Saturday, 28 May 2011

Metabolic Damage Why It Happens, How to Avoid It and How to Fix It

By Tom Venuto, Fat Loss Expert,
Author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle

Somewhere in your fitness travels (or random googling), you may have come across the topic of “metabolic damage” or its close relative, “starvation mode.” Perhaps both.  If so, you probably felt a twinge of fear after hearing a description like this one:

star•va•tion mode - noun (stär-ˈvā-shən mōd): a series of metabolic, hormonal and behavioral responses to extreme or prolonged calorie deprivation, which is common during many popular weight loss diets. Since your body can’t recognize the difference between severe dieting and starving, it responds as if you were really starving: Protective mechanisms are activated to decrease your rate of further weight loss, including reduced energy, lower physical activity and increased appetite. Your metabolism also slows down more than you’d predict for the amount of body weight lost. 

As you self-diagnose your symptoms, you really begin to worry: low energy… hungry all the time… can’t stop thinking about food... seems like you’re not losing fast enough for how little you’re eating…  weight loss has gotten slower or even reached a plateau. And when returning to normal eating, you seem to gain back the weight faster and easier than you ever gained weight before!

At this point, your heart drops into the pit of your stomach and you’re convinced that you’re a metabolic damage victim.   “What If I’m in starvation mode?” you ask yourself.  “What if I’ve messed up my thyroid gland?” “What if I’m stuck with this fat forever because my metabolism is SHOT?”

Okay, now that I’ve scared you half to death, you can take a deep sigh of relief. Not because there’s no truth to the problems I’ve just described, but because there are solutions.

The metabolic damage and starvation mode controversies

First, I want to confirm that both “starvation mode” and “metabolic damage” are real, although some bloggers and internet writers keep insisting they’re not. The reason for the confusion is understandable though, because these phenomena are misunderstood, and myths about them abound.

The big doozy is the (mythical) girl who (claims) she’s eating “only 300 calories a day and not losing weight.” Funny how you put her in a metabolic ward on 1000-1200 calories a day (measured and enforced) and she starts losing weight like crazy. That wasn’t starvation mode caused by a 300 calorie per day “slow metabolism.” The damaging admission you’ll never hear from our physics-defying girl is, “I suck at counting calories and I underreport how much I eat…. Oh yeah, I overestimate how many calories I burn too.” [end sarcasm]

Starvation mode and metabolic damage are also not scientific terms, which is another reason they are unduly dismissed. If you look up “adaptive thermogenesis” however, (the technical term for the metabolic decrease part of starvation mode), you’ll find plenty of evidence proving that it’s real. It affects some people more than others due to genetic and lifestyle factors and it’s not a stretch to suggest that metabolic damage hits women harder than men.

Details about the mechanisms and hormones involved are beyond the scope of this article and would put 90% of my readers to sleep anyway. What’s important for now is that you understand this:  starvation dieting causes rapid weight loss, but also causes “bad stuff” to happen to your body that makes continued weight loss more difficult and weight regain more likely. It’s a very complex process, involving numerous feedback loops and body systems.

The lasting effects of starvation dieting

Research dating back to the 1980’s and 1990’s found that diet-induced decreases in metabolism can extend to the period AFTER the diet is over.  This gives us yet another reason why keeping the weight off is so hard.
Diane Elliot, an MD and professor of medicine at Oregon University published her research in 1989 about the lasting effects of very low calorie diets. She wrote:

"Resting metabolic rate of our obese subjects remained depressed after massive weight loss despite increased caloric consumption to a level that allowed body weight stabilization."

In 1997, Abdul Dulloo and his colleagues at the University of Geneva completed a similar study which examined the effects of semi starvation after the calorie restriction had ended. He said:

"The reduction in thermogenesis during semistarvation persists after 12 weeks of restricted refeeding, with its size being inversely proportional to the degree of fat recovery."

In 1999, Arne Astrup published a meta analysis with data from all the studies which had investigated changes in metabolism after weight loss. They found that formerly obese subjects had a 3-5% lower resting metabolic rate than control subjects who had never been obese.

These and other studies suggest that metabolic consequences of crash dieting and rapid weight loss persist after the diet is over. The degree of metabolic drop can vary from the almost insignificant to the very serious, but the drop is real. This is “metabolic damage.”  I would define it not only as the bad stuff that happens during the diet, but also as the lag time between when a severe diet ends and when your hormones, metabolic rate and appetite-regulating mechanisms get back to normal.

Pursuing weight loss the wrong way (“dumb dieting”) makes the bad stuff worse and aftereffects linger longer. Pursuing fat loss and body composition improvement the smart way minimizes the bad stuff and prevents outright metabolic damage. The Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (BFFM) program is based – from A to Z – on doing fat loss the smart way.

7 Smart strategies for fat burning and metabolic health
Below, you’ll see 7 of the best fat burning strategies which keep your hormones happy and your metabolism burning hot.

Eat more! You need a caloric deficit for weight loss, but there are different ways to do it. You can eat less. You can exercise more. You can do a little bit of both.  In addition, how specifically you eat less and exercise more makes all the difference. The smart way is to avoid crash diets and pursue slower but steady fat loss with an eye on body composition. Start with a conservative deficit of only 20% below your maintenance level. Use a larger deficit only if you’re seriously overweight. Increase the deficit incrementally when you need to, ideally not going above 30% under maintenance. When you add in resistance training, cardio training and an active lifestyle, your calorie expenditure (metabolism) goes way up, and that’s how you can legitimately eat more and keep getting leaner. 

1. Eat natural. The long term use of refined, artificial foods will eventually take its toll on your health. When hormonal health declines, body composition outcomes are worse during weight loss and risk of metabolic damage may increase. Furthermore, most natural, unprocessed foods, especially vegetables and lean proteins, are lower in caloric density and can lead to spontaneous decreases in caloric intake compared to the standard American diet (S.A.D.)  For optimal body composition results and  metabolic and hormonal health, it’s not just about calorie quantity, but also calorie quality. Don’t focus on one to the neglect of the other.

2. Eat often and regularly: I recommend eating like a physique athlete. Spread your total daily calories into 4-6 small meals per day, if feasible, and be sure to include a source of lean protein with every meal. But whatever meal schedule you choose, consistency is of great importance: studies have shown that haphazard eating patterns are at least partially responsible for metabolic disarray including decreased thermic effect of feeding and dysregulation of blood sugar and insulin 

3. Use carb cycling. The Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle Method puts you in the optimal healthy calorie deficit, but periodically, you increase your calories to keep your metabolism and appetite regulating hormones up at the normal level. Instead of the carb-phobic diets that millions of people still follow (which can actually suppress hormones like thyroid and leptin), carb cycling with a high carb refeed every 4th day or so, allows you to eat more carbs and you still keep losing fat.  The benefits are physical and psychological and best part is, you’re never completely deprived.  

4. Take Diet breaks: Avoid prolonged periods in aggressive caloric deficits. If you have a lot of fat to lose and it’s going to take more than 3 months to hit your long term fat loss goal, don’t do it all in one stretch. Take a week at maintenance calories after 12 weeks of restricted dieting. This – raising your calories - is the most counter-intuitive of all the metabolism-rebuilding strategies but it’s one of the most important.  

5. Do Cardio. Don’t Over-Do It. If you’re overweight, you can sometimes get away with very low calorie diets without adverse consequences if you’re not doing tons of cardio on top of it.  Endurance athletes get away with high volume training because they provide ample amounts of food to fuel it (man, those guys can EAT!) Dieters and physique competitors on the other hand, often semi-starve themselves while doing huge amounts of cardio at the same time.

6. Do Cardio. Don’t Over-Do It. If you’re overweight, you can sometimes get away with very low calorie diets without adverse consequences if you’re not doing tons of cardio on top of it.  Endurance athletes get away with high volume training because they provide ample amounts of food to fuel it (man, those guys can EAT!) Dieters and physique competitors on the other hand, often semi-starve themselves while doing huge amounts of cardio at the same time. 

Exercise research says that extreme amounts of cardio during a diet can actually cause the same type of adaptive metabolic downshift as eating too little food. Fitness and figure competitors have been known to do 2 or even 3 hours of cardio a day before competitions. This kind of overtraining can be counter-productive when you look at the metabolic damage and “cardio dependency” potential. And remember, if you’re not diligent, you can out-eat almost any amount of exercise. If you’re doing upwards of an hour of cardio a day and not seeing significant fat loss, you’d better take a close look at your diet first before you rush to add more cardio. 

