Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Beat Belly Fat

A pot belly... love handles... the spare tire... call it what you will. It seems to be the area of your body that you'd really like to do something about.

Not only is a firm, flat stomach the ultimate symbol of sex appeal, researchers have found that losing abdominal fat is one of the most important steps you can take to stay healthy for life.

Most people realize that excess fat is unhealthy, but the key is where the fat is distributed. People with apple-shaped bodies (fattest in the abdomen) have a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes than those with pear shapes (fattest in the hips, buttocks, and thighs).

There are two main types of fat in the stomach area. Visceral fat is stored deep inside your body. It surrounds and protects your internal organs. Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is stored just under your skin. It's the stuff that wobbles when you jump up and down.

It won't surprise you to learn that the best way to lose abdominal fat is to eat right and exercise regularly. And there's a growing body of research to show that the fastest way to burn off the fat from your belly is with a combination of weight training and cardio exercise.

A good example comes from research published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. For the study, researchers compared the effectiveness of two exercise and diet programs. Subjects taking part in the study were assigned to one of two groups.
  • Group one followed a diet based on the traditional food guide pyramid (50-55% carbohydrate; 15-20% protein; less than 30% fat). They also did cardiovascular exercise 4-6 days per week at 50-75% of their maximal heart rate. Each workout lasted 30-60 minutes.

  • Group two followed a diet that was higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate and fat. Their exercise program consisted of alternating days of resistance and cardiovascular interval training six days per week.
Body composition was assessed by dual x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) before and after the 12-week training program. DEXA is an extremely accurate way to measure changes in body fat. It’s far more reliable than the skin fold calipers or body fat scales often used in health clubs.

And the result?

Subjects in group two (remember, these were the people who lifted weights, did more intense cardio, and ate more protein) lost more fat overall (-20.6%) than the normal group (-10.1%). They also gained 2 pounds of muscle (0.9 kilograms) while the cardio-only group, not surprisingly, lost muscle.

More interesting still, abdominal fat dropped by 26% in group two, but by just 13.5% in group one. In other words, subjects in group two lost almost twice as much belly fat as those in group one.

Now, I should point out that this wasn't the perfect study. For one, although the subjects were told to record what they ate, there's no way of knowing how accurate these records were. In other words, this was not a study where the diet was tightly controlled by the researchers.

Unfortunately, self-reported food intake is a notoriously inaccurate way to measure calorie intake. Some studies show that people underestimate their calorie intake by up to 50%. Which means that someone who says they are eating 1000 calories per day may really be eating 2000 calories.

It's also worth nothing that subjects taking part in this study exercised for up to six days per week. Don't worry if you don't have time for all this exercise. With the right program, four days a week is plenty.

So, if you want to lose belly fat, here's what you should do:

First, you NEED to exercise. A feeble 30-40 minutes of cardio in your so-called "fat-burning zone" two or three times a week isn't going to cut it! As you may learned from reading some of my previous posts, a full-body training program that includes both cardiovascular and full-body resistance exercise (compound or multi-joint exercises) will deliver better, faster results.

Forget about doing hundreds of crunches, sit-ups, or any of the various "drawing in the belly button" exercises. They're virtually useless for most people when it comes to losing belly fat. Abdominal exercises DO NOT burn fat away from your abs! This can only be accomplished through a much more effective full-body training routine that maximizes both your metabolic response and your hormonal response to your workouts.

Remember, belly fat is stored energy. To get rid of it, you need to burn more energy (calories) than you eat. These exercises (crunches) don't burn enough calories to make much of a difference to the appearance of your waist and stomach.

The truth is, getting six-pack 'killer' abs has almost nothing to do with training! It has everything to do with low body fat. Personally, I still believe that developing the abdominal muscles is easy. The hardest part is getting your body fat low enough for your abs to show.

You'll also need to eat the right foods. I know it's a cliché, but a flat stomach is made in the kitchen.....not the gym. Deciding what to eat can be difficult, especially with the mass of conflicting and confusing information out there. When it comes to nutrition, most people have been given only half the story. Usually, it's the wrong half!

Ultimately, while there are a few basic principles to keep in mind when it comes to nutrition and weight loss, losing belly fat requires that you take in fewer calories than you burn. Don't be seduced into following an overly complicated diet masquerading under the guise of a "new and revolutionary" approach to weight loss.

Finally, you need to be consistent with your diet and exercise program. To lose belly fat, eating right and exercising regularly needs to become a habit, not just something you do when you can be bothered or when you "have the time." If your current schedule makes it difficult to find the time for exercise, change it. Get out of bed earlier & stop wasting time. As I say, life is too short spending it on the couch watching reality TV!


*Source: International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism

No comments: