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Distinguishing Between Weight Loss and Fat Loss

By Body Composition

It is easy to think that weight loss and fat loss are interchangeable—either way, the end result we are reaching for is a healthy change and an improvement in our wellbeing. The truth is, while fat loss can be a part of losing weight, you usually lose more than just fat.

What does that mean for you and your health goals? For most individuals, fat loss is the goal, so you need to take a deliberate, focused approach for the best results. Read on as we cover the key differences between weight loss and fat loss and how you can optimize for fat loss.

What’s the difference between weight loss and fat loss?

Weight loss is an overall reduction in body weight, while fat loss is a reduction in body fat.  When you lose weight, you’re not just losing body fat: you’re making changes to each component of your body composition – body fat, Lean Body Mass, and Body Water.  This is true for weight gain as well. You don’t control how much of each you lose, but you can influence what’s lost.

Weight Loss

How does weight loss happen? While there are hundreds of diet and exercise programs out there that will help you achieve fat loss—some better than others—the good ones boil down to essentially the same thing: reducing energy in from food while increasing energy out via exercise/activity (a caloric deficit). This combination forces your body to make up for the missing energy by breaking down your body tissues, including body fat and muscle.

It would be awesome if you could just tell your body to derive all the needed energy from body fat, but that is not what happens. As you lose weight, you will lose some muscle in the form of Lean Body Mass in addition to body fat.

Fat Loss

Body fat, in general terms, is a combination of your essential fat, which plays a vital functional role, and storage fat. Storage fat is adipose tissue that has accumulated as energy reserves. This type of fat will visibly change as you modify your diet and exercise routine. Too much storage fat can negatively impact both our physical and mental wellbeing, so this is what you should focus on for better overall health.

Why you should focus on fat loss and not weight loss?

There is an unfortunate stigma when it comes to weight. While there is a clear link between obesity and chronic diseases, weight loss goals can lead to unintended consequences like disordered eating. That is why a focus on fat loss—and a healthy body composition—is a much better approach because it encourages the individual to move more and eat well.

What are the health benefits of losing fat?

Body fat percentage is a much better gauge of health than weight. Remember that weight is composed of lean body mass, body fat, and water, so any changes in these components can lead to weight gain, not just fat loss.

Excess body fat, especially that storage fat, has a much closer link to chronic diseases like:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Heart Disease
  • Various Cancer

Maintaining a healthy body fat percentage can help reduce your risk of these diseases and improve your mental health and overall wellbeing.

What are different ways to measure if you’re losing fat?

To track body fat loss, you’ll need to have your body composition tracked regularly. There are several devices and methods for determining body composition, including calipers, hydrostatic weighing, DEXA, and BIA. If you want truly accurate results, always be tested by a highly skilled professional who uses a medical-grade tool to assess you. $10 plastic calipers and at-home bathroom scales aren’t the best options.

How does your metabolism change with weight loss?

Remember when we said that when you lose weight, you lose more than fat? One of the losses can be from Lean Body Mass, which is critical because the amount of Lean Body Mass that you have directly influences your Basal Metabolic Rate (or what you may refer to as your metabolism). Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body naturally burns at rest. When you focus on weight loss and do not make changes to minimize lean body mass loss, you are decreasing the size of your metabolism.

If you maintain the same eating habits, you may be setting yourself up for weight regain.

How weight loss can slow down your metabolism 

Here are a typical set of body composition results for someone who would be clinically diagnosed as obese.

Along with high weight and body fat mass measurements, this individual naturally developed muscles by carrying their body weight.  What this means is that generally, obese people also have relatively large metabolisms.

An example would be contestants from the reality show, The Biggest Loser. Participants were focused on achieving extreme weight loss over a short period of time. In a study on past Biggest Loser contestants, individuals lost an average of 128.5 pounds in 30 weeks, at a rate of about 4.3 pounds per week.

When the contestants lost all the weight, while they did lose a lot of fat, they also lost a lot of Lean Body Mass—24.5 pounds of it on average—equaling 19% of their total weight loss.  This muscle loss contributed to a drop in BMR from 2,607 calories to 1,996 calories. That’s a loss of 600 calories a day—almost an entire meal’s worth of calories, gone!

Dramatic changes to Lean Body Mass and metabolism aren’t ideal, especially when the goal is to maintain healthy body weight.  Six years after the end of the competition, the Biggest Loser contestants had regained 83.6% of their fat loss. This was in large part due to the fact that their metabolisms never fully recovered to anything near their original levels. That’s why it is important to come up with a focused approach of gaining muscle and losing fat, or body recomposition, rather than just weight loss.

While the weight and body fat bars are significantly over average, notice that the Skeletal Muscle Mass bar is as well. This is common for an obese person. However, unlike an athlete, an obese person has developed this muscle by virtue of carrying a large amount of weight. Large amounts of muscle develop just to move such a heavy body around. What this means is that generally, obese people also have relatively large metabolisms.

How can I stop my weight regain?

With any weight loss, there will be some Lean Body Mass loss. A low metabolism, coupled with unregulated eating habits, is a surefire way to regain weight back.

Without further development of Lean Body Mass and skeletal muscle to help grow the metabolism, weight regain remains a strong possibility if you aren’t extremely careful with the number of calories you consume. It is crucial to focus on body composition, developing muscle and Lean Body Mass, and changing your eating habits even after you reach your target weight.

How to build muscle, lose fat for a healthy body composition 

Here are three main areas to focus on to change your body composition and improve your overall health and wellbeing.

1. Focus on body composition instead of weight loss

Stop tracking weight loss. Instead, track changes in your body composition, which means optimizing your program for fat loss while minimizing Lean Body Mass loss. It’s not like this is impossible, either. Studies have shown that weight loss, when coupled with proper nutrition and strength training, can minimize Lean Body Mass loss.

Body Composition analyzers are a quick, easy way to test regularly and track your progress.

2. Count your calories and develop new eating habits  

An important step is to improve your eating habits by choosing an eating plan that you will actually enjoy following and counting your calories.

One thing to keep in mind that optimizing for fat loss will take longer than weight loss. Quick weight-loss plans, like those featured in the Biggest Loser contest, help you lose a lot of weight—almost 4 pounds a week. But you saw what happened: nearly 1/5 of their weight loss was Lean Body Mass, and their metabolisms plummeted.

Effective dietary plans will have you shooting for a ½ – 1 pound of fat loss per week, which is a manageable and sustainable goal that won’t cause such negative effects on metabolism. The slow and steady approach is the better option, and it will lead to long-lasting changes.

3. Start strength training to increase your metabolism  

Many people still believe that strength training/weight lifting is only for athletes and bodybuilders.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Increased muscle has a whole host of benefits ranging from increased ability to recover from disease, reducing insulin resistance, helping you remain mobile as you age, and, of course, helping to combat obesity by increasing your BMR and metabolism.

Shift to body composition and long-term thinking 

As we covered, fat loss is much more important than weight loss and will lead to long-term changes.   By working out smarter and finding out what your body composition numbers are, you’ll be on the path to getting fitter while keeping the fat off for good.

Yes, it might take longer than expected, but would you rather drop 30 pounds in less than a year just to regain it all back, or spend the time to make small, impactful changes that lead to a lifetime of good health?

How Glycogen Impacts Your Body Composition

By Diet, Health
  • There are three classes of carbohydrates: monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.
  • Replenishing glycogen stores by consuming carbohydrates is beneficial for recovery after exercise, as well as sustaining activity for an extended amount of time.
  • If you follow a low-carbohydrate eating pattern, ensure that you consume enough protein each day.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about carbs and its role in your nutrition. We want to help clear up some of the confusion. Read on to learn about carbs and its role in energy production i.e glycogen, why you should consider healthy carbohydrates, and what you want to be aware of if you are following a low-carb diet.

Glucose, Carbs, and Sugar

Glucose, carbohydrates, sugar – all words that we’ve heard of when it comes to our body and diet. What about glycogen? What is it?

Glycogen is a branched polymer of glucose, or in simpler terms, made of many connected glucose molecules.

Glucose is the body’s primary source of energy, and when all of the glucose isn’t needed, it gets stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. On the other hand, when you are not consuming enough glucose or you need more energy, glycogen is released into the bloodstream to the muscles and used as fuel.

Let’s dive into a bit of chemistry. Glucose is a form of carbohydrate (also called saccharides), which has three main classes. They are:

  • Monosaccharides – contain one sugar unit
  • Disaccharides – contain two sugar units
  • Polysaccharides – contain multiple sugar units

A lesser-known group called oligosaccharides also exists, but to avoid confusion, let’s focus on the three.

Monosaccharides are often called single sugars and are the building blocks for the bigger carbohydrates. Examples of monosaccharides include:

  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Galactose

These three monosaccharides combine to form many of the different types of sugars found naturally in food. Carbohydrates or sugars are converted to glucose during digestion, and the body uses the glucose for energy.

Fructose, also known as fruit sugar, is found in fruits, berries, honey, root vegetables, and some grains. Galactose is a sugar that can be found in milk and yogurt.

When two monosaccharides are joined together, they create a disaccharide. Disaccharides include:

  • Sucrose
  • Lactose
  • Maltose

Sucrose is one glucose and one fructose combined and is commonly known as table sugar. Lactose is the combination of one glucose and one galactose. Lactose, also called milk sugar, is found in all dairy products and mammals’ milk. Maltose contains two glucose molecules and can be found in germinating grains such as barley, as well as in malt.

Polysaccharides are very complex and made up of long chains of monosaccharides and disaccharides. They could contain anywhere from ten to several thousand monosaccharide chains. Polysaccharides include:

  • Starch
  • Glycogen
  • Cellulose

You may have heard of the term “starchy carbohydrates,” and that’s where you can find starch. Starchy carbohydrates include food such as potatoes, corn, and rice. Foods that contain cellulose include fruits and vegetables (along with skin such as apples and pears), wheat bran, and spinach.

As previously mentioned, when there is too much glucose in the body, it gets stored as glycogen in the muscles or liver. This is a process called glycogenesis. Insulin (a hormone in our body) will recognize that glucose and energy are present in high amounts and will help convert glucose into glycogen.

Glycogen and Muscles

Most glycogen in the body is stored in the skeletal muscles and is an important source for muscle contraction. Once the glycogen is used in the skeletal muscles, your body will then begin to utilize the glycogen in the liver.

However, the storage capacity of carbohydrates in the body are not as high as fats or proteins. It’s essential, especially with active individuals, to refuel these stores but specific carbohydrate intake needs can vary from person to person.

When it comes to long-term endurance, your body is reliant on pre-exercise glycogen availability. Replenishing that glycogen after exercise will shorten the time needed for recovery.

study was done on ten endurance-trained individuals to examine whether muscle glycogen availability correlated with fatigue in repeated exercise. Participants were involved in two different runs: An initial run until exhaustion (70% of VO2max), followed by 4 hours of recovery, then another run until exhaustion. Participants received either a low-carbohydrate or high-carbohydrate beverage at 30-minute intervals during the 4-hour recovery.

Results of the test showed that increasing carbohydrate intake during short-term recovery increased glycogen repletion. In turn, this enhanced the participant’s ability for repeated exercise, and they experienced less fatigue.

Dietary Guidelines For Carbohydrates

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americanscarbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. So, if you are eating around 2,000 calories per day, your calories from carbohydrates would be between 900 and 1,300. This also translates to between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates.

Carbohydrate content can be found on food packaging nutrition labels. The label will show total carbohydrates, which includes starches, fiber, naturally occurring sugar, as well as added sugar.

If you’re curious about carbohydrate content for foods that do not have a label, such as fruits and vegetables, U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central makes it easy to search for specific foods to see their nutrient breakdown.

 

Glycogen and Fat Mass

You may have talked with a family member, friend, or coworker who decided to follow a low-carbohydrate diet to lower their fat mass and improve their body composition. Low-fat diets were well-known toward the end of the 20th century, but now low-carbohydrates are taking over in popularity.  The rise of the ketogenic diet has created a negative reputation for carbohydrates, but it’s the type of carbohydrate that makes the difference. Choosing healthier, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes can actually make you feel full longer compared to simple carbohydrates due to the fiber content and slower digestion. Simple sugars are digested quickly and also spike blood sugar shortly after consumption. Simple sugars are found in refined sugar, such as white sugar, and don’t provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals like complex carbohydrates.

So is reducing the intake of carbohydrates the way to go when you’re seeking fat loss?

One study compared the effects of a restricted carb vs fat diet on fat loss. Participants first started with a 5-day baseline diet that consisted of 50% carbohydrates, 35% fat, and 15% protein. Then they were randomly assigned to either a 60% reduction of dietary carbohydrate (low-carb diet) or an 85% reduction of dietary fat (low-fat diet) for six days. The results showed that, calorie for calorie, restriction of dietary fat led to more fat loss than the limitation of carbohydrates.

When comparing the baseline diet and low-carb diet, participants showed an increase in body fat loss and fat oxidation, as well as a decrease in insulin secretion when following the low-carb diet.

Another study showed similar results after participants followed a plant-based diet for 16 weeks. The intervention group (prescribed the plant-based diet) were limited to 20 to 30 grams of fat per day but had no limit on energy or carbohydrate intake. The control group was asked to maintain their current diet for the 16 weeks, which included dairy and meat products.

Results found that increased consumption of carbohydrates and dietary fiber, as well as decreased amounts of fat in the plant-based diet, showed reduced body weight, fat mass, and insulin resistance in overweight individuals.

These studies utilize carbohydrates coming from fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Very few studies show that a diet rich in healthy carbohydrates will result in weight gain. The bulk and fiber that comes from these foods can help you feel full longer, and on fewer calories.

What If I’m Following A Low-Carbohydrate Diet?

ketogenic-type, or low-carbohydrate diet, has been a popular eating pattern among individuals for some time. If it’s going well for you, keep doing what you’re doing! 

When it comes to following these kind of eating patterns, most of your calories will come from fat at about 50% for the day. You are also typically consuming 20% of your daily calories from carbohydrates, and eating various amounts of protein. Even though your brain and muscles prefer glucose as its primary energy source, if that depletes, then it will rely on other sources for fuel.

Ketosis occurs when glycogen stores have entirely run out and are not being replenished. During ketosis, your liver oxidizes fatty acids into ketones. Your body can then use ketone bodies as an alternative energy source.

It’s crucial during this time to ensure that you are consuming an adequate amount of protein. Amino acids in protein assist with continued fat oxidation once glucose availability is limited. It’s recommended to consume between 1.3 to 2.5 g/kg of protein if you are following a low-carbohydrate diet.

You may find yourself getting tired quicker during exercises compared to someone who is not following a low-carbohydrate diet. During exercise, since you are limited on carbohydrates, your body has increased fat oxidation for fuel. This increases the brains uptake of free tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid and is the precursor to serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that makes you feel tired.

Your body also has elevated ammonia production due to the higher consumption of protein. Ammonia is another factor that promotes feelings of exhaustion.

If you are active and follow a low-carbohydrate diet, consider saving your daily carbohydrates for before, during, and after an exercise so your body can utilize them as your energy source.

Wrapping Up

A lot of information has been discussed and studies broken down, but overall you’re in charge of how you eat so that it aligns with your goals. Glucose may be the body’s preferred source of energy, but it can utilize fat and protein as energy if needed. It’s also important to note that a specific eating pattern that works for someone else may not be the best fit for you, and vice versa. Eat in a way that feels right for yourself and your body!

**

Lauren Armstrong is a Registered Dietitian with several years of experience counseling and educating individuals seeking chronic disease prevention and a healthier lifestyle. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University and completed her dietetic internship at Michigan State University.

Nutrition Tips to Support Your Journey Towards a Healthier Weight

By Diet, Nutrition

Why Weight Loss is Hard | Fat: Good or Bad?| Carbs and Weight Loss Essential of Protein |Diet and Lifestyle 

By now we all know that finding a healthier version of yourself depends on diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten the full truth when it comes to being healthy. We are fed the narrative that weight loss depends on spending 10 hours in the gym and eliminating one source of calories in our diet while doubling down on another. Admit it, every time you try a new fad diet, or commit to an exhausting new workout routine, you lose weight initially, but then eventually lose steam and transform back into your former self. Healthy, sustainable weight loss seems like something you just don’t have the willpower to do.

But, this is simply not true. We don’t have to overcomplicate the story, or feel guilty, to find a healthier version of ourselves.

Let’s break it down into every aspect of what you can do to simplify your outlook on achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Why is Weight Loss so Difficult to Maintain? 

Maintaining a healthy body weight has always been associated with self-discipline and willpower. You count calories. Do portion control. Work out first thing in the morning three times a week.

Although weight loss may be accomplished by submitting yourself to these rigid, disciplinarian tactics, the minute you’re frustrated with your co-workers or get sick for a week, portion control goes out of the window. Exercise can easily take the backseat when you have kids ages 3 and 5, go through some financial stress, or have an aging parent to take care of.

The reality is that shedding the unwanted pounds is not the hardest part of weight loss. It’s keeping the weight off for good despite life’s occasional curveballs.

Is long-term weight loss really possible? Or should you resign yourself to the fact that you’ll eventually regain what you’ve lost?

Does it all boil down to having loads of willpower? Or is there more to self-control that’s involved in long-term weight loss sorcery?

Actually, no. Biology is at play. Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, an obesity researcher at Columbia University, says the difficulty in keeping the extra weight off reflects biology and not merely a pathological lack of willpower. Specifically, when we lose weight, leptin (the hormone responsible for food satiety) actually goes down when we lose weight.

However, all hope is not lost. We can aim for sustainable weight loss by using a few key strategies.

The Basics of Nutrition

When we think about adopting a new weight loss regimen, it’s important to remember that calories in and calories out ultimately dictate our weight loss. Therefore, diet is our best friend when it comes to finding the perfect balance to a nutrition program.

However, diet is not simply about calories. Food is where we get everything that our body cannot make for itself. The makeup of our diet keeps us from being malnourished, susceptible to illness, depressed, and unable to perform at the gym.

In order to understand exactly where our calories come from and what we need to consume to be healthy, we need to understand the basics of nutrition and the reason we need a balanced diet.

What are Macronutrients? 

What you eat can be broken down into 3 macronutrients: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats. Unless you have a specific medical condition, you need all 3 to maintain proper health and functioning. Without sufficient amounts of any of these sources, your body will not operate at peak condition. And without a proper balance of these nutrients during a diet program will hinder the success you achieve in reaching your goals.

