Why Your Hard Work Is Making You Fatter

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Consistency is king, right? Everyone knows that some things work better than others, but no matter what, if you workout more, and eat healthy foods then you will lose fat, get more ‘ripped’, and increase your strength. What if I told you that all your hard work, dedication, time, and effort are being wasted because your goals and training/nutrition program are not aligned.

‘Waisted’ Energy

It’s amazing how many athletes are ruining their performance with P90X, or those that are making no progress on the stair climber and wondering why all those crunches are not helping get that spare tire off your waist.  Just as much carnage lies on the nutritional side of the spectrum as well, millions are confounded as to why their ‘healthy’ food based diet is getting them no where. I hear this at least three times every week of my life,  ‘I eat just like everyone tells me to, I eat raw oats and fruit in the morning, salad at lunch and veggies at dinner, and nothing. I even cut my calories in half and I just can’t lose the weight.’  It’s hard to accept, but you can become morbidly obese eating ‘healthy’ foods.

Both scenarios leave people frustrated because they don’t get the results that they set out to achieve. Only if they knew that the path they started down was designed to take them to a very different destination than they wanted.  No athlete wants to jump ‘less high’ or get ‘less fast’, but programs like P90X will do that (you honestly think that you can do 600 reps of max jumps without it having a negative impact?). No one aiming to lose 25 lbs. gets on the treadmill saying, ‘I can’t wait to accomplish nothing today!’. Committing to something and not seeing results is so frustrating. For those of you reading this that want to burn fat, and get more lean, fat burn, metabolism, usage, and the exercise types that create the most lean physiques are all going to be explained. Time to make frustration a thing of the past.


The Skinny on Fat

A diagram on the types of fat is shown above, these types of fat and where they are located in the body will be crucial in understanding the rest of this article. In most scientific literature, the word ‘fat’ is rarely used, rather ‘fat’ is referred to as adipose tissue, and triglycerides make up that adipose tissue.  These triglycerides are the site of ‘fat burn’ or lipolysis in the body, because losing ‘fat’ requires the actual release of it from adipose tissue into your blood stream.  Most of our energy comes from triglycerides, and even lean adults have more than 100,000 kcal of potential energy stored in their adipose tissue, 50x the energy of stored muscle/liver glycogen. (Horowitz et al 2006)  Lipolysis will prolong your ability to exercise and delay glycogen depletion and and hypoglycemia, the two major causes of fatigue. Glycogen metabolism, the glycolytic pathway, is far superior to fat metabolism for the explosive movements required for sport, but lipolysis will allow you to maintain these precious ‘explosive resources’ until you actually need them. (For a more in depth look at glycogen usage and metabolism read my Explosive Nutrition article) As you can see, triglycerides are not bad, and trying to get to the point where there is 0 stored body fat would be idiotic, and impossible. However, if excess body fat is impairing your performance or quality of life, this is a problem, and orienting your training/nutrition regime toward ‘fat burn’ must be done.

The Lipolytic pathway, picture taken from Exercise Nutrition by Jeffery Horowitz, PhD, p.99
The Lipolytic pathway, picture taken from Exercise Nutrition by Jeffery Horowitz, PhD, p.99

Lipid Metabolism in 2 Minutes

‘Fat burn’ really occurs in three major stages, these stages are shown in the diagram to the left. During exercise, the body releases epinephrine and norepinephrine, these two hormones are part a class of hormones called catecholamines.  Catecholamines act as a catalyst to the entire lipolytic pathway, and their presence, which is released with the onset of exercise, sets fat burn into motion by binding to the beta receptors (see the ‘β’ in the diagram) on the cell membrane.  Once these beta receptors are stimulated, ATP is converted to cAMP (the phosphate group, ‘P’, at the end of cAMP is the most important part of this step, because phosphate acts as the final messenger to make the lipolytic cascade actually release fat into the blood stream). This converted cAMP uses it’s phosphate group to bind and remove perilipins (the black half circles) from the surface of the triglyceride, and hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) is allowed to cause the release of lipids (fat) into the blood stream. (Sztalryd and colleagues et al 2003, Souza and colleagues et al 1998)

