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The Hard Science of Shaping Up for Summer

Summer is around the corner, and what better time to be serious about getting lean.  Regardless of where you are starting, if you start now you could be in the best shape of your life by summer.  However, you'll need to go beyond the overly simplistic "eat less and exercise more" advice.  That's equivalent to saying get rich by spending less and making more money.  Sure it makes sense on the surface, but you need a detailed plan that works for your financial metabolism. 
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The reality is, you have it within your biology to be healthy and lean, and it's not as hard as you might think.  Here's how to reprogram your body's metabolism.  

Americans Continue To Get Fatter
First, let's take stock of the current status quo.  Obesity rates have continued to climb for the last few decades.  The latest statistics indicate that 72 percent of adult men and 64 percent of adult women are overweight, as defined as body mass index equal to or more than 25 kg/m2, and approximately one-third are obese with a BMI equal to or more than 30 kg/m2.  Besides low energy and the negative psychological aspects associated with being overweight, obesity is linked to the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and increased morbidity.  The unremitting high prevalence of obesity in the United States coupled with limited success of traditional counter-measures (i.e., eat less, exercise more) has led to considerable frustration among many individuals and healthcare professionals.

Why Exercise Alone is Not the Answer
Let's start right off dispelling one of the most common myths about the positive effects of exercise on weight loss.  The truth is exercise is a rather lousy weight loss tool, but it is a great wellness tool.  The strongest evidence showing weak effects of exercise comes from studies done in identical twins under highly controlled conditions where all food was provided and exercise carefully monitored.  In one experiment twins were fed a caloric level to maintain body weight.  Then on top of that they were required to exercise for 2 hours per day for 3 months.  This created a daily energy deficit of over 600 kcal for each person in the study.  That equals an energy deficit of more than 58,000 kcal total.  If it takes a deficit of 3500 kcal to lose one pound of fat, these subjects should have lost more than 16 pounds.  The most striking finding was the wide discrepancy in weight loss among the twins ranging from 2 to 18 pounds. Think about how disappointing it would be to lose only 2 pounds after diligently exercising for 2 hours per day.  Even more striking was the discovery that the weight loss within twin pairs was very similar.  Since identical twins share the same DNA, this study clearly shows that your genetics plays a huge role in your weight loss response to exercise.   

If Exercise is Not the Answer for Everyone, What Is?
The previous example is not meant to downplay the importance of exercise, since exercise does promote many positive health effects and resistance training is necessary to build muscle.  But it does highlight the fact that exercise has weak effects in promoting weight loss and underscores the importance of paying attention to diet composition.  Many experts will say all you need to do is eat less than you expend to lose body weight.  This is exactly the wrong way to look at the situation.  If you are trying to lose weight, what you really need to do is lose body fat.  Although you may view that fat as unhealthy and unsightly, it actually represents your body's largest fuel tank.  And that fuel can be used in a positive way.  Wouldn't it be a neat trick to mobilize that fat and convert it into a reliable and consistent form of energy your body used all day long?  That's currently not the case since access to that fuel tank is being blocked by eating the wrong foods.  The trick to unlock the flow of fat from your fat stores is to keep the hormone insulin in check.  

Keeping Insulin Low
Insulin has many functions in the body, most notably increasing blood sugar uptake into cells, but here are three additional functions of insulin that emphasize why you will benefit from keeping this storage hormone low.  

First, of all the various mediators that regulate fat breakdown, insulin is the most important.  Fat, or more specifically fatty acids, are primarily stored as triglycerides in fat cells (i.e., adipocytes).  A triglyceride is simply three fatty acids attached to a single glycerol molecule.  In order to access those fatty acids you have to release them from glycerol.  This process of fat breakdown is called lipolysis.  Insulin potently blocks lipolysis.  In other words insulin prevents fatty acids from being released from fat cells.  The relationship between insulin and fat breakdown is not linear.  Small increases in insulin cause a major inhibition of fat breakdown.  
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Thus, when you raise insulin levels by consuming fast acting forms of carbs, it puts the breaks on fat breakdown both at rest and after exercise.  

A second factor relates to oxidation (i.e., burning) of fat which occurs mainly in muscles.  More specifically, fat oxidation occurs in specialized energy-producing structures called mitochondria.  Once a fatty acid enters the mitochondria it is committed to being burned and therefore this is the rate limiting step in burning fat.  Fatty acids can only enter mitochondria by a specific transporter.  Like fat breakdown, this mitochondria transporter is under tight control by insulin.  Insulin potently inhibits this fatty acid transporter and thereby blocks fat burning.    Thus, when you spike insulin levels, it inhibits both fat breakdown and fat burning.  

Third, insulin's effects are not limited to suppressing fat breakdown and oxidation; it also promotes storage of fat.  The insulin response to a high carbohydrate meal functionally blocks access to fat for fuel and at the same time promotes conversion of carbohydrate into either glycogen or fat.  Insulin does this by increasing the activity of key enzymes that control synthesis of fat in the liver and uptake of fat into fat cells.  Therefore, over time repeatedly spiking insulin contributes to accumulation of body fat.