When trying to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories from these nutrients than you expend. For example, if you determine that, between your Basal Metabolic Rate and your activity (from moving, eating, and exercising), you burn 2,000 calories per day, to stay the same weight you’d have to eat roughly 2,000 calories every day. However, to lose weight, you would have to place yourself into a caloric deficit. A caloric deficit indicates that you are eating fewer calories than you burn per day — i.e., in this case, potentially restricting intake to only 1,800 calories per day.

But as we already mentioned, though calories consumed versus calories burned ultimately determines success or failure in the weight game, is it all that matters?

Well, it depends.

If your goal is simply to lose weight, regardless of whether it be fat- or muscle-weight lost, then yes, calories are all that matter.

However, if you’re attempting to improve your body composition by losing Body Fat Mass and gaining Skeletal Muscle Mass, then no, calories are not all that matters. Balancing your macronutrients properly does.

Why fats were considered bad

Released in the U.S. in 1992, the food pyramid was designed as an easy way for people to remember which foods they should be getting their calories from and the relative importance of each. Carbs were healthy and good, and so they formed the base; fats were bad and placed at the top.

The fat category lumped everything together from healthy fats like Omega-3s and olive oil to saturated fats and sugar. This concept helped trigger the fat-free craze. Although this concept seems pretty normal to us now, at the time in the late 1970s it was actually considered quite radical – so much so that then-president of the National Academy of Sciences, Philip Handler, described the proposed shift as a “vast nutritional experiment.”

Essentially, the Dietary Guidelines suggested that people eat less fat and get more calories from bread, grains, rice, pasta, etc. This was intended to protect Americans from weight gain and heart disease. This is why the “high carb, low fat” diet seems familiar and normal to you, and probably why you think eating fat makes you fat.

What was the result of this recommendation?

Beginning at around the time when the guidelines were first recommended in 1977 and their release to the public in 1980, the percentage of Americans classified as obese increase by almost 20% as they followed the government’s advice to cut fat and increase carbs. Why have obesity rates in the United States skyrocketed over the last 18 years? Because the idea that “fat makes you fat” is wrong. Fat is just another nutrient source, the same as carbohydrates and protein.

What makes you fat is taking in more energy (calories) in a day than you use. That’s called being in a caloric surplus.

Can Eating Fat Make You Gain Weight?

Part of the reason people get confused and think that the fat they eat makes their body store fat is that we use them interchangeably to describe both body fat and dietary fat.

The fat that is stored by our bodies is more accurately called “adipose tissue.” Adipose tissue stores are made up of primary adipocytes or fat cells and are responsible, among other things, with storing excess energy for times when you’re not able to give your body the energy it needs on a given day. It is necessary for survival, and losing too much of it is bad for your health, as is explained in this 2013 study.

The fat you eat is dietary fat and is one of the three essential macronutrients your body can get energy from. Would you believe that people actually used to eat more fat than they do now and at the time obesity rates that were much lower? It’s true, they did, and it’s true – obesity rates used to be much lower.  So if increased fat isn’t making you fat, what is?

Eating more calories than your body uses and needs in a day causes you to gain weight, and Americans continue to eat more and more calories with each passing year.

According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the total number of daily calories that Americans ate increased by 530 calories, an increase of 24.5%. During the same time period, the percentage of Americans categorized as obese increased dramatically.

What happened?

Americans started to eat more calories.  This is surprising when you consider that carbohydrates contain less than half the calories (4 Cal) that fat (9 Cal) does, gram for gram. Shouldn’t shifting away from fats and towards carbs just reduce overall caloric intake, just by simple math? It doesn’t work that way if you just eat more carbohydrates. You see, consumption of a high carbohydrate diet can trigger something called “reactive hypoglycemia.” This is a condition experienced by people who do not have diabetes and are otherwise healthy. Among its symptoms is a feeling of hunger.

Guess what’s the best way to make that hunger go away? Eat more carbs – your body will be craving them.  And since carbs were supposed to be the largest macronutrient source anyway, most people didn’t think twice about having a snack that consisted of bread, rice, or something else carb-heavy.

By advising people to eat less fat and eat more carbohydrates, the government actually made the obesity problem far worse. Recognizing the sharp increase in obesity, the food pyramid was revised in 2005 and ultimately retired in 2011 in favor of what the USDA now calls “My Plate,” which gives people a much better visualization of the relative importance of each food category by showing roughly how much space each should take up on a plate.

So I can eat start eating “fat” now?

If you’re smart about it, yes, but you still have to be careful.

Remember, it’s not the fat itself that’s making you fat; it’s the extra calories that you don’t need that makes you fat.  While it’s very easy to eat extra calories on a carbohydrate-based diet, it’s also very easy to add on extra calories from a fat diet too.

At 9 calories, fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient by far.  This means that if you’re looking to lose fat, the low-fat options are still fine choices – not because of their low-fat content, mind you, but because of their lower caloric content.

The fat isn’t making you fat due to just being fat; it’s the extra calories from fat (as well as all the macronutrients) that is causing you to gain weight.

What this means is, if you are responsible for your diet, you can choose foods that contain fat, guilt-free.  You just need to be smart about your caloric intake throughout the entire day.


What Are Carbs and Why is it Important?

We just discussed that emphasis on high carb intact made American’s gain more weight. So, carbohydrates are bad, right?

While carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately because they are presumably fattening and unhealthy, some cultures with high-carb intake don’t have the same high obesity rates as the U.S. – where one-third of adults (and 17 percent of children) are obese. This is in contrast to Japan where white rice and noodles are dietary staples.

What are we to make of this? Are carbs truly evil? Or should you embrace more carbs in your life?

Of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates act as the main source of energy because they are easily broken down into sugar (glucose to be specific) once they reach your bloodstream and are then transported to cells, tissues, and organs. Think of glucose as fuel.

Carbohydrates are classified into two types:

  • Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are quickly absorbed into your bloodstream for instant energy because of their simple molecular structure. Think milk, honey, fruit juices, and table sugar.

  • Complex carbohydrates

These carbs take longer for the body to break down into glucose because of their more complex molecular composition. Grains such as bread, rice, quinoa, and pasta are examples of complex carbs. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn, and winter squash fall in the same category.

Not all carbs are created equal, and some have a greater effect on your insulin levels than others. For people with diabetes or insulin resistance, this is particularly important.

A food’s Glycemic Index (ranging from 0 to 100) indicates how a certain carbohydrate will affect your blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods that digest quickly are high on the index, while those that digest slowly are lower on the index.

Foods that are high on the GI scale, like potatoes and white bread, are quickly broken down. This is what happens when you go through an abrupt sugar rush but eventually crash down minutes later. Foods with a low GI, like sweet potatoes and whole oats, are digested gradually, resulting in a more predictable, steady rise in blood sugar levels.

The Verdict on Carbohydrates

Although low-carb diets were found out to be more effective than low-fat diets for weight loss, there are also conflicting research findings describing the existence of metabolically benign obesity — obese individuals who are not insulin resistant, have normal levels of circulating insulin, and have zero signs of early atherosclerosis.

The main point is you don’t have to go low-carb, zero-carb, or high-carb to accomplish long term weight loss.

Based on recent research findings and established facts, it makes more sense to be more mindful of the specific types and amount of carbohydrates (and the other macronutrients!) that make up the bulk of your daily diet.

It’s very hard to deny the role carbs play in keeping you full, energized, and feeling good overall.  To a large extent, humans were designed to consume carbohydrates as an energy source, and when that source is limited and/or cut off, your body will not appreciate it – and it will let you know.

Should you cut carbs out of your diet? If it’s part of a general overall caloric reduction to lose body fat – which does work – combined with increased exercise, then yes. But simply hacking out an entire macronutrient source – any source – is not only going to be incredibly demanding on you but also ineffective and unsustainable over the long-term.


Protein and Weight Loss

So how does protein fit into the picture? Well, as mentioned above, protein is one of the 3 basic macronutrients you find in your food.

To break it down further, proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are 22 amino acids, however, 9 of these amino acids are called “essential” — meaning you need to eat them because the body can’t produce them on its own. You can get these essential amino acids by eating protein-rich foods like eggs, meat, and fish, as well as vegetarian/vegan options, like nuts, seeds, beans, and tofu. Generally, you cannot get all the essential amino acids from just one food item, so eating a variety of animal and plant-based proteins is recommended.

But that’s not all.

Besides being something you eat, protein has its fingers in just about every structure and function of your body. For example:

  • Antibodies: these proteins fight foreign “invaders” of your body, like in allergic reactions.
  • Repair, maintenance, and structure: proteins are the main building blocks of your muscles, bones, skin, and hair.
  • Hormones: chemical messenger proteins allow cells and organs to communicate. For example, Growth Hormone — which can affect your muscle gain and fat loss results — and Follicle Stimulating Hormone — a hormone important to your sexual health — are both protein hormones.
  • Enzymes: while all proteins are not enzymes, all enzymes are proteins — and proteins are catalysts (“kickstarters”) for chemical reactions in your body.
  • Transportation and storage: some proteins carry important molecules where they’re needed — think hemoglobin (red blood cells) carrying oxygen to cells, then carrying carbon dioxide away.

