- Dr. David Alfaro
Tis the season.....
Anyone who has been following along on my blog, or on my instagram (@chubbychileno), knows that I love to eat and drink yummy things. During the year I consume a healthy supply of fat juicy steaks and cold crushable refreshments because, you know what?
Food and drinks taste good and I like them.
This time of year, however, the pants always seem to fit a little tighter. It was so bad last year that I had to go out and buy new work pants. My fat pants. I did not understand why......I was running 4 or 5 times a week and was feeling good, but the fat just stayed on. So I made a change.
Let us talk about resting energy expenditure (REE).
I have always been a gym rat. Back in my teens, I started hitting the gym to bulk up, as I was a scrawny 135 pounds. I lifted hard, but no matter what, I could not seem to break 165, when I really wanted to be 180. But, I was a teenager. I went to school, worked two jobs, and in my spare time was playing basketball, volleyball, hackysack and generally running around all day. Burning calories like I wish I had time to now.
Then came real life, and even worse, I moved to America. Portion sizes, unhealthy options, lack of healthy outdoor space, a general lack of time (thanks to dental school) and unfortunately a seriously sprained ankle, caused me to balloon way past my goal of 180. And it was alllllllll fat.
I did not really notice how fat I was when I was in New York because, well, people in America are just more robust than in Vancouver. I was fat for me, but was still thinner than most. Upon my return to Vancouver, where everyone is eating foliage and downward dogging all day, I noticed, hey....I am pretty chubs! I started running and biking and doing yoga because you know, if you don't run or bike in Vancouver, you just aren't healthy.
And I started feeling pretty good. But I wasn't looking good.
So.....I did it. It was a sad and dark time in my life. It kept me from spending time with my friends, and forced me into an unhappy place. I went on a diet (shudders).
So I stopped. Who wants to limit themselves to lettuce, chicken breast and a small potato for every meal? I love beer. I can't have a beer? MMMMM chicken wings. Rib-eye. Homo milk in my cereal.
I love that stuff. That is what makes me happy. I don't currrrrrrr if I have a belly.
But my gluttany was going to force me to by a whole new wardrobe.....and I wasn't about to do buy all new clothes and accept my fatness.
We all know the mantra, calories in/calories out. Just like all the other cardio freaks out there, I was hitting the treadmill every day trying to burn as many calories as I could. It was the perfect metaphor. I was chasing an imaginary goal, while not actually making any forward progress. The way I eat, there is no way I am going to burn those calories.
Traditionally, weight loss programs have been focused on aerobic exercise, and low intensity high repetition resistance exercise (eg jogging and low weight/high rep weight lifting). You want to burn fat and shape muscle. This is what I was doing, but it was not working, and dieting simply is not realistic.
But I thought to myself.....I do not spend most of my day exercising and burning calories, I spend most of my day "at rest". What if I could increase how many calories my body burns ALL OF THE TIME? There are different terms for this. Some people call it Basal Metabolic Rate and others Resting Energy Expenditure, and of course, nutrition and exercise nerds debate the definition. But for our puposes, lets just say it is the calories we burn in the background, when we are not intentionally exercising.
What is Resting Energy Expenditure?
Kind of how an idling car still consumes gas, at rest, our bodies need energy for all of the things that need to happen for you to live. Organs are working 24/7 and they need energy to do what they do, and they make up a big portion of the resting energy expenditure. Connective tissue is also metabolically active, and I am sure that all of you know that muscle burns more calories than fat does. Even the chemical reactions that happen in our body burn calories.
How can we augment our REE?
Well, there are many foods and supplements that you can eat that help you burn calories. Thermogenic aids raise your body temperature and therefore increase the calories your chemical reactions burn. There are foods and supplements that supposedly affect your organ metabolism too.
A more realistic, simple, safe and effective approach to improving your metabolism is by increasing your muscle mass or your "fat-free mass".
Is there evidence that increasing muscle mass increases baseline caloric expenditure?
You know that I like to find meta-analyses and systematic reviews for the answers to these questions, but unfortunately for this specific scenario, the information just isn't available. I mean there are some, but for very specific populations, such as people with metabolic syndrome, diabetes or even burns.
Regardless, there is good evidence that stem from individual clinical studies that show that building muscle mass with a dedicated resistance program increases baseline caloric expenditure, with positive effects on body composition.
Read:Lift Weights to Fight Overweight
What about aerobic exercise?
We all know that "skinny-fat" person who can run 12 clicks without busting a sweat but gets tired lifting stuff. Yes, aerobic exercise burns a large amount of calories, and burns more than weightlifting alone. And yes, there is a post workout effect of increased body temperature which further augments caloric expenditure.
But, is cariovascular exercise alone an efficient way of trimming the fat? Not really. It is just plain hard to keep up with caloric intake if you do not boost your metabolism. Aerobic exercise helps a lot with burning calories when exercising, but it's effect on resting metabolism is not great enough to help keep the weight down, unless you add a strict diet to the mix.....and that just is not fun or realistic.
Read: Aerobic exercise for weight loss
What about combining the two?
The human body is not designed for monotony. People with dogs do not realize that their houses smell like dog because they have become accustomed to the smell. If you eat spicy food all the time, you get used to it. The body adapts.
The same goes for exercise. If you run at the same pace, your body adapts. If you lift the same amount of weight, your body adapts.
We need to be constantly changing the stimuli that our bodies receive in order for adaptations to continue. This is especially true in exercise and the science backs it.
Combination exercises such as High Intensity Interval Training have been shown to allow for general improvements in body composition and athletic performance, and better than sticking to one modality. Yes, if you want to be an elite runner, or a power lifter, you have to focus on those skills in particular. If you are working out to keep healthy though, mix it up!
Read: Different exercise modalities to fight obesity
And that is what I did....
I re-introduced the teenage bulking style, heavy-weight, lifting protocol. It seemed counterintuative because I was technically burning less calories per workout, but it worked. I have jacked up the weights and made sure that I covered every muscle group at least two times a week, and I changed my cardio from boring hour-long snoozefests, to short duration, high intensity, heart pumping, adrenalin and endorphin releasing sprints.
It has made a difference for me, and the true test has been this holiday season. I am still battling the bulge, but it has been easier this year and I am more confident that I can go out and feast on all of the yummy meals, mulled wine, and bailey's coffees I want without feeling guilty because my clothes wont fit.
I just have to go hit the stacks to balance things out.
Thanks for reading!!!
Please like, share and follow along!
p.s. please see a personal trainer (with a kinesiology degree of course) if you are considering starting an exercise program.