at the same rate.
Further, running will have a slightly greater ‘afterburn’ effect, known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). In this study performed over one mile, EPOC remained elevated for 10 minutes for walkers and 15 minutes for runners. While the difference in energy expenditure and EPOC combined was about 30%, this amounted to just 48 calories. Nothing to write home about!
However, over longer distances and if done regularly, the difference may be more impactful. As a result, running may be preferable for people who want to expend more calories in less time.
However, that is NOT to say that running is a superior mode of exercise for everyone.
Walking, by comparison, can be an easy and seamless way to increase energy expenditure every day and has minimal impact on recovery and injury risk when compared to higher-intensity activities.
Also, for shifting body fat and creating a greater energy deficit, you will want to maximise the distance travelled (work done) but without significantly affecting hunger.
To that end, running may result in greater fatigue, glycogen depletion, and thus can be a sure-fire way to stimulate hunger and food cravings. In contrast, walking the same distance is less likely to be compensated for by reaching for food and therefore more likely to result in an actual energy deficit.
For those wanting to optimise body composition, my bias would lean towards low-intensity activities such as walking to complement a well-designed resistance training programme. (Also, if you are keen to gain muscle, running long distances encourages your muscles to adapt for endurance rather than to increase in size.)
If you prefer a more balanced approach, include a combination of resistance training and low intensity activity with some moderate-high intensity activity for cardiovascular fitness.
Ultimately, the decision should come down to what you love most. With exercise, place less emphasis towards the calories burned and more on how much better you feel after doing it. Again – let your calorie deficit through what you consume do the ‘fat burning’, supplemented and complemented by physical activity for overall good health.
Nutritionist and Bodyscan Consultant
During the coronavirus lockdown period, the gyms are closed and so most of us will have stopped weight-training completely. The two questions I’ve been asked many times recently are "How quickly will I lose muscle?" and "How hard will it be to get it back?"
Let’s start with muscle loss. Your rate of muscle loss will depend on:
1. How much muscle you had gained above your natural set point (the amount you have without weight training)
2. How much weight training you did to build that amount of muscle
The more muscle mass you’ve gained above your natural set point, the more you are likely to lose when you stop training. If you’ve only gained 2-3kg of muscle mass over the course of six months of training, you’ll likely maintain most of this. If you’ve been training for many years and have gained 12-15kg of muscle, you’re going to see a much bigger proportion (and therefore a bigger absolute amount) disappear.
Also, the more frequently and intensively you were weight training before lockdown, the faster you will lose the muscle mass you gained. For example, if your level of muscle is where it is because you normally train six times per week, expect a faster rate of muscle loss than if you were only training twice a week.
In other words, the more dramatic the reduction in your training regime, the faster your muscle mass will decrease.
When it comes to gaining back any lost muscle mass post lockdown, you’ll be pleased to know that "muscle memory" is real.
The nucleus of muscle cells is responsible for rebuilding new proteins. Over time, with effective resistance training, muscle cells adapt to gain more nuclei. This allows them to produce more proteins, making the muscles bigger and stronger.
If you stop training, your muscle mass can shrink slowly but the number of nuclei won’t change. This means the ‘machinery’ needed to build the higher amount of muscle mass you had will still be there. That’s the essence of ‘muscle memory’ and why those who have lost muscle mass find it fairly easy to regain their losses.
If you’re unable to do any resistance training at all during lockdown, when you get back to the gym make sure you resume the same routine you were before (or, more precisely, a high-quality, optimised regimen as detailed in our free e-book Twelve Reasons Why you're Not Gaining Muscle).
If lockdown prevents you training for 12 weeks, I’d expect it to take five to six weeks of solid training to regain your losses of size and strength.
Although lost muscle mass can be regained, I’d advise you to do as much resistance training as you can while the gyms are closed. This will slow the rate of muscle loss whether your long-term goal is muscle gain OR fat loss. All exercise is good for our physical and mental health during these extraordinary times and, if you weren't aware, strength training helps to maintain and increase bone density.
My blog about training at home would be a good place to start and has many exercises listed to help you. Stay healthy!
Tim Ferris’s bestselling book ‘The 4-Hour Body’ includes a chapter called ‘From Geek to Freak’, in which he claims to have gained 34lbs (15.4kg) of muscle in just four weeks, while simultaneously losing 3lbs (1.3kg) of body fat. On top of that he spent just FOUR HOURS IN TOTAL in the gym.
This claim is patently ridiculous and completely out of line with all scientific and anecdotal data and my own experience as a former competitive bodybuilder, personal trainer, body recomposition coach and Bodyscan consultant with about 4000 scans under my belt.
This article by Menno Henselsmans presents multiple recent scientific studies which clearly show a correlation between those performing more sets per week in the gym and those gaining the most muscle mass. One of the studies that led to the fastest muscle growth was by participants performing 45 sets on the triceps alone!
This study also shows that training a muscle three times per week instead of just once, even with the same total number of sets each week, led to significantly better increases in muscle mass and strength. There is plenty of similar research also showing a higher frequency of training leading to better results.
A similar training protocol to Geek to Freak can be found in another “research-based” bestseller, Body by Science.
Anecdotally, I can tell you that Bodyscan customers who follow the ‘less is more’ protocols achieve very low or even ZERO muscle gain, while ‘conventional’ programmes result in more predictable gains of 2-3kg over 12 weeks. I did have one male client who achieved 2-3kg (5-6lb) of lean gain in 12 weeks after following Tim's programme, but he was a complete newbie to any form of resistance training. Novices achieve the biggest gains in the shortest time because their muscles are new to the stimulus.
But I maintain that low-rep regimens certainly do not produce maximal returns, even for newbies, and produce very poor results for those with intermediate experience of weight training or above.
Where are those muscles now, Tim? (pics from his media pack)
If the scientific research and the protocols that successful bodybuilders have been following for decades all point against Tim’s routine, how did he manage to achieve the results he claims?
First of all, Tim is well known for his attention-grabbing, extreme weight-cutting tactics for sports with weight categories and even has an article on his website ‘How to lose 30 pounds [13.6kg] in 24 hours’.
The biggest factor at play in any rapid change in body weight is water.
Over 60% of a muscle cell is water. Therefore with extreme de-hydration and re-hydration tactics, you can potentially gain 15-30lbs (7-14kg) of water weight. When measured by almost any means, this non-fat mass would count as ‘lean mass’ which, if his weight numbers are true, Tim Ferriss has incorrectly (and conveniently) claimed as muscle mass.
In 28 days he would not have gained more than a few pounds of true skeletal muscle mass under his low-volume protocol.
I believe the pictures he presents of himself were achieved with ‘assistance’ and aren’t natural or were done in a much longer time frame with much more volume than he claims.
In the real world, four 1-hour sessions four times a week would be an optimal sweet spot for many. If you are stressed, older, have poor sleep or consume sub-optimal protein or calories, you may want to reduce this to 2-3x per week as you will have lower recovery capabilities.
If none of those apply, you could train 5-6 times per week for optimum results as you’ll be able to recover and therefore benefit from the additional training.
To conclude, the time-tested adage applies: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If you want high quality information regarding body composition, you should be listening to those who are experts in the field, not an entrepreneur who makes outlandish claims.
Think about it for just a moment. If it was as easy to gain muscle as Tim says it is, every man and woman who weight trains would look like a Greek god(dess)! Looking at his website, Tim looks pretty slim, which makes me wonder, if he can put on muscle so quickly, why does he have so little now?
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