Clearly, protein serves many roles within the body. Therefore, not getting enough protein in your diet can have serious consequences for your health. Without enough protein, your muscles may begin to atrophy (waste)– taking Lean Body Mass (LBM), strength, and energy with them.

Any injuries you suffer will take longer to heal, as well. This is because wound healing relies on good nutrition, and good nutrition includes adequate protein. A strong connection between protein deficiency and slow wound healing has been shown.

Finally, not eating enough protein impairs your immune system, placing you at a greater risk of infections while reducing your ability to fend off disease once it takes hold.

Now that you know everything you never wanted to know about protein’s roles in the body, take a look at a few of the positive effects of increasing your protein intake and how that can relate to your body composition goals.

  • Appetite

Eating more protein helps suppress hunger and appetite for longer than eating the same amounts of the other macros (fats and carbs). This means that eating 100 calories from protein will leave you more satiated than 100 calories from either carbohydrate or fat sources.

  • Metabolic Rate

Eating more protein has also been shown to increase your Energy Expenditure — i.e., the number of calories you burn each day. Several studies found that people eating high protein diets ended up burning more calories for several hours after eating.

  • Body Composition

In addition to the points made above, eating higher amounts of protein can have positive effects on your body composition through more direct pathways. As alluded to earlier, protein is a far-spread component of your body. Consuming higher amounts helps protect your non-fat (read: muscle) body mass.

The Protein Verdict

To maintain your current muscle mass — or improve it — you need to eat enough protein. But you also need to eat fewer calories than you expend — and that’s not always easy.

The good news is, getting a higher percentage of your daily calories from protein can make all of that a little bit easier. It can help you reduce your appetite, improve your metabolism, and change your body composition, but don’t overdo it. Consuming 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight can cause adverse health problems in the long run. The best advice is to find your daily protein recommendation, and then bump it up slightly, while reducing the calories you take in from non-nutritive foods, such as processed foods or sugary drinks.


What’s the Best Diet for Weight Loss? 


Life is all about balance, and it is important to remember that you need all three macronutrients to function properly. As we learned, protein does not just pack on muscle, it also acts as hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Carbs are essentially the only energy source that our red blood cells can use, and without enough fat in our diets, we might gain weight by eating more filler foods!

Our bodies are well-refined machines that do not thrive on fad diets. They thrive when we obtain balance and variety in our diet. Ultimately, the best diet for weight loss is not complicated or high-tech. Focus on whole, unrefined foods, reduce red meat consumption, and eat plenty of vegetables. But, your food doesn’t have to taste boring. In fact, a rigid diet full of boring salads may make you more likely to rebound into unhealthy eating. Try a salad with leafy greens, quinoa or brown rice, sweet potatoes, avocado, black beans, and a homemade cilantro lime Greek yogurt dressing. You may be surprised how good healthy eating can taste!

What About Lifestyle? 

Of course, there are other components than a diet that may hinder your weight-loss goals. In order to help you turn your weight loss story into a success story, you should consider the following:

Build a Community of Accountability: 

Think Jenny Craig, Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), and Weight Watchers. Or even that health and wellness spa near your workplace.

Not convinced?

In a presentation at the 2016 Society of General Internal Medicine Annual Meeting, researchers at the Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus revealed their findings after monitoring 65,000 overweight or obese people who joined Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) between 2005 to 2010. They found out that consistent participation in the program motivated overweight participants to sustain their new healthy weight after a year of massive weight loss.

These findings demonstrate that spending more time with a community who supports each other even after you reach your weight loss goals is one of the best ways to keep the weight off. The American Psychological Association even agrees.

Getting Enough Sleep

Have you noticed how you’re hungrier than usual when you only slept for five hours the night before? Before you know it, you’re reaching out the pint of ice cream in the fridge.

It turns out that being sleep-deprived  leads to higher ghrelin (the hunger hormone) levels and lower leptin. Plus, there’s already an association between lack of sleep and obesity.

In addition, not getting enough shut-eye also makes your immune system go haywire. When you’re sick, you don’t feel like exercising, right?

Prioritize getting enough sleep for a week and notice how you feel and think about food intake, exercise, and your energy levels in general.

Consider HIIT if you’re pressed for time

Too busy to do your morning run or the usual hour-long swimming session? Enter the short, explosive moves of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The reason why HIIT has become so popular is that it’s been proven to really work by improving VO2max and body composition in subjects of both genders across all levels of fitness. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Here’s a neat HIIT guide by the American College of Sports Medicine. If you’re not motivated enough to take a break away from your workstation (browsing Reddit on your phone doesn’t count!), this short video will!

The Takeaway

Long-term weight loss is definitely possible if you rethink the way you view what healthy weight loss truly means. Instead of fretting over calorie counts and the number of jumping jacks you’ve done, pay special attention to the quality of your food intake and physical activity. Balance is always better when it comes to sustainability.

Remember, it is not about willpower, it’s about finding something that makes you feel good. Working out and eating food that fuels our body shouldn’t be done out of guilt. Love yourself and love your body, no matter where you are on your journey to health.

Summertime Grilling: Healthy BBQ Suggestions for Enjoying Good Food

By Diet

Once the sun starts shining and the days become longer, it can only mean one thing: it’s time to party!

Summer is practically synonymous with backyard hangs, picnics in the park, and, of course, lots and lots of grilling. But with all of those indulgent summer eats on the table, you might be wondering whether you can have fun in the sun and stay on track with your health goals.

Luckily, you don’t need to compromise on your healthy lifestyle to enjoy grilling and partying with your favorite people. Read on for healthy BBQ ideas to add to your menu this summer.

Healthy eats to serve up at your next BBQ

Grilled fish

Grilled meats are a quintessential staple at most summer hangouts. But if the idea of serving up the same old hot dogs doesn’t appeal to you, try grilling fish instead!

Fish is generally leaner than red meats, which is ideal if you’re trying to minimize your intake of saturated fats, which can negatively impact your heart health.

Even better, many kinds of fish are actually chock-full of healthy fats instead, so you can still enjoy the succulent indulgence of grilled protein!

To maximize the nutritional benefits of your meal, choose a fish like mackerel, salmon, or tuna, which are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that support your heart and brain health.

You can grill your fish whole or cut them into individual filets. Cook them with lemon and herbs for a delicious main dish that’ll leave everyone in your party hungry for more.

Turkey burgers 

Even though beef patties are a favorite during BBQ season, poultry-based alternatives like turkey burgers can be a better choice if you’re looking for ways to eat healthier.

Like fish, turkey tends to have less saturated fat than red meat, which makes it a smart choice for your heart health and any body composition goals you might have.

In fact, a meta-analysis of several studies found that red meat consumption was associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, while poultry consumption was associated with a lower risk.

You can jazz up turkey burgers with exciting toppings, like sriracha mayo, pickled onions, or sliced avocado.

Chicken skewers

When loaded with a mix of lean proteins and vegetables, skewers are a great way to get a balanced meal — all on one stick!

Skewers are also a great way to increase the amount and the variation of the vegetables you eat, which has a ton of benefits, ranging from reduced risks of numerous cancers to improvements in happiness and well-being.

Chicken, bell pepper, tomato, and onion skewers are a lean, heart-healthy classic. For delicious flavor in every bite, marinate your chicken pieces in a mixture of your favorite herbs and spices before throwing them on the grill.

Keep in mind, skewers are highly customizable to your personal taste, so feel free to experiment with using other lean proteins for them if you aren’t a fan of chicken, such as shrimp or turkey.

Pro tip: to get the most nutritional variety out of your meal, try loading up your skewer with fruits and vegetables of many different colors.

Pasta salad 

Pasta salads are a summertime favorite for a reason! They provide you with carbohydrates, making them more satisfying than salads made with vegetables alone. Plus, many pasta salads can be made ahead of time, to make prepping dinner easy once it’s time to party.

You can flavor your pasta salad with all of your favorite summer vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and peppers. Give it zest with lemon juice and a healthy dose of fat from a moderate amount of cheese, such as feta. Olives taste great in pasta salads as well!

To make your pasta salad even more nutrient-packed, consider substituting a whole grain for the pasta, such as quinoa, bulgur, wheat berries, or farro.

Corn “ribs” 

Another great option for lowering your calorie count during BBQ season is to swap your usual grilled meats with plant-based alternatives! For example, if you love chowing down on ribs, try replicating that handheld goodness with corn instead of meat.

This process involves cutting ears of corn into lengthwise strips and throwing them into the oven or onto the grill, where they’ll start to curl and take the shape of ribs.

Season your “ribs” with your favorite dry rub to really amp up the sweet and salty flavor. You can’t go wrong with a mixture of brown sugar, herbs, garlic powder, cayenne, and smoked paprika.

Grilled fruit salad

It might sound a little unusual, but grilled fruit is guaranteed to be one of your new favorites come July! When they’re thrown on the grill, the sugars on your favorite fruits start to caramelize, adding a deliciously succulent depth of flavor to an already fantastic treat.

To make grilled fruit, simply place large slices of your favorite fruits on the grill. (Smaller pieces can be cooked on skewers). Firm fruits like pineapples, watermelon, cantaloupes, mangoes, and peaches are great options but feel free to experiment with any of your other favorites!

For instance, grilled figs brushed with balsamic vinegar are a popular appetizer.

Homemade salsa 

There are few things that say “summertime” quite like a fresh, zingy salsa — and the best part is, salsa is even more delicious when you make it with your own fresh ingredients!

To make a simple salsa, simply dice tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and the peppers of your choice, then mix them with plenty of lime juice, salt, and pepper.

If you like your salsa spicy, you can experiment with adding hot peppers to your salsa, like jalapenos and habaneros. Some people enjoy adding sweet elements to their salsa, such as mango and papaya.

And, of course, chunks of avocado can make a pico de gallo salsa even more flavorful and exciting — and also adds a healthy fat into the mix!

Portobello mushrooms 

If you’re looking for a savory, satisfying vegetable option that holds up well on your barbecue, look no further than the portobello mushroom! Portobello mushrooms are a summer sensation because they’re firm, rich in umami flavor, and take on those signature smoky notes once they’re thrown on the grill.

Even better, mushrooms are packed with nutrients like Vitamin B. Studies have found that higher mushroom consumption is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers!

You can use grilled portobellos as a vegetarian alternative to burger patties, eat them on their own as a delicious grilled side, or throw them into salads!

Air-fried chips and dip 

Snack foods like the chips you buy at the store are convenient to munch on while waiting for the main course.

Unfortunately, they’re often loaded with manufactured ingredients, many of which are not good for you in excess. Even a single snack item, such as a serving size of potato chips, has been found to contain an average of 6-15% of a child’s daily recommended calories, fat, sugar, and sodium for the day.

As a result, the consumption of these so-called “ultra-processed foods” has been linked to an increased risk of several health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

If you want more control over the nutritional content of your snacks, making your own homemade versions of family favorites allows you to better control the ingredients that go into them.

For example, you can make your own chips by baking or air-frying thinly sliced potatoes. Sprinkle them with a moderate amount of salt and/or other spices, such as pepper, garlic powder, cayenne, and paprika.

And here’s an air-frying bonus: you don’t have to make your chips out of potatoes! Try making them with vitamin-rich vegetables instead, such as sweet potatoes or kale.

For even more healthy goodness, swap the mayonnaise and sour cream in your dip recipes for plain Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt has a very similar flavor and texture to sour cream, but it’s packed with protein.

Greek yogurt is also a great source of probiotics, which support your gut health.

Infused water 

If you’re hosting a party on a hot day, you can’t forget the cold, refreshing drinks! However, you might want to think twice about offering folks the usual canned drinks and alcohol.

Both alcohol and soft drinks like soda tend to contain “empty calories” — in other words, calories without any significant nutritional benefits. Soft drinks can also be dehydrating when consumed on their own, which can be dangerous when combined with soaring temperatures.

Instead of going big on soda, try your hand at making your own refreshing beverages by infusing fruits, vegetables, and herbs into a jug of cold water.

If you want something invigorating and refreshing, add citrus slices from lemons or limes to the water, plus your favorite soft herbs (basil and mint are great options here).

On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, your favorite summer fruits like watermelon or strawberries go great with water, especially when you serve them with mint-infused ice cubes!

Whole grain buns 

If you’re serving the usual grilled meats and main dishes, you can take the nutritional value of your meal one step further by choosing whole grain buns instead of white flour ones!

Unlike baked goods made from refined white flour (in other words, the usual buns that you find at the store), whole grain buns naturally retain the fiber and nutrients that come with wheat.

Their superior nutrition profile also means that they are digested more slowly than refined bread, which tends to be better for your blood sugar levels.

Conclusion 

Summer cookouts are all about spending time with your loved ones while chowing down on delectable foods. Try adding some of these healthy BBQ ideas to your next party spread. They’ll make you feel great without compromising your body composition goals!

Cardio vs. Weight Training vs. Concurrent Training: Optimizing Body Composition

By Fitness

Highlights

  • Aerobic Exercise- the ultimate exercise for increasing heart health, vascular health, and metabolic rate.
  • Resistance Training- the best training for gaining muscle strength and function. 
  • Concurrent Training- get the best of both aerobic and resistance training. 

When you think of exercise, what immediately comes to mind?

Going out for a jog? Loading up weights at the squat rack? Or maybe both?

All of those classify as exercise, but they serve different purposes. If you want to increase your squat 1-repetition maximum by 50 pounds, a daily cycling class won’t get you there.

It’s clear that your body adapts differently to different types of exercise, but how does that happen and what does it mean for your health?

This article will break down the benefits of different fitness regimens: aerobic, resistance, and concurrent training. In the process of reading this article, you will soon discover that your fitness goals can be achieved with some basic exercise physiology background!

What is Aerobic Training?

Aerobic exercise stimulates the heart and breathing rate to provide your muscles with oxygenated blood. The energy that powers such exercise is produced in muscle cells primarily via an oxidative pathway, meaning oxygen is required.

That explains all the heavy breathing when you go out for a run, doesn’t it?

That oxygen is delivered via blood being pumped from your heart, through your arteries, and returning to the heart through your veins.

So, it’s apparent that aerobic exercise primarily works two systems: energy production in your muscle cells and blood delivery in your cardiovascular system.

So how does this help you?

Does Aerobic Training Strengthen The Heart?

Aerobic exercise trains the heart to be stronger and more efficient at circulating blood. With aerobic exercise, the chamber of the heart (left ventricle) that pumps blood to the rest of the body literally gets larger and squeezes out more blood per pump, which means its stroke volume is increased. This results in an improved capacity for cardiac output, which is the quantity of blood pumped by the heart per minute.

If you’ve heard of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), it may seem counterintuitive that a large left ventricle muscle is a beneficial adaptation to aerobic exercise. But, important characteristics differentiate an enlarged left ventricle due to healthy aerobic exercise training and one resulting from disease.

strong, efficient heart is exactly what you want in order to live a long and healthy life.

If your heart is bigger and stronger, pumping more blood per beat, it doesn’t have to beat as rapidly. That’s why you often hear of elite endurance athletes with resting heart rates in the 30’s and 40’s. This is more important than it may seem: lower resting heart rate is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

All these cardiac adaptations are aided by an increase in blood volume that occurs with aerobic exercise training. Without getting too technical, the expanded blood volume improves the heart’s contractility and filling capacity, allowing it to pump more blood per beat.

Although the heart is a different type of muscle than what’s in your arms or legs, it’s still subject to a related function. It contracts in order to move blood throughout the body. In addition to making it stronger and more efficient, you can also lighten the heart’s load by decreasing the resistance it faces.

How does aerobic training reduce arterial stiffness?

Each time the heart beats, arteries in the body provide resistance to the blood flowing.

The resistance provided by arteries is variable, though. Aerobic exercise training reduces the heart’s workload by reducing arterial stiffness.

When you perform aerobic exercise, your heart rate increases, pushing more blood through your arteries than at rest. The inner wall of your arteries feel the increased blood flow, and through a series of mechanisms, causes your arteries to widen.

As you train and your arteries experience this regularly, they become more effective at expanding. If you don’t regularly do aerobic exercise, your arteries never experience this stretch and they literally stiffen up (it is harder for your heart to pump blood through a stiff tube). Additionally, arterial stiffness is associated with coronary artery plaque development, the stuff that causes heart attacks.

Aerobic exercise also impacts your vascular system by promoting capillary growth. Capillaries are the microscopic vessels where oxygen diffuses from red blood cells to muscle (and other) cells.

Aerobic exercise requires increased oxygen delivery to the muscle to produce energy, so your body grows more capillaries to be able to better handle the energy demand.

How does aerobic exercise affect your metabolism?

Along with cardiovascular adaptation, aerobic exercise substantially impacts your muscles’ energy production system. Once blood delivers oxygen to the muscle cells, they still have to use it to produce energy that powers all the exercise you’re doing.

Aerobic exercise also relies to a great extent on breaking down fat molecules for energy, which can only happen within mitochondria.

Consequently, aerobic exercise training drastically improves your muscle cells’ ability to burn fat by generating more mitochondria and improving their functionality.

High-intensity aerobic exercise also increases your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), resulting in increased calorie burn after training sessions in addition to what you burned while exercising.  However, to maintain EPOC as you gain fitness, make sure to gradually progress your training intensity.

How Does Aerobic Training Impact Body Composition?

People who struggle with being overweight or obese have likely been told that aerobic exercise is a cornerstone of any weight loss routine.

The key to aerobic exercise is that it keeps the heart rate elevated for a continuous amount of time. While this will help to burn calories, it has specific impacts on body composition that people should keep in mind.

study published by the American Physiological Society took a look at the effects of regular exercise in adults. This study lasted eight months and placed adults on either aerobic training programs, resistance training programs, or a combined program. The researchers found that those in the aerobic training program lost more weight overall, including more fat mass than those in the resistance training program. On the other hand, those in the resistance training program gained more fat-free mass, including lean muscle.

To recap, aerobic training causes the cardiorespiratory system to adapt. It maintains heart function and health and keeps your energy metabolism system running.

Aerobic exercise is a jackpot for fitness and a key element of maintaining your health. But it may not get you big muscles or make your body much stronger…what will?

What Is Resistance Training?

Resistance exercise is training that progressively overloads your muscles. Some examples of resistance training would be traditional weightlifting, bodyweight exercises like pushups and pullups, and resistance band exercises. These types of exercises are meant to make your muscles bigger, stronger, more powerful, and more functional.

Specific adaptations to resistance training begin within the muscle cells. However, you’ll still get systemic benefits ranging from muscle growth to cardiovascular benefit.

To gain a deeper understanding of the whole-body performance and health effects of resistance training, read into how resistance exercise affects muscle at the microscopic level.

How does muscle adaptation work?

The point of resistance training is to make muscles function more effectively. This all starts with the contractile proteins that act to control muscle shortening and lengthening.

When you do resistance exercise, some of those proteins get yanked apart. That, along with the stress your muscle experienced, is the stimulus for your muscle to rebuild – this time bigger, stronger, or more powerful than before.

After resistance exercise, your muscle synthesizes proteins (this is aided by nutritional stimuli i.e. protein consumption). Special cells known as satellite cells also spring into action to help build up the broken down muscle. They normally lie quietly adjacent to muscle cells, but resistance exercise tells them to get to work.

Satellite cells combine with the muscle cells that were strained and damaged during your resistance training session. In doing so, they lend their molecular machinery to support protein synthesis that leads to muscle hypertrophy.

Resistance training with loads over 60% of your 1-repetition maximum results in hypertrophy of primarily type II fibers (‘fast-twitch’). These fibers are capable of rapid contraction with high force but tire more easily.

These micro-level adaptations matter to athletes and the general population alike. When you make measurable gains in muscle mass, strength, or power, you can thank the protein synthesis and fiber-specific adaptations that occurred within your muscle cells.

How does muscle hypertrophy occur? 

All those microscopic adaptations add up to cause changes that are easier to grasp. Resistance training at the proper intensity leads to measurable muscle hypertrophy. Strength improves in part due to changes to the neuromuscular system. Control over your muscles is typically a balance between competing neural signals. Some of those signals tell the muscle to contract, while others prevent contraction.

Regular resistance training can reduce neural inhibition that normally limits the strength and/or endurance of the muscle.

Muscle accounts for roughly 20% of resting energy expenditure, so it impacts on calorie burn and body composition is meaningful. Not only that, but you can’t increase the mass of most of the other organs that account for resting energy expenditure, like the liver, heart, brain, and kidney. Muscle is different because it hypertrophies, growing larger, and expending more calories.

By packing on muscle, not only do you increase strength, power, and function, but you also raise your basal metabolic rate. And by doing so, you’ll see an increase in your metabolism and an improvement in your health.

Does Weight Lifting Count as Cardio? 

If you’ve ever lifted weights or done resistance exercise, you’ve probably felt your heart pounding with the exertion.

Does that mean you’re getting cardiovascular and metabolic adaptations like you would with aerobic training?

Maybe not.

Resistance exercise does raise your energy expenditure. But it does so differently, and to a lesser extent, than aerobic exercise.

Resistance exercise trains your energy production systems but has less impact on the aerobic energy systems.

Is Resistance Training For Everyone?

Even if you’re not an athlete. Resistance training is important for functional fitness.

Functional strength training is defined as: “Training that attempts to mimic the specific physiological demands of real-life activities.” Unlike more traditional strength training (which focuses on specific muscle groups during each exercise), functional training focuses on whole muscle groups to train the body for daily demands.

A common misconception is that you may be too old for resistance training. But clinical data from a multitude of sources clearly shows the benefits of improving one’s functional fitness level, particularly for older adults.

Functional training such as resistance exercises and bodyweight movements can help you become stronger, more flexible, agiler and better equipped to handle day-to-day feats of strength and athleticism that are often overlooked. Plus, it can help you become less injury-prone.

study recruited seniors who were struggling with their physical abilities and placed them in a resistance-training exercise program. At the end, the researchers observed an increase in their fat-free mass, their muscle mass, their gait speed, and their overall physical capacity. This shows that resistance training not only improved body composition in the elderly but also helped to increase mobility to improve their ability to complete day to day activities.

How Does Resistance Training Impact Body Composition?

study found that regardless of the frequency of the resistance training program, participants increased overall muscle strength. The participants increased lean body composition.

Resistance training is a great way to increase lean muscle mass, and it improves the physical capacity of the elderly, leading to significant improvements in their quality of life. This evidence supports the positive capabilities resistance training has in both building lean body mass as well as maintaining lean mass in aging populations who are at risk of muscle loss.

These adaptations to resistance exercise impact your health and physical performance. Your muscles carry you through the day and increase performance if you’re an athlete.

Breaking down and building up muscle through resistance training is essential to maintaining function as you age. Loss of muscle mass even threatens some people’s capacity to live independently.

In terms of body composition, muscle mass is not only an important component to maintain, but it also contributes to your resting metabolism, helping you maintain a healthy energy balance.

Resistance training benefits the cardiovascular system, but its role is mainly for muscle gain and function.

But, how can you reap the benefits of both aerobic and resistance training? Do you just combine the two however you want?

What is Concurrent Training?

Concurrent training is the combination of both aerobic and resistance exercises within the same training session. Aerobic and resistance exercise impacts your body differently, so it follows that they each cause adaptations via different mechanisms.

How should I order my aerobic and resistance workouts?

In practice, aerobic/interval and resistance training don’t seem to interfere with each others’ adaptations all that much. But, understanding a few specifics about concurrent training will allow you to make good decisions about your exercise program.

The type of aerobic training determines how it interacts with resistance exercise adaptations. While strength and hypertrophy gains could be diminished by adding run training to a resistance program, cycling does not have the same effect.

Why? Researchers aren’t exactly sure. But it may have to do with two factors:

  • Cycling ergonomics are more similar to traditional lower-body resistance exercises
  • Eccentric muscle contractions in running result in muscle damage, while the concentric contractions in cycling do not (to the same extent).

The modality of aerobic exercise (running versus cycling) is important to understanding the effect of concurrent training, but so are frequency and duration. In some cases the more aerobic training you add to your program, the more you may impact muscular adaptation. So pair your training programs correctly; a running program in conjunction with an upper-body lifting exercise may benefit overall, but a running/leg press workout every day could interfere with one another.

And if you’re doing both aerobic and resistance exercise in the same session at the gym, or even on the same day, you’ll want to consider the order in which you do the exercises. It’s basically a matter of prioritization.

If your priority is on building aerobic fitness and performing well in a running race, do your aerobic exercise first in a session, followed by resistance exercise.

On the other hand, if your priority is building strength and muscle, you’ll want to do resistance exercise followed by aerobic.

However, the order probably doesn’t matter if you’re untrained.

The takeaway: if you’re untrained and haven’t set distinct fitness goals yet, don’t worry yet about the order of aerobic or resistance training. Do both and start exercising your way to health!

How do you develop a Concurrent Training program that’s right for you? 

If you’re just going to the gym to stay healthy, the benefit of gaining both aerobic and muscular fitness is well worth it.

To get the most benefit from your hard work at the gym, make sure to use these tips:

  • If your priority is muscle strength and growth, choose aerobic exercise like cycling rather than running to complement your lifting routine.
  • Consume enough protein and carbohydrates to stimulate muscle growth and recovery after workouts
  • If you alternate aerobic and resistance sessions, maximize recovery time between sessions (separate them by at least 6 hours)

Chances are that concurrent training is right for you, so go get started!

A Well-Rounded Exercise Program

As people continue to struggle with obesity and functional fitness as they age, exercise is more important than ever. It is vital to combine diet and exercise to not only lose weight but have a favorable impact on body composition and your lifespan.

Furthermore, it is important to have a well-rounded exercise routine that touches on all types of fitness. Aerobic exercise is effective at maintaining an elevated heart rate and losing fat-free mass. On the other hand, resistance training helps to build lean muscle mass. You can combine the two, with concurrent training, or jump into an explosive HIIT workout when you don’t have much time or need a motivation boost.

With this insight, you will be better equipped to understand why exercise is important for your health (a great motivator), how different types of exercise interact, and which ones are best suited for your needs.

Can a Cheat Day Nullify a Week’s Worth of Gym Work?

By Diet, Nutrition
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on January 11, 2021, for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on February 17, 2016.
  • Fat gain or loss is determined by how many calories you take in and how many calories you use in a day
  • Water weight can come from increased glycogen, an energy source that is produced primarily from carbohydrates
  • A cheat day every once in a while will not erase weeks and months of hard work

Your hard work is paying off with your diet and workouts, and you keep making progress. The weight loss goal is in reach, and you decide to treat yourself. It might be a snack, a cheat meal, a cheat day, or even a weekend. When Monday comes, you weigh yourself for your weekly weigh-in, and you can’t believe it: you’ve gained 5 pounds.

First, the bad news: no the scale isn’t lying to you, you’ve gained 5 five pounds. Here the good news: it is not 5 pounds of fat.

If it is not fat, what is it? Are cheat days a good idea for your diet and fitness plan?

What are cheat days?

First, a quick overview. What exactly is a cheat day?  “Cheat days”, despite the negative connotation, are planned breaks from your diet plan. Rewarding yourself with scheduled breaks from your diet plan, may help you stick to your diet plan, build better habits, and achieve long-term success.

What you plan to indulge in on your cheat day depends on the individual’s tastes and appetite, but the key idea is to let loose and enjoy yourself with something that isn’t on your diet plan.