Make All the Pain Worth It

The heading above applies to both your work in the gym and the excruciating paragraph you just suffered through.  You might be wondering how knowing the lipolytic pathway  helps you in any way achieve your goals of fat burn.  Knowing the actions that influence and control this pathway is the secret to achieving your goals.  As explained above, exercise induces the release of catecholamines, which set off the lipolytic process.  Exercise also causes other changes to occur in the body that makes fat burn work so efficiently during this period of the day and the hours following.  Exercise significantly reduces plasma insulin levels, which the lipolytic pathway is very sensitive to, even a serum increase of 10 μU/ml can cut fat burn in half! (Campbell and colleagues et al 1992, Jensen and colleagues et al 1989, Bonadonna and colleagues et al 1990, Wasserman and colleagues et al 1989) Exercise also induces the release of growth hormone and testosterone, these two hormones, if insulin is not released, will increase fat burn for hours after exercise.  ( Ottosson and colleagues et al 2000, Lafontan and colleagues et al 1993, Asada and colleagues et al 2000, Beauville and colleagues et al 1992, Yang and colleagues et al 1995, Xu and colleagues et al 1993) With these last few sentences you can easily apply some very effective strategies to your program, especially avoiding the foods after exercise that cause insulin release, i.e. carbohydrates.  Your body will metabolize carbohydrates great hours after you train, take advantage of the fat burning effects of exercise and growth hormone/testosterone and watch your body fat melt away.


Exercise, the Great Chameleon

The term exercise can mean anything, it seems as long as you’re moving, you’re exercising.  The picture above represents 3 people that ‘exercise’, but only two are achieving their goals, and only one is efficiently burning fat with their training program.  Understand that absolute strength has nothing to do with fat burn and having a ‘pretty’ physique.  Donnie Thompson, pictured on the far right, is one of the strongest humans to ever walk planet earth, but some would describe him as fat. Donnie Thompson’s training goal is be be as strong as possible, so his training places no emphasis on aerobic capacity or any type of endurance.  The lady on the far left is neither strong nor lean, her ‘cardio’ based training is too high in repetition number to make her very strong, and too low in intensity to maximize fat burn.  Why does the gentleman in the middle have his physique?  Because his training goals require that he be very explosive but also have the ability to sustain these movements over a longer period of time. In order to achieve this, his program requires some sort of moderate intensity, aerobic based training.  (more on this in a minute)


The Numbers Don’t Lie

Even during low intensity exercise like the lady in the pink is doing, fat burn increases two- to three fold above resting levels. (Horowitz and colleagues et al 1997, Wolfe and colleagues et al 1990, Klein and colleagues et al 1994) However, moderate exercise intensity, like the tempo runs our friend in the middle picture does will increase catecholamine concentration, double fat usage and adipose tissue blood flow, and increase muscle blood flow 10-fold! (Bulow and colleagues et al 1981, Bulow and colleagues et al  1976) The chart to the right shows the effect of going from low intensity to moderate intensity exercise has on fat burn.

So, following this trend, we should all workout like Donnie Thompson, the harder you exercise, the more fat your burn, right? Turns out that as you cross the threshold of ‘high intensity’ exercise, your body stops using fat as a major fuel source and fatty acids are no where to be found in the blood. (Romijn and colleagues et al  1993, Romijn and colleagues et al 1995, Vukovich and colleagues et al 1993, Dyck and colleagues et al 1993. The muscles also change their metabolism during high intensity training and use predominately the glycolytic pathway as was discussed in the opening paragraphs. (Sidossis and colleagues et al 1996) This explains why Donnie Thompson can be so strong and not lean, his training program does not utilize fat as a fuel source.

A Program that Works

You can now easily deduce what elements your program needs to have in order to achieve your goals.  This is why at Juggernaut we train our athletes the way we do. Athletes need to be strong and explosive, but if they can’t maintain it throughout their game/match, then all the training is worthless.  To achieve the proper aerobic capacity we have our athletes do tempo runs 2-3 times/week.  Making tempo runs part of your program, and applying the proper nutrition I talk about in my Post Workout Nutrition article will increase fat burn during and after exercise for hours. A basic, 6 week tempo run progression is provided below, add these in with your current program 2-3 times/week and get the results you’ve been working so hard to achieve.

6 Week Tempo Run Progression

  • Week 1
  • 2 Sets of 6 runs at 70 yds, 50 sec between each rep, 4 min between each set
  • 30 seconds of abs between each rep
  • Week 2
  • 2 Sets of 6 runs at 80 yds, 50 sec between each rep, 4 min between each set
  • 30 seconds of abs between each rep
  • Week 3
  • 2 Sets of 6 runs at 90 yds, 50 sec between each rep, 4 min between each set
  • 30 seconds of abs between each rep
  • Week 4
  • 2 Sets of 8 runs at 70 yds, 50 sec between each rep, 4 min between each set
  • 30 seconds of abs between each rep
  • Week 5
  • 2 Sets of 8 runs at 80 yds, 50 sec between each rep, 4 min between each set
  • 30 seconds of abs between each rep
  • Week 6
  • 2 Sets of 8 runs at 90 yds, 50 sec between each rep, 4 min between each set
  • 30 seconds of abs between each rep

Ab exercises to choose from during tempo run sets…

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