Bottom line, keeping insulin low is the key to shifting your body's metabolism toward burring fat as the body's primary fuel.  Finding the level of dietary restriction of sugars and fast acting starches required to enable the preferential burning of body fat is the essence of a successful weight loss program.

Diet from an Evolutionary Perspective
If restricting carbohydrates seems unbalanced or even extreme, consider the fact that as humans we are well suited to respond in a positive way to carbohydrate restriction as in high energy levels, better satiety, and enhanced ability to lose body fat and maintain health.  This stems from more than 2 million years of evolution when most of us were exposed to very little carbohydrate.  Therefore, this favorable response to low carbohydrate intake is a highly conversed trait.  Now that most of us are exposed to a lot of carbs, many of us struggle to maintain a healthy weight and show signs of metabolic dysfunction.  The ability to respond favorably to increasing amounts of carbohydrate is a trait that fewer and fewer people possess (i.e., it's a less conserved trait).  In other words, if you try a low fat/high-carbohydrate diet, there is a good chance you may not respond in a positive way, no matter how much drive and determination you put into it.  This is not your fault.  It's not a problem with you; rather it's the wrong diet for your body's metabolism.  Chances are if you have failed on a high carbohydrate diet, the right diet for you is one lower in carbohydrate.  

What if your weight loss stalls?
Many people get frustrated after losing some weight and then hitting a plateau.  Don't panic--here are four possible reasons why this may be happening.  First, it's important to understand that body weight fluctuates a lot from day to day mainly because of changes in hydration status.  Since our bodies are more than half water, any changes in water balance, even a few percent, can translate into several pounds on the scale.  Thus it's best to average your weight over several days and not get hung up on any one measurement.  Exercise can also cause muscle injury and swelling which is associated with gain in water weight. 

Another reason the scale weight may not reflect true fat loss is because fat takes up more space than an equal amount of muscle due to its lower density.  If you are adding muscle while losing body fat, your weight gain will also slow.  Thus, you should evaluate your progress by inches lost and how your clothes fit. 

It's also important to realize that like most physiologic processes weight loss is not linear.  Rather, your body tends to alternate between rapid and slow phases.  In general as you get closer to your target weight, your body starts to defend against further weight loss.  If you have 50 pounds to lose, the first 30 or 40 will tend to come off relatively easily because you're further away from your goal weight. That last 10 to 20 pounds will usually take longer, and require more discipline, as the body senses the approach of its natural weight.

Practically Speaking
The level of dietary carbohydrate restriction required to maximize fat loss varies from person to person, but most people will find they get the best results when carbohydrates are kept below 50 grams per day.  You might think this translates to an exceedingly boring diet, but the truth is just the opposite.   Consider the two example meal plans at the end of the article.  Each meal plan provides 2500 kcal and less than 50 grams carbohydrate per day.  Here's just a sampling of the many foods you can eat copious amounts of while keeping carb below 50 grams per day.  I think you'll agree this is hardly unappetizing or boring.

  • Avocado
  • Bacon
  • Broth
  • Butter (consider buying Irish butter)
  • Cheese (hard)
  • Cream (heavy or whipping)
  • Eggs
  • Fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring)         
  • Fruits (berries, olives, tomatoes, lemons, limes)
  • Mayonnaise (made with olive or canola oil, not soybean oil)
  • Meats (beef, chicken, pork)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oils (olive, canola, coconut, high oleic safflower)
  • Pork rinds
  • Salami
  • Salmon
  • Sausage
  • Sour cream
  • Vegetables
  • Yogurt (Greek, whole milk)

A Few More Helpful Pointers
It's important to get enough protein, but not too much, because excessive protein can hamper the fat burning process.  There is no need to exceed 2 grams per kilogram body weight.  Also, you need to get over any fear of fat.  When carbohydrates are low, fat becomes an important component of the diet for fuel and satisfaction.  It's important to emphasize monounsaturated and saturated fats, as they are the best fuels.  There's no need to fear any harmful effects of fat, even saturated fat.  We have shown the body preferentially uses saturated fat for energy on a low carbohydrate diet.  Thus, it doesn't accumulate in your body.  

Low Carb Friendly Supplements
NytroWhey Ultra Elite is specifically designed to achieve maximal delivery of amino acids to muscle to ensure a positive protein balance.  Its state-of-the-art hydrolyzed whey is particularly rich in branched chain amino acids, making it a unique anabolic delivery system.  In addition, its advanced leucine-bound leucine peptide (LBLP) content is optimized for enhanced bioavailability. NytroWhey Ultra Elite contains up to 4 times the leucine content of other premium whey protein products, which is important because leucine is primarily involved in "switching on" anabolism when it is injested. Taken before and after exercise NytroWhey Ultra Elite will ensure the muscle is primed to grow.  