Not every diet will allow for “cheat days”. The Paleo diet, for example, eliminates entire food groups and doesn’t allow for any breaks from the diet plan. But no matter what diet plan you are on, incorporate meals that you can look forward to helping make the diet plan sustainable.

What are the benefits of a cheat day?

Cheat days can be a great tool to help motivate you to stick to your diet plan. Use cheat days to build a positive relationship with food. View your favorite dessert or comfort food as a reward rather than a coping mechanism.

Something that you should keep in mind is that a cheat day isn’t a license to binge eat. Binge eating on your cheat day may lead to eating-related issues and hurt your ability to self-regulate.

Contrary to popular belief, binge eating does not boost your metabolism. It may have the opposite effect. Just like your diet, it is best to approach it with a plan and the focus on the long-term.

How often should you have cheat days?

There is no hard and fast rule on how many cheat days you should have. Or even if you decide between a cheat meal or day. Ultimately, it depends on how well you self-regulate and what your goals are.

It’s so easy for your cheat day to become a cheat weekend, and then a cheat week. Before you know it, you are back to your old eating habits. It is important to understand what will help you stay motivated.

The goal is to develop a sustainable, long-term plan. What you should consider are your body composition goal, and how fast you want to reach them. Think about how the extra calories (if any) from your cheat meals will impact your goal.

Why does a cheat day cause you to gain weight?


A cheat day causes some large weight increases, but weight because of water, not fat. Depending on what kind of diet you were on, loading up on carbs on a cheat day can increase your weight noticeably.

If you were trying to lose fat, you likely were trying to cut carbohydrates out of your diet. It’s a very popular technique, and diets structured around low carbohydrate and low caloric intake are about as basic a diet as they come. The Mayo Clinic notes that a diet targeting low carbohydrate intake makes up about 60-130 grams of carbs a day. Some popular diets—such as the Atkins Diet—target extremely low levels of carbohydrates, as low as 18 grams a day. This will help you lose weight and some of it.

But once you increase your consumption of carbs, you may see a subsequent increase in water weight.

How much water weight can you gain from cheat day?

If you’re consuming 60 grams of carbs a day, you’re holding onto approximately 210 grams of water. That’s about half a pound of water.

But if on a cheat day, you decide to eat and drink whatever you want and load up to 300 grams of carbohydrates (the average number of carbs eaten by men, according to the US Department of Agriculture), you would retain around 1kg of water or 2.2 pounds. If you were on a 60 carbs/day diet, you could be a pound and a half heavier already. If you went up to 400 grams of carbs, you could add on 2 ½ pounds of water.

Why do carbs cause you to retain water weight?

The reason your body retains water after you consume carbs involves your body’s favorite energy source: a molecule called glycogen. Glycogen is an energy source that is produced primarily from carbohydrates. Your body loves glycogen because it’s an easily accessible energy source that provides a lot of energy. Glycogen also has an interesting attribute: it bonds well with water. In fact, for every gram of carbohydrate in your body, there are about 3 to 4 molecules of water bonded to it.

But glycogen is far from the only substance or factor that can cause your body to retain extra water. Excess sodium can also cause your body to hold on to the water on top of the water held onto by your glycogen. Once you factor in the effects of food, your hormones, and your unique body composition, it is easy to see why your weight fluctuates so much.

But once you return to eating a low carb, low-sodium diet, your body should naturally shed the extra water weight you gained.

Can you gain pounds of fat overnight?

You can’t gain a pound of fat in a day, or even 5 pounds in one weekend. Biologically, it would amaze us if you did. You are very much aware of how difficult it is to lose fat quickly, but don’t laugh when I tell you, in theory, it is as “difficult” to gain fat.

Fat gain or loss has a lot to do with your energy/caloric balance–how many calories you take in vs. how many calories you use during the day. If you are using more energy than you take in, your body gets some energy it needs from your fat stores. If you’re taking in more energy–eating beyond your body’s needs–then the opposite happens: you build fat stores.

A common theory in the health and fitness world is that there are around 3,500 calories stored in a pound of fat. The theory goes that if you reduce your daily caloric intake by 500 every day of the week, in 7 days you’ll lose a pound of fat. Conversely, if you overeat by 500 calories a day, you can gain a pound of fat in a week.

500 Calories x 7 Days = 3,500 calories/week or 1 lb/ week

The point is, it TAKES TIME to gain or lose fat. (Of course, it is much easier than you think to overeat 500 calories a day. A large blended coffee-flavored drink once a day will do it.)

To gain a pound of fat, you would need to add about 500 calories a day on top of your normal diet, every day, for about 7 days. This makes gaining any significant amount of fat from even the craziest, all-out cheat days unlikely. To gain 5 pounds of fat in a day, you’d have to eat about 17,500 calories on top of your daily caloric limit. Not even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson can consume that many calories!

If you are curious to see the effects of your cheat day, take a body composition test before and after your cheat day to see the changes to your body water levels.

Do cheat days ruin your progress?

A cheat day every once in a while will not erase weeks and months of consistent workouts and healthy eating.

Cheat days can help keep you stay motivated long-term if you practice mindful eating. But remember, this doesn’t mean you can get carried away on cheat days. It is important to always stay within reason and it will go a long way to help you develop healthy eating habits that you can sustain.

Do not stress about any sudden weight gain after a cheat day; it’s not fat but just water weight. Just make sure after you’ve had your fun, you get back on your fitness journey and keep working towards your goals. Changing your body composition and losing weight is a long-term process, but if you do it right, you’ll have long-term results!

Bottom line: it’s OK to indulge once in a while!

The Influence of Muscle and Fat on Your Body Weight

By Diet, Nutrition

If you’re trying to lose weight, the chances are that you have a “goal weight” in mind.

With so many of our conversations about health centering around factors like obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and overall fitness, it seems that we’re always looking for ways to get healthy and reach what we believe is our ideal weight.

After all, the best way to make sure that you actually reach a goal is by making it measurable in the first place, and your weight is a great way to see how much progress you’re making.

But what’s going on beyond the scale?

There’s a lot more to being healthy than just knowing how much you weigh. Your weight can be a crucial indicator of your health, but that final number might not show you the whole picture.

If you want to talk about weight (or weight loss), it’s vital to have a solid understanding of the two most significant contributors to your weight: muscle and fat tissue.

  

The Two Different Tissues Contributing to Your Weight

There are a couple of components that make up your body weight, but the two types of tissue that can be the biggest indicators of your health and fitness: muscle and fat.

Let’s Talk About Muscle

Your muscles are the tissues in your body that are responsible for strength and movement. They also help to support your bones and contribute to your energy metabolism.

There are three different kinds of muscle:

  • Cardiac
  • Smooth
  • Skeletal

When it comes to body composition and body weight, we’re mostly talking about Skeletal Muscle Mass. These are the muscles that you can typically change through a combination of a healthy diet and exercise. Traditionally, we work out and grow these muscles (or neglect them and let them atrophy). Think biceps, triceps, abdominals, glutes, etc.

What About Fat?

Fat, also known as adipose tissue, is another major contributor to your overall body weight – and it’s often the one that people are looking to get rid of when they talk about weight loss.

There are two different kinds of fat:

  • Subcutaneous fat, or the fat that lies beneath the skin
  • Visceral fat, which lies deep in your abdominal cavity and surrounds your organs

Despite the negative connotation, having a certain amount of fat tissue is actually necessary. Your body stores unused energy from your food as fat, so it can provide a reliable source of fuel when you need it. Fat tissue also acts as insulation to keep you warm and as a “cushion” to protect your vital organs.

Finally, fat is an endocrine organ, which means that it plays a role in releasing hormones and regulating your blood sugar.

The visible problem is excess body fat, which can lead to higher body weight and altered hormone release that can make the condition worse.

How Muscle And Fat Contribute To Your Body Weight

When it comes to weight, most of the focus is on body fat and muscle because they can both be controlled (and changed!) by your lifestyle.

Your Body Fat Mass (or the amount of fat you have in your body) is highly variable based on your diet and exercise. Since one of its primary functions is energy storage, your Body Fat Mass can change depending on whether you’re eating at a caloric deficit or caloric surplus.

This means that if you are at a caloric surplus, or eating more than what your body uses, the excess energy can be stored as fat, which leads to weight gain.

You also have a lot of control over how your Skeletal Muscle Mass contributes to your weight since these are the muscles that can grow with exercise. Because of this, the amount of muscle mass you have can be an indication of your fitness.

Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?

Not only do these two tissues have different functions, but they also take up space in your body in very different ways.

You may have heard the phrase “muscle weighs more than fat” before. What this means is that, while a pound of fat is going to weigh the same as a pound of muscle, they’re going to look very different.

Muscle tissue is denser than fat tissue, so a pound of muscle tissue takes up much less space than a pound of body fat. This means you can be the same height and weight as someone else but look completely different and have different body composition because of the different body fat-to-muscle ratios—and this can also mean that the healthiness of your weight can vary.

Why Knowing Your Body Composition Is Just As Important As Your Weight

When it comes to determining their “healthy weight range,” a lot of people put the focus on their BMI, or Body Mass Index, which uses a general formula to decide how your weight compares with your height. But these two numbers don’t necessarily give you the whole picture of your health since it doesn’t show exactly how your muscle and fat contribute to that weight.