7. Weight training: In the physique world, weight training is a foregone conclusion. But in the everyday world of non-athletes, weight loss = “diet,” not weight loss = “lift weights.”   For Suzy soccer mom, “lift weights to lose weight” probably doesn't even compute. But weight training is so important for metabolic health and better body composition, that if you were forced to choose one or the other – cardio or weights – the weightlifting would be a NO BRAINER decision. If you have a concern about metabolic damage and you’re not weight training yet, there’s nothing else to discuss. Start pumping iron, then get back to me.

What if you have long history of starvation dieting and yo yo weight cycling?

Ok, so these 7 strategies are great for avoiding metabolic damage and minimizing the metabolic adaptations that happen while dieting. But what if you’re a chronic dieter and you fear that you’ve already messed up your metabolism?

Take another sigh of relief. With the exception of a pessimistic report we see here and there about metabolic damage being irreparable, the majority of the research says the effects are temporary. In severe cases, it may take a little longer to get back to normal and continue on to achieve your long term goals, but it's never hopeless.

One case I recall was a former jazz and ballet dancer. At 5' 5", she was previously 110 lbs and had increased to about 145 or so. She didn't want to reach her previous 110, but find a happy medium of about 125 -130 lbs. I figured with at most 20 lbs to cut, this would be a simple and predictable process, but she had a challenging time dropping fat even on a surprisingly low caloric intake. I didn't know why at first – but I knew she wasn’t cheating and she was tracking food intake meticulously.

I later found out that she had been anorexic and bulimic for many years. This had lasting repercussions, and although she did reach her goal, it took about twice as long as we anticipated.

Easing into more calories and more carbs with a transitional period 

If you think you’re in the same boat:  (A) it seems like you’re not eating that much, but you’re not losing fat and or (B) you’ve finally reached your goal but you’re terrified of regaining if you raise your calories, you should use the same 7 strategies to get your metabolism back in gear.  You simply need to add a “transition period” to build your calories back up slowly. If you’re worried about suddenly increasing your calories, you’re not paranoid – you’re prudent.

After becoming accustomed and somewhat adapted to a lower caloric intake, avoid abruptly jumping up to your predicted maintenance level. Instead, increase calories slowly 100-200 at a time and hold them there for one week. Measure the results after each one week phase, and then repeat until you reach your appropriate deficit or maintenance level. This will give your body and your mind time to adjust.

Here’s another safe way to ease into a higher food intake. This is ideal if you’ve been on a low calorie, low carb diet and you want to ease out of it. Add carbs, but start by adding them only in the post workout meal. During the post-training window of opportunity, not only will the carbs NOT get stored as fat, (they’ll get sucked right up into muscle glycogen), this strategy can dramatically improve your body composition and workout recovery.

If you still feel discouraged despite now having these strategies at your fingertips, then take one last sigh of relief. The good news is, even in extreme cases, these nutrition and training principles work! It just takes a little longer.

My dancer client? She kept going. With patience and hard work, she placed top 5 in a national fitness competition – and as you can imagine, her routine was killer, just like her body!  By the way, her program included serious heavy training with free weights and she ate a lot more (clean) food than she had ever eaten before…

Your friend and coach,
Tom Venuto
Fat Loss Coach

Friday, 27 May 2011

A New Morning Ritual to Get Ripped Abs

Instead of an in-depth article for you to read today, I just wanted to share a few fitness techniques I've been using myself lately, and my new "morning ritual" which has been getting killer results! 

In fact, just doing this morning ritual for the last 7 mornings in a row, I can already see that my lower abs are getting more defined by the day (indicating that this is lowering my body fat % a bit more).

This involves both exercise AND nutrition tricks, so read this whole post, even if you can't do the exact same type of exercise.

Ok, here's the method I've been using that is getting amazing results...

We just started getting really warm spring weather here in the Rockies, so the last 7 mornings in a row, I've walked 15 minutes over to the local soccer field and done about 20 minutes or so of all-out wind sprints (50-100 yard wind sprints with full out intensity), and then I do the 15 minute walk back home.

Even if you can't do wind sprints, keep in mind that you can still do something similar that is a higher intensity for you personally (perhaps hill walking instead of wind sprints, for example). 

By the way, outdoor sprints are where the action is... sprints on a treadmill don't have the same effect as there's more force production involved in accelerating a sprint outdoors compared to on a treadmill.  Plus, the max speed on a treadmill is not high enough usually for an "all-out" sprint.  In my mind, it's a world of difference.  Personally I never step foot on a treadmill.

How wind sprints raise your fat melting hormones:

One of the reasons that wind sprints are so effective at chiseling your body and reducing body fat to "ripped" levels (have you ever seen the bodies of some competitive sprinters? ripped!) is that sprints are one of the specific exercises that are known to have a great effect on increasing Growth Hormone (GH) naturally in your body...

...and we all know that GH production in your body is one of the key secrets to getting lean, strong, and also staying youthful!

For the wind sprints, what I've been doing is increasing distance on each sprint from 50 meters to 60 meters, 70, 80, 90, and finally 100 meters.  Then I repeat the cycle.  Usually just 2 cycles of this is enough to get me fully whooped (about 12 all-out sprints)!  But as time goes on this summer, I will try to increase distance, the number of sprints, or the intensity to keep progressing.

Now for the morning nutrition trick I've been using...

I've tried "morning empty stomach exercise" in the past, and here's the deal... I usually don't have the energy to do anything intense first thing in the morning without eating, so for these sprints, I've found a nice little concoction I came up with that gives me the energy to do these high intensity sprints without weighing me down, and without many calories.  It's just enough to do the trick!

What I've been doing is mixing Athletic Greens (which is lightly sweetened with stevia, nothing artificial, and with only 40 calories per serving, but 76 superfoods mixed in) with unsweetened iced tea (green, white, oolong, and yerba mate mixture) first thing in the morning.  I usually have a big batch of unsweetened iced tea in a gallon container in the fridge that has at least these 4 teas mixed for taste and diversity of antioxidants.

I also mix in about a half scoop (12 grams) of raw grass-fed whey protein, and I have a couple grams of BCAA's (to help minimize muscle catabolism), and a few caps of krill oil.

This entire concoction is only about 120 calories total (with only 3 grams of carbs from the Athletic Greens), so it's just enough to give me energy to do the high intensity sprints, but not too much to weigh me down.

I also take one capsule of an oolong tea extract (capsules are explained on the order page there) that I've been experimenting with lately.  This has about 50 mg of naturally occuring caffeine per capsule, and oolong tea is shown in some studies to increase the % of fat calories burned if taken before exercise.

I get about 15-20 minutes to digest this mixture a little (the walk to the soccer field takes about 15 min) and then I start to rock out the 20-25 minutes of all-out wind sprints.  The 15 minute walk back home is a nice cool down.
It feels amazing, and I end up getting an insane workout with plenty of energy, as opposed to the no energy feeling I have if I try to do "empty stomach" exercise first thing in the morning.  This also makes me feel really energetic for the rest of the day too, and I'm sure boosts my metabolism!

When I come back from the sprinting, I then make my full breakfast, which lately has been my fairly low-carb healthy breakfast of 4 whole eggs (free range from a local farmers market), grass-fed bison sausage, lots of veggies mixed in to the eggs (mushrooms, onions, spinach, kale, and red peppers), and a half of an avocado on the side.  And I have a cup of unsweetened green tea or yerba mate.

The fat loss results so far:

Keep in mind, I've only been doing this morning ritual for about 7 mornings so far... but even with only a week of this method, I've already had noticeably more definition in the lower abs doing this every morning for the last 7 days or so!

So if you're up for a challenge and a great training and nutrition combo method, this seems to be working wonders for me so far!  Let's get ripped and ready for summer!  Perhaps you can find a way to do something similar in your routine.

I hope this post has given you some good ideas to use.  Have fun!

