There is no escaping that at the touch of a button we can access a wealth of information. However, with this blessing comes the curse of misinformation and disinformation. What is fact and what is fiction? Is it science or is it bro-science?
Today we look at 5 unpopular fitness truths that will help you manage your expectations, enjoy fitness again and set you on the path to better results!
1. Ab exercises do NOT burn belly fat
A 2011 study tracked the body composition of 24 participants and had them perform 7 ab exercises, 5 days a week over a 6-week period. They found that the ab exercises improved ab muscle endurance but had no significant effect on body weight, body fat percentage, reducing belly fat or changing other measures of body composition (1).
As much as we wish that we could sit-up, crunch, and plank away our belly fat, it’s just not possible. However, understanding belly fat may be the key you need in fighting it!
There are two main types of belly fat:
Subcutaneous: the fat that we can see, pinch and jiggle. It sits just under the skin and above our muscles.
Visceral fat: This is the fat located deep in our abdominal cavity and surrounds our internal organs.
Visceral fat is commonly known as ‘harmful belly fat’ because it is more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat. It releases compounds that trigger several disease related processes in the body such as systemic inflammation (2), insulin resistance (3), metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease to name a few (4).
The accumulation of this type of fat leads to an increase in total body fat, overall weight gain and difficulty in losing weight.
So, here are some things that you can do to reduce your visceral fat:
Improve your diet
Remove ultra-processed, high-sugar and trans fatty foods from your diet. You can switch these out for fruits, vegetables, complex carbs (whole foods), nuts and lean proteins.
Protein is essential for all metabolic processes in our body. It has a higher thermic effect than any other nutrient, keeps you feeling fuller for longer and may help promote visceral fat loss. A large study that involved over 23,000 participants found a direct link between higher protein diets and a smaller waist circumference (5). Aim for a minimum of 0.6-0.8g of protein per pound of body weight. If you struggle to meet your protein needs from food, we always recommend supplementing with a protein shake. The vegan protein from Women’s Best gives 21.8g of protein per scoop and the Iso Whey gives 25g per scoop of protein.
Increase your soluble (viscous) fiber intake
This type of fiber dissolves in our body to form a thick gel-like substance that slows down our digestion, helps us absorb more nutrients, reduces our appetite and helps reduce lower belly fat. A study published in Obesity found that a 10g increase in the daily intake of soluble fiber successfully decreased the accumulation of Visceral Fat by 3.7% (6).
Reduce Stress & Improve your sleep
There have been several studies that link stress and poor sleep to weight gain and in particular visceral fat. This is because when stressed we release more cortisol, a steroid hormone that when too high raises our blood sugar, alters how we use and store fat, as well as regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
Effective ways to instantly reduce stress and improve sleep include; daily exercise, meditation, yoga, walking, relaxing baths and eating dinner earlier.
Regular exercise helps you both mentally and physically. It increases the production of endorphins which help to regulate your mood and motivation. In addition, regular physical activity helps to increase your metabolic rate, helping you to burn more calories at rest and reduce fat accumulation.
30-60 minutes of exercise over 3-5 days a week is a great place to start!
2. Sweating doesn’t mean you are losing fat
You have probably heard the saying ‘Sweat is our fat crying’. Sitting in a pool of our own sweat isn’t nice but it feels like confirmation that the exercise we are doing is working, melting some fat and firing up our muscles.
The truth is sweat is made up of mostly water and salts (7). It is our body’s cooling process triggered by a rise in core temperature and it indicates that through thermoregulation we are burning calories. However, where we burn those calories from (muscle storage vs fat storage) is heavily dependent on the type, intensity and length of workout we are doing. Fat burning in essence is a metabolic process centered around energy usage and storage.
3. Carbs don’t make you gain weight. Excess calories do!
Outside of hormonal and medical issues, weight gain occurs from being in a calorie surplus (eating more calories than we burn).
There are 4 calories per 1 gram of carbohydrates, 4 calories per 1 gram of protein and 9 calories per 1 gram of fat. Eliminating any one of these food groups can have a negative impact on your health and the opposite effect on your weight loss journey.
Carbohydrates are ESSENTIAL! They are broken down into glucose which is the body’s primary fuel source and is essential for our brain and muscles.
Chemically carbs are found in several forms. However, the two main umbrellas are Simple and Complex.
Simple carbs are short chain sugars that provide short lasting energy spikes. Examples include: sugar, white breads, pasta, foods made with refined white flour, sweets, sugary drinks and fruit juices etc.
Studies have linked excess consumption of simple carbs to an increase in obesity, diabetes (8) and food cravings after quick blood sugar spikes.
Complex carbs are long chain sugars that contain more nutrients, digest slower and provide long lasting energy to the body.
The two types of complex carbs are fiber and starch. These help to manage blood sugar levels, bowel movement and regularity as well as efficient energy storage and production.
