What is the difference between being thin and healthy, and being thin and unhealthy you ask? Take a look at these two pictures. On the left we have a Victoria’s Secret Model (no jokes), and on the right we have a Nike model.
If it’s not immediately clear to you, these ladies are both thin, but the one on the left has a significantly greater risk for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
We all have those friends who seem to remain thin no matter what they eat, and no matter how much they sit on their skinny bums all day. Chances are, these people are practicing calorie restriction and/or are genetically blessed to avoid overt weight gain. Think of teenagers as an example, being able to consume copious amounts of sugar without gaining weight. However this does not mean that they are immune to the risks of unhealthy eating and no exercise!
One would assume that maintaining a slim physique would be healthy, or at least healthier than being overtly obese. However this is not the case. In 2008 a study conducted on Americans found that almost ¼ adults with a normal weight had some form of cholesterol, blood pressure or heart dysregulation. Older adults with a normal body mass index (BMI) but a high body fat percentage (BF%) were also at greater risk for cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality according to a study conducted in 2013. Just last year another report found that individuals with a normal BMI but high BF% had a higher risk for the dreaded metabolic syndrome and even death. The risks of being “skinny fat” are pretty clear. If we do not show our fat on the outside on a subcutaneous level, it certainly collects around our organs (known as visceral fat). This is NOT a good thing.
What we actually want is for our bodies to have normal-to-low amounts of body fat, and normal-to-higher amounts of muscle tissue. Our lean body mass (muscle tissue) is our most metabolically active tissue, and thus largely responsible for our metabolic rate. This means the more muscle we have, the faster our metabolism. We need adequate muscle tissue in order to support not just our skeletal system, but our cardiovascular system as well.
No amount of calorie restriction will magically eliminate your body fat without negatively impacting your muscle mass. In fact, calorie restriction if not controlled may actually increase muscle mass losses. This leaves us weak, tired, and with a slow metabolism.
So what if we want to be slim, but keep our muscle stores? The non-negotiables are Eat Clean and Exercise. Cut back on all sugar, trans fats and processed foods. There are three main steps do achieving this. Aside from the non-negotiables, there are three main steps to achieving a low body fat and healthy lean muscle mass:
Contrary to popular belief, ultra-endurance training is not the answer to weight loss. Higher intensity, interval training has been shown to enhance weight losses and boost muscle stores. Resistance training on its own has also been shown to boost weight loss and muscle gain. For the Ladies, this doesn’t mean that you will end up looking like the Rock, so do not fear the weights section in the gym!
When you increase your resistance training and high intensity interval training workouts, you will need to increase your protein intake as well. Make sure to include a good quality, pure, organic whey protein to both your pre- and post-workout routine (with the post-workout serving being most important). Aim for a supplement that will give you at least 15-20 grams in your serving, and try to ingest this within an hour of your workout.
Calorie restriction works for weight loss. This is a fact. You should aim to cut your calories by at least 500kcal per day for weight loss. There are great calorie counters on the web that you can use to determine your daily needs to cover your metabolic needs plus the demands of exercise. Alternatively seek the help of a health professional to calculate this for you.
If you start off with these three steps (and the non-negotiables) you will reach your body composition goals. Give up on starving yourself until your next McDonalds meal and make a real commitment to living healthy and strong!