By the way, if you haven't seen this article yet, give it a read, and make sure you're not doing any of these:

The 7 WORST exercises to STOP doing

Mike Geary
Certified Nutrition Specialist
Certified Personal Trainer

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The 7 WORST Exercises to NEVER Do

These 7 exercises are popular with most workout enthusiasts, but they could actually be HARMING your body!
by Dr. Kareem Samhouri - CSCS, HFS
Neuro Metabolic Fitness & Rehab Expert
Author of the popular programs:  Abs Strength Guide and Double Edged Fat Loss

Exercise is meant to help you, right?
Unfortunately, there are certain “exercises” in the gym that cause more harm than good. I’d like to take a strong look at the 7 most prevalent injury-causing exercises in most gyms. The worst part is that these exercises are pretty much useless when it comes to building strength or losing fat. There really isn’t much of a point in doing them, whatsoever, and yet they can destroy our results.
It’s time to put an end to the worst exercises on Earth. I’m here to help you understand how your body moves, why it responds to exercise the way it does, and how to minimize your risk while you maximize the effect from every exercise you do.
As a side note, I think it’s important to mention that the last thing I want is for you to feel discouraged; rather, it’s important that you feel inspired to know you have eliminated the negative from your exercise program. Now, you’ll be able to safely rely on the fact that “you’re doing it right” when you exercise. Plus, I think you’ll be shocked to realize how much you’ve learned about your body’s ideal positioning and muscle recruitment strategies with exercise.
The main reasons that an exercise would qualify in the following list is one or more of the following:
  1. Creates muscle imbalances
  2. Has zero functional benefit
  3. Winds up joint into unsafe position
If an exercise creates muscle imbalances, this can lead to joint deterioration all over your body and even blunt fat loss. You see, once your joints are out of position, your body has sub-sensory pain signals taking place all over the body. These pain signals tell your brain to shut down the muscles in the area in order to avoid “pulling on the injury” and causing more damage. The end result: no muscle contraction and weaker muscles.
We exercise to be stronger in our daily lives and live a longer/higher quality of life. If an exercise has no true benefit in either or both of these categories, then what’s the point?
Just because someone tries an exercise in a gym isn’t a reason to make this part of your routine. The gym is full of mostly amateurs, including several of the personal trainers at big name gyms. After all, that’s where many of us started out at one point or another...
“Winding up your joint” into an unsafe position involves increased pressure on the labrum or capsule of a joint while performing an exercise. Simultaneously, it’ll be likely that a muscle is being overstretched while being recruited to contract. This is a recipe for disaster. Instead, let’s find a position of rest for the joint and then exercise it. This will assist the natural delivery of nutrients to the joint and joint capsule.
Also important to mention, we should consider these two terms in understanding the benefits/consequences of an exercise:
  1. Active Insufficiency - this is when a muscle is over-shortened and you try to use it. An example is if you “make a muscle” with your biceps and then see how strong you are. The muscle is already short, so you’re not as strong as you are in the middle of the movement.
  2. Passive Insufficiency - this is when a muscle is over-lengthened and you try to use it. An example is if you tip your wrist back all the way and then try to curl your fingers. Because your wrist flexors are over-stretched, your muscles are having a hard time contracting. Again, you’d be much stronger if your wrist were in neutral, or halfway in between.
Lastly, I’d like to discuss the difference between open and closed chain exercises, and how this will affect the functional carryover in a particular exercise:
  • Open-chained exercise: Fixed proximal segment, moving distal. Proximal means closer to your heart and distal means closer to your fingers and toes. So, in this case, it would be our hand moving towards our elbow (biceps curl), foot moving towards our buttocks (leg curl), etc.
    • It’s important to note that open-chained exercises are very effective for sculpting muscles in the final stages of bodybuilding, or isolation training for rehabilitative purposes; although, they do create much more torsion into the joint and generally only exercise one muscle at a time. Due to these being isolation type movements, the metabolic effect of open-chain exercises is generally much lower than closed-chain movements.
  • Closed-chain exercises: Fixed distal segment, moving proximal. This is just the opposite, so your foot would be fixed as your body moves closer to it (squat/deadlift), or your hands would be fixed as your body moves closer to them (push up, pull up.)
    • Likewise, it’s noteworthy that closed-chain exercises are very effective at building balanced joints, spiking metabolism, and increasing functional gains in daily life while reducing or eliminating risk of injury. Closed-chain exercises have a higher metabolic effect because more muscle groups and joints are being used.
Ok, you’ve already got a great background for judging exercises and their quality, or lack thereof. Now, let’s dive in and take a look at the 7 worst exercises:

