Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Get lean – Stay lean!

Who doesn’t want to be lean?
Lean enough to see a full six-pack, to be able to see veins in your arms and the detail of each muscle standing out like a walking anatomy chart? You might already have relatively low body fat – especially compared to the average non-exerciser, but most of us want more than that – we want to be freakily lean, ripped and shredded, like the models in the fitness magazines!

Getting that lean isn’t easy but, if you follow my advice it’s a realistic goal. You’re going to have to be organised, dedicated, strict and determined but if you follow these guidelines, you’ll be on you way to not just getting really lean but staying that way too.

1) Diet.
If your diet isn’t nailed down tight then no amount of exercise will get you lean. I favour a diet high in protein, vegetables and fruit, moderate amounts of low G.I. unrefined carbohydrates like whole grains, sweet potatoes, oatmeal etc, moderate amounts of Omega 3 & 6 essential fats, and very low amounts of sugar, refined grains and processed foods. And remember the nutritional law of proximity & possession – if you have junk food in your house, it will get eaten sooner or later so avoid dietary pit falls by having a junk food free kitchen!

Try to eat food in it’s most natural state, vegetables and fruits in as raw as possible to preserve their nutrient content and make sure every one of your 4 – 6 meals consumed each day contains protein, plus fruit or vegetables. Don’t forget to consume plenty of fluids – preferably water but diet soda is okay now and then.

Consistency is the key with nutrition – the best diet in the world will still fail if you can’t stick to it 24/7.

2) Resistance Training.
To lose fat, we have to consume fewer calories than usual to force our bodies to burn our “spare tyre and muffin tops” for fuel. Unfortunately when the body thinks it’s being starved, it actually prefers to save fat in favour of using muscle for energy. Major bummer! This phenomenon, the “Starvation Response”, is the body’s way of surviving during periods of famine. Our marvellous, amazing bodies have no idea you are voluntarily eating less to “look good naked” and makes the incorrect assumption that you are starving. The body attempts to make its fat stores last longer by lowering your metabolism and ditching your hard won muscle. To cut a very long story short, to preserve muscle in times of reduced energy consumption we need to perform regular resistance training. Forget the “high reps for cutting” nonsense spouted by numerous arm chair experts and train for strength – heavy weights, compound exercises, and multiple sets of low to moderate reps (4 – 8 max) Keep your workouts at around an hour or less to minimize the potential for over training and, if possible, perform your exercises as upper body/lower body supersets e.g. squats supersetted with bench press. This system increases the intensity of your workout, keeps your heart rate elevated (important for burning fat) and makes the most of your gym time so you’ll have plenty of time left over to do some interval training after your resistance training, which we’ll cover next.

3) High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Steady state cardio can be used for body re-composition but has a number of draw backs which is why we are going to put the emphasis on HIIT. Steady state cardio does burn energy in the form of our fat stores but it also encourages catabolism (muscle breakdown). We need to maintain our Lean Body Mass (LBM or muscle to you and me) as it is our LBM which is responsible for the amount of energy we need on a daily basis. Muscle loss = a lowered metabolism which in turn = a decreased potential for burning fat.
Ironically, traditional low intensity cardio promotes not just fat loss but muscle loss too. To put in bluntly, low intensity cardio is just plain dumb and in efficient for long term fat loss. This is where HIIT comes in…

HIIT involves periods of high intensity exercise alternated with periods of rest and takes a lot less time than steady state cardio - an HIIT session might only last 18 – 21 minutes. I bet you’re wondering how such a short workout can be so much better for fat loss, compared to spending 90 minutes on an exercise bike. Well it’s all down to something very cool called “Excessive Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption” or EPOC for short. EPOC used to be called Oxygen debt and is sometimes called after-burn. When the body works beyond its ability to produce energy using Oxygen, we turn to other methods of energy production which don’t use Oxygen at all – the so-called anaerobic energy systems. The by-product of our major anaerobic energy system is Lactic Acid. You’ve felt this stuff in action many times I’m sure…that burning feeling you get in your legs during the last few reps of leg extensions? Lactic acid! To clear Lactic acid from our blood the body uses the aerobic system, where oxygen, in very simplified terms “flushes away” the build up of Lactic acid.