Example foods are: whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruits (apples, berries, bananas).
Focusing on complex carbs will help you to:
- Regulate your blood sugar levels
- Support brain health
- Improve digestion and gut health
- Manage your weight
- Replenish your muscle glycogen and aid in quicker recovery
4. Eating at night does NOT make you gain weight
As mentioned in the example above, weight gain primarily stems from eating too many calories. Eating at night doesn’t change the numerical value of the calories provided by any food group. However, eating late at night may lead to poor quality sleep and sleep deprivation.
Poor sleep can induce stress which affects weight regulation, in addition, it can also induce cravings for high-calorie foods and lead to poor nutritional choices (9).
5. You can’t spot reduce fat
Spot reduction also known as ‘Targeted Fat Loss’ is the idea that you can use a specific type of exercise to burn fat in a specific area. For example, exercising your thighs to get rid of fat around the thighs. As much as we all wish that it was that simple, spot reduction doesn’t work or at the very least isn’t noticeably effective.
The main reason is due to how the fat burning process works.
Fat burning process (simplified)
The fat we accumulate is stored in cells throughout the body as triglycerides. These triglycerides act as an energy reserve in the event that we run out of food or access to new energy. However, to access that fat energy the body needs to enter a process called adipocyte lipolysis (a mechanism the body goes through to break down stored fat) which is triggered when we are into a calorie deficit.
Our stored fat is broken down into free fatty acids and glycerol and sent through the bloodstream to be converted into usable energy via the liver.
This entire process happens automatically and isn’t governed or stimulated by the body part we choose to exercise. Which means, taking a whole body approach to fat loss is the best way for you to lose fat in the areas you want.
Ways to to stimulate fat burn when exercising:
- Enter a sustainable calorie deficit (combining diet with exercise)
- Add cardio to your weekly workout routine – cardio burns more active calories than any other form of exercise. This is a great way to increase your overall calorie deficit
- Try HIIT training 2-3x per week – High Intensity Interval Training has been shown to be more effective at burning fat than steady state cardio. This is part due to its ability to lower insulin resistance, improv3 skeletal muscle adaptation, enhance fat oxidation and improve our glucose tolerance (10). Furthermore, HIIT helps to keep your metabolic rate higher for several hours post workout
It can be tempting to look for shortcuts and work towards immediate results. However, slow and steady always wins the race!
Your health and fitness should be treated as a lifelong journey of self-discovery. Over time you will get to know more about how your body works, the type of training that is effective for you, the foods and meal timings make you feel the best and schedule that motivates you to keep going.
So, don’t rush, keep learning and keep moving. Until the next post!
Mike and Viv aka MrandMrsMuscle
References 1. Vispute, Sachin S; Smith, John D; LeCheminant, James D; Hurley, Kimberly S The Effect of Abdominal Exercise on Abdominal Fat, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: September 2011 - Volume 25 - Issue 9 - p 2559-2564 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181fb4a46 2. Luigi Fontana, J. Christopher Eagon, Maria E. Trujillo, Philipp E. Scherer, Samuel Klein; Visceral Fat Adipokine Secretion Is Associated With Systemic Inflammation in Obese Humans. Diabetes 1 April 2007; 56 (4): 1010–1013. https://doi.org/10.2337/db06-1656 3. Verkouter I, Noordam R, le Cessie S, et al. The Association between Adult Weight Gain and Insulin Resistance at Middle Age: Mediation by Visceral Fat and Liver Fat. J Clin Med. 2019;8(10):1559. Published 2019 Sep 28. doi:10.3390/jcm8101559 4. Shuster A, Patlas M, Pinthus JH, Mourtzakis M. The clinical importance of visceral adiposity: a critical review of methods for visceral adipose tissue analysis. Br J Radiol. 2012;85(1009):1-10. doi:10.1259/bjr/38447238 5. Stefan M Pasiakos, Harris R Lieberman, Victor L Fulgoni, III, Higher-Protein Diets Are Associated with Higher HDL Cholesterol and Lower BMI and Waist Circumference in US Adults, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 145, Issue 3, March 2015, Pages 605–614, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.114.205203 6. Hairston, K.G., Vitolins, M.Z., Norris, J.M., Anderson, A.M., Hanley, A.J. and Wagenknecht, L.E. (2012). Lifestyle Factors and 5-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The IRAS Family Study. Obesity, 20(2), pp.421–427. 7. Baker LB. Physiology of sweat gland function: The roles of sweating and sweat composition in human health. Temperature (Austin). 2019;6(3):211-259. Published 2019 Jul 17. doi:10.1080/23328940.2019.1632145 8. Greenwood DC, Threapleton DE, Evans CE, et al. Glycemic index, glycemic load, carbohydrates, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Diabetes Care. 2013;36(12):4166-4171. doi:10.2337/dc13-0325