1) Leg Presses

These are awful. Here’s why: Creates muscle imbalances, zero functional benefit, winds up joint to unsafe position
Muscle Balance Perspective:
  • Quads are generally stronger than hamstrings; this reinforces the problem.
    When your quadriceps overpower your hamstrings in deep knee flexion, there is increased torsion placed into the meniscus, increasing the likelihood of knee injury.
  • Quads and glutes should be used as a pair. In this case, they are not being used effectively.
    When your glutes do not fire while using your quads with a great level of force, there is increased risk of low back injury.
An imbalance between your quadriceps and hamstrings can quickly result in a number of knee issues, including patellofemoral (kneecap) and meniscus damage. Even worse, when your quads overpower your hamstrings, it’s not uncommon to develop restrictions in these muscles as your body attempts to even things out. These restrictions lead to increased pull on the top of your pelvis, tipping it forward, and placing pressure in your low spine.

This all sounds complicated, but let’s make it easy. Just stand up and lean backwards. If your hip flexors are tight, you’ll feel a stretch in the front of your thighs. It’s a good bet that we should get you training in more functional abs positions. You may already be spending too much of your day in this pre-shortened position, causing ‘active insufficiency’ to take place.
Functional Benefit Assessment:
  • In most cases, people aren’t coming down to a full 90 degrees of knee flexion, which is needed for getting in/out of a chair.
  • Even in these cases your abs are so pre-contracted (active insufficiency) and low back extensors so overstretched (passive insufficiency) that it’s tough to use your quads with any abdominal or low back support.
  • Since your abs and low back are out of the picture, this exercise loses a lot of its functionality.
Metabolic Effect:
The metabolic effect of this exercise is less because the number of muscles used is less than similar weight-bearing (closed-chain) exercises. Ultimately, the number of muscles and joints you use in a given exercise determines the metabolic effect of that exercise.

2) Leg Extensions

Muscle Balance Perspective:
  • Quads are generally stronger than hamstrings; this reinforces the problem.
  • Quads and glutes should be used as a pair. In this case, they are not being used effectively.
  • Interestingly, if you are having a hard time contracting your vastus medialis oblique (VMO) in your knee, the last 15 degrees of this movement can be helpful, but careful with the torque into your knee joint.
  • Again, only for the last 15 degrees until your knee is totally straight, and this can often cause more damage than good.
Functional Benefit Assessment:
  • It can also be argued that this exercise may help if you are a soccer player, but power lifting has been demonstrated to improve sprinting and kicking ability much more than any variety of leg extensions.
  • When you walk, you use your quads and hamstrings; here, it’s just quads.
This comes down to torque. Think about a long screwdriver and a short screwdriver. It’s easier to use the long one, meaning you don’t have to turn it as hard. This is a result of the force of you turning the screwdriver x the distance to the end of the screwdriver. That’s how torque is calculated.
In this example, we are exercising above our knee, but the weight goes on our ankle. Think about that distance... that’s a lot of torque into our knees with a lot of weight!

Metabolic Effect:
Low. This is a single joint exercise that is isolation-based. By definition, there will be a low metabolic effect. Instead, choose more compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, or lunges for an increased metabolic effect with this muscle group.

3) Machine Leg Curls

Muscle Balance Perspective:
  • Majority of force placed through distal hamstring, rather than proximal. This results in increased pressure behind the knee.
  • Requires change of position to recruit medial hamstrings and glutes on this exercise, which should be used as a muscle pair.
Functional Benefit Assessment:
  • I can’t think of a moment in time where I need to perform this movement in daily life.
  • However, if I ran hurdles, this may help, but again deadlifts and power lifts seem to improve sprint capacity at the same time and provide greater benefit.
This is a question of torque into the knee again. Also, in this case, the hamstrings tend to cramp a lot, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, or necessary at all.

If you have a Baker’s Cyst behind your knee, that’s a lot of pressure. For others, it’s really pulling the posterior horn of your meniscus, while missing your proximal (closer to your butt) hamstring altogether.

Metabolic Effect:
Low effect, as this is a single joint exercise.

4) Biceps Preacher Curls