When you are doing steady state aerobic exercise, you burn calories at an enhanced rate but as soon as you stop, your metabolism slows back down to normal pretty quickly. However, if you perform HIIT and build up a high level of Lactic acid in your blood, your Aerobic system will go into overdrive to clear the lactic acid out essentially giving you two workouts for the price of one and because HIIT uses our muscle in a very forceful way, the likelihood of any muscle catabolism is pretty much non-existent. EPOC basically means that your fat burning furnace stays burning hotter for longer and we only get EPOC in any significant amounts after exercise which causes the build up of lactic acid.

HIIT can be performed in a gym using the usual suspects such as treadmills, bikes, crosstrainers or whatever pieces of cardio equipment you favour or it can be done outside on a track, up and down a flight of stairs or using a jump rope. The mode of exercise doesn’t matter so long as you are able to get to a very high level of workload in a short time. In its most basic form, HIIT consist of 60 seconds of flat out high intensity effort followed by 120 seconds of slow paced recovery activity e.g. alternating sprinting with brisk walking. Perform 6 – 8 “sets” to total 18 – 24 minutes duration. As the workouts become more manageable (they never get easy!) we can start to increase the density of the workout by increasing the duration of the sprints and reducing the duration of the recovery e.g. sprint for 70 seconds, walk briskly for 110 seconds. Duration should not exceed 25 – 30 minutes total. If it does, you aren’t working hard enough and you need to increase the intensity of your efforts or reduce your rest intervals. If you are working hard enough, you should find 15 – 18 minutes is plenty. Remember it’s the post exercise effect of EPOC we are after, and not the energy used during that session that’s most important. Steady state cardio – just say NO!

4) Activities of daily living (ADLs).
Have you heard of the 23/1 rule? The 23/1 rule states that just because you did an hours exercise doesn’t mean you can sit on your ass the other 23 and expect to see massive benefits from your workout. What we do in the other 23 hours plays a huge part in our goal to becoming leaner. We need to consider what can be done in the other 23 hours of the day which will contribute to our success…

One hours exercise a day, even HIIT, isn’t enough activity to get you lean if, for the other 23 hours of the day you are sedentary. Our bodies were designed to move around – a lot. So, stop using the elevator and start using the stairs, carry your groceries in a basket and don’t use the shopping trolley, if a journey is 1 mile or less, walk - don’t use your car, wash your car by hand instead of using the drive thru, take your dog for a walk instead of just letting him out in the yard to do his business, stand up frequently instead of sitting all day, get off the bus a few stops earlier than usual…Look for ways to lead a more active life and guess what? You’ll use more energy every day and get leaner, quicker! Not only will you lose body fat more readily but you’ll keep it off more easily as any dietary indiscretions will have less of an impact. It’s worth noting that a daily 20 minute walk in addition to your normal activities will result in about a 15lb fat loss per year! This additional physical activity is sometimes referred to as NEPA - non exercise physical activity and can make a real difference to the success (or failure) of your mission to get lean.

5) Sleep
Are you getting 7 – 9 hours of quality sleep every night? If not you are probably running with elevated levels of cortisol in your system (a potent catabolic hormone which breaks down muscle) and it’s unlikely you’ll be training with full intensity if you are sleep deprived. Also, our bodies go into repair mode when we are sleeping, releasing a host of anabolic hormones to repair the damage of the day. Poor sleep = poor recovery. Get plenty of sleep – period.

6) Stress
Consistently elevated levels of stress cause an increase in Cortisol production. Cortisol promotes catabolism (break down of muscle) which in turn can slow your metabolism and reduce fat burning potential. Do what ever you can to keep your stress levels under control – your waist will thank you for it!

In conclusion, getting lean will require a considerable effort on your part but with determination, consistent effort, planning and discipline this could be the year you get into and stay in your best shape ever!

Patrick Dale

1 comment:

  1. I think Diet is very important for you. High diet only in protein, vegetables and fruits.
    Consistency is the key to nutrition is the best diet in the world. Thank you very much......