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which contains a unique proprietary bioactive peptide matrix, plus whey mineral complex called Prolibra that was shown in a 12-week clinical trial to help provide significant improvements in the ratio of lean to fat mass. Vectron is unique to the protein category in its capacity for helping you decrease excess fat, while maintaining muscle mass.

The Ultra Ripped Stack then adds the advanced fat-loss catalyst Zycor, which provides both clinically validated weight-loss power and premium-grade energy factors for productive workouts. Finally, for when you're ready to hit the beach, the Ultra Ripped Stack provides BioQuest's Razor Ripped, a cutting-edge formula containing key electrolytes, vitamins and a compendium of powerful botanical agents designed to support water-weight loss from your body faster than any other product of its kind. These three supplements, in tandem, provide a remarkable synergy of physique-ripping power.]

Another dietary addition to keep in mind is a good source of omega 3 fats, specifically EPA and DHA.  These fatty acids have received enormous attention over the last couple decades, owing to a myriad of health benefits associated with their intake.  Most Americans eat significantly more omega 6 fats relative to omega 3, and this imbalance may set them up for greater inflammation and health problems. 

In addition to promoting general health, omega 3 fats in combination with exercise enhance insulin sensitivity and maximize fat loss.  The minimum dose to start is 500 mg of EPA plus DHA per day, which is equivalent to about one serving of fatty fish every other day.  A more optimal dose for most people may be closer to 1 gram per day of EPA and DHA. If you are at high risk of heart disease, stroke or inflammatory condition, then 2 grams per day may result in better effects. 

ProSource Omega Fusion is a perfect solution, as it contains purified omega 3 fatty acids along with antioxidants.  This important but often neglected detail is key to achieving optimal potency because omega 3 fats are highly prone to degradation. The synergy provided by this protection translates into greater net anti-inflammatory and bioactivity per unit dose administered. ProSource's Flax Fusion is another great source of healthy fatty acids.

The Time is Now
You can achieve a slim, lean body by summer and it's as easy as avoiding the foods that block your access to body fat while feeding your body with plenty of delicious low-insulin-stimulating foods and supplements that keep you in fat burning mode all day long.  I'm confident you'll enjoy the process and be so impressed with the results that you'll want to continue this lifestyle so you can feel and look good year around.

Meal Plan #1

Breakfast (Cheese Omelet and Canadian Bacon)
Scrambled eggs 2 large +  1/4 cup Egg Beaters + 1.5 Tbsp Butter
Shredded Cheddar Cheese 1 oz
Grilled Canadian Bacon 2 oz

Oil-Roasted Almonds 1/8 cup (20 g)
Oil-Roasted Sunflower Seeds 1/4 cup (34 g)
Strawberries .6 whole (72 g)

Lunch (Cheeseburger with sautéed mushrooms and peppers)
Hamburger (70% lean/30% fat)..3 oz (85 g)
American Cheese 1 oz
Iceberg Lettuce 1/2 cup
Red Tomato 2 slices (40 g)
Red Onions 3 slices (42 g)
Sauted Sweet Bell Peppers 1/4 cup, boiled (34 g) + Boiled Mushrooms 1/4 cup (39 g) + 2 Tbsp Olive Oil

Celery 2 stalks  + 3 Tbsp cream cheese(43.5 g)
Hood Calorie Countdown Milk  1.5 cup

Dinner (Pork chops and Cauliflower "mashed potatoes")
Pork Chops 3 oz
String beans 1/2 cup, boiled (67.5 g) + 1.5 Tbsp Olive Oil
Cauliflower 1/2 cup, mashed + 1.5 Tbsp Butter
Shredded Cheddar Cheese 1/4 cup

Nutrient Breakdown:
Protein: 131 g
Carbs: 47 g , Fiber 14 g
Fat:  204g

Meal Plan #2
Breakfast (Fried eggs with cauliflower hash browns)
Fried eggs 2 large
Cauliflower, chopped 1/4 C
green pepper chopped 1/4 C
Butter 0.5T
Palm oil .1T
Turkey Bacon . 2 slices

Cheddar Cheese  2 oz
Pork Rinds 1oz

Lunch - (Tuna Salad on bed of tomato and cucumber slices)
Tuna, Light, canned in oil .3 ¼ oz
Celery .2 stalks diced
Mayo 2 T
Almonds, slivered .1/8 C
Tomato 3 slices
Cucumber sliced 1/8 C

Afternoon snack
Celery .2 stalks + Almond butter..2 T

Dinner (Buffalo Style Chicken Salad with Creamy blueberry dessert)
Roast Chicken breast 4 oz
Hot sauce  . 1 t + Butter .2 T
Blue cheese dressing 1.5 T
Romaine lettuce shredded 1.5 C
Tomato 2 slices
Almonds, slivered . 1/8 C
Dessert: cream cheese 1/3 C, heavy cream 3 T, lemon juice 1 t, frozen blueberries unsweetened 1/4 C

Nutrient Breakdown:
Protein: 128 g
Carbs: 44 g, 13 g fiber
Fat: 205 g

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