Take this study, for example: while evaluating the weight and body composition of college athletes, researchers found that 38 of the subjects had BMIs indicating that they were overweight, but only 4 of those subjects actually had excess body fat. This means that a higher Skeletal Muscle Mass may classify you as overweight on the scale!

There is more to your health and fitness than your body weight alone.

Understanding Your Body Composition

To understand how the weight on the scale relates to your body composition, you have to understand that your weight is broken down into Body Fat Mass and Lean Body Mass and where Skeletal Muscle Mass fits into that mix.

The definition of Lean Body Mass is your total body weight minus your Body Fat Mass, which leaves your Skeletal Muscle Mass as well as the weight of your organs, skin, bones, and body water. This measurement can give you an idea of how much of your body weight is made up of fat and muscle.

Not only is this important for having a grasp of how healthy you are, but it can also help with your metabolism, which can then go on to help you with any body composition or weight loss goals you may have. People who have more Lean Body Mass use more calories every day when they’re at rest to maintain those muscle tissues, so having a higher muscle mass is actually beneficial for using more calories daily and burning fat.

And on the flip side, excess body fat can pose health risks like heart disease, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome, even if you have a normal BMI!

You Can Improve Your Health Regardless of Your Weight

The right balance of Lean Body Mass and Body Fat Mass can help you to maintain your health and your capacity for functional movement outside of weight alone and is generally a better indication of your overall fitness.

The really good news about this is that it means weight loss on its own isn’t always the end-all-be-all of improving your health and quality of life.

For example, one study found that patients improved their knee pain by lowering their body fat percentage and increasing their activity, even when their body weight didn’t change significantly.

Key Insights for Goal-Planning

Knowing your body composition can give you vital insights into just how healthy you are—and that can mean a more clear path for making the right decisions for your health and fitness.

Having a “snapshot” of your Body Fat Mass and Skeletal Muscle Mass—and how both of those components contribute to the final number on the scale—can help you determine what steps you should be taking to improve your overall body composition and health.

For example, if you find that your Body Fat Mass is high, but your Skeletal Muscle Mass seems to be in a normal range, you can focus more on cutting your fat through a combination of exercise and diet rather than just resistance training to build muscle.

This can also help you see that your progress doesn’t always show on the scale! If you’ve been hitting the gym hard and are feeling a lot more fit, but the scale hasn’t moved, you might be building muscle. Again, muscle takes up less space in your body than fat tissue, so this progress won’t necessarily show on the scale, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t making any progress.

Getting a body composition test lets you learn more about your body composition and can show that you’re building muscle to keep you motivated to continue.

How To Maintain Muscle Mass While Losing Fat

If you want to lose weight, you should lose excess fat tissue, not muscle mass. Studies have indicated that it’s important to focus on diet and exercise if you want to preserve your Skeletal Muscle Mass while losing weight.

To do this, you need to make sure you’re losing weight “the healthy way:”

  • Include a healthy balance of cardio and resistance training in your workout routine to burn calories and build muscle
  • Eat at a caloric deficit to burn through your extra fat stores
  • Make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet to support and maintain healthy muscle mass

Conclusion

There’s more to your body weight than what meets the eye—although having a healthy body composition can definitely help with that! Knowing how your fat and muscle contribute to your weight can give you key insights into your health and help you plan out a more specific diet and exercise routine for your goals.

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Erica Digap is a freelance writer specializing in nutrition science, fitness, and health. After receiving her BSc in Clinical Nutrition and working in the corporate diet industry, she decided to set forth and use her experience to inspire readers to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes, one healthy meal and workout at a time.

The Connection Between Diabetes and Hypertension

By Blood Pressure, Health

Living with the chronic disease requires ongoing medical attention and is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. Diabetes and hypertension are two of these chronic diseases that impact millions of people worldwide. 

  

Hypertension, which is also known as high blood pressure, is when your average or resting blood pressure is higher than the normal range established by the American Heart Association. Your blood pressure is the amount of pressure that pushes against your artery walls which typically comes from the heart pumping blood. To have hypertension, your blood pressure should be at or higher than 130/80 mmHg per the CDC. 

Common type of diabetes

There are two forms of diabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which both cause your blood glucose (or blood sugar) to be too high. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and is a result of your body being unable to make insulin (the hormone needed to allow blood glucose into cells for fuel). Type 2 diabetes is more common and typically diagnosed in middle-aged and older individuals. With type 2 diabetes, your body has the capability of producing insulin but it does not make or use it well. 

The American Diabetes Association provides information about some common methods for diagnosis, including an A1C of greater or equal to 6.5% or a fasting blood sugar level at 126 mg/dl or higher.

If you’ve been diagnosed with or are worried about either of these conditions, in this blog we’re breaking down how they are connected and ways to prevent them. 

How diabetes and blood pressure are connected 

According to a 2012 review published in the Current Atherosclerosis Reports, hypertension occurs in about 30% of individuals who have type 1 diabetes and approximately 50% to 80% in those with type 2 diabetes. Studies have also indicated that only 42% of people with diabetes had normal blood pressure, and only 56% of those with hypertension had normal glucose tolerance (which indicates how your body processes sugar). 

There are several reasons behind why these two conditions are often seen together. Researchers of a 2018 study published in Hypertension concluded that the “development of hypertension and diabetes mellitus track each other over time.” A common feature they notice in both prediabetes and prehypertension is insulin resistance. As we previously mentioned, insulin helps to keep the amount of sugar or glucose in the blood under control. When someone is insulin resistant, which occurs in type 2 diabetes, your body isn’t responding to or making enough insulin to allow glucose to enter the cells. 

Insulin resistance often does not have any symptoms which leads to a gradual increase in blood sugar levels if it’s not being treated. This can cause damage to the blood vessels, eventually making them become thick and stiff (a condition called atherosclerosis). The hardening of these blood vessels increases the pressure that blood is being pumped through. , AKA high blood pressure. The combination of these effects left untreated can lead to serious conditions such as heart attack and stroke.
 

Diabetes and blood pressure share many risk factors. These include:

  • Family history of these conditions 
  • Having excess weight and body fat 
  • An inactive lifestyle 
  • Stress and poor sleep
  • Tobacco use 
  • Older age 

Can one cause the other? 

The short answer is yes, diabetes can cause hypertension and hypertension can cause diabetes. 

There seem to be two factors that link these conditions together — genetics and environment. According to the same 2012 review, certain DNA sequences that can be used to predict the potential occurrence of diabetes were also linked with predicting the onset of hypertension. However, our lifestyle plays the biggest role in controlling environmental factors impacting our health, which includes diet and physical activity. 

Factors such as inflammation and oxidative stress also occur in both hypertension and diabetes. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Inflammation Research states that as diabetes and hypertension progress, it decreases antioxidant and anti-inflammatory biomarkers which leads to an imbalance in oxidative stress and inflammation.  

Prevention of high blood pressure and diabetes 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to reducing the risk of chronic diseases, including diabetes and hypertension. High intakes of sodium, alcohol, and saturated fat combined with smoking, lack of physical activity, and mental stress, are all factors that can affect our overall health and longevity. 

The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intense aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. Moderate-intense activities include: 

  • Brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour) 
  • Water aerobics 
  • Dancing 
  • Gardening 
  • Tennis
  • Biking 

Along with aerobic activity, it’s recommended to add in 2 days of moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity like resistance bands or weights. 

When it comes to healthy eating, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, was created specifically to prevent and treat hypertension. An analysis published by the American Heart Association found that the DASH diet is also effective against diabetes. According to the article, the DASH diet significantly improved fasting insulin levels when followed for more than 16 weeks. 

The DASH diet doesn’t require special foods, but it is geared towards a heart-healthy eating style. The plan recommends:

  • Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains 
  • Choosing fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils 
  • Limiting foods high in saturated fat including fatty meals, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils (coconut and palm oils) 
  • Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and foods 

The diet highly recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which is no more than 1 teaspoon. If sodium intake is cut back to 1,500 milligrams, blood pressure could be lowered even more. 

Medication options 

Lifestyle changes are important, but some situations may call for the treatment of medication, as well. According to a 2017 article, published in the Journal of Hypertension, individuals that have a blood pressure that is 160/100 mmHg or higher, should be treated with medication along with lifestyle therapy. It’s also believed that the management of hypertension should be aggressive in those that have diabetes. The treatment for hypertension should include prescriptions that reduce cardiovascular events in those with diabetes. Medications might include: 

  • ACE inhibitors: relax blood vessels and decreasing blood volume 
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers: these block angiotensin, which is a chemical that narrows blood vessels 
  • Thiazide-like diuretics: reduce the fluid that accumulates in the body 
  • Dihydropyridine calcium channel blockers: reduce the entry of calcium into muscle cells 

It’s also not uncommon to be prescribed multiple drugs simultaneously; however, if lifestyle therapy is consistentin some cases, medications can eventually be discontinued. 

The takeaway 

Since diabetes and hypertension have many shared risk factors, those that are diagnosed with one will have a higher chance of developing the other. Prevention and management of these conditions come with lifestyle adjustments which include diet and exercise, but treatment will often include medication(s) based on the severity. If left untreated, the combination of diabetes and hypertension can lead to serious health complications including heart attack, or stroke. 

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Lauren Armstrong is a Registered Dietitian with several years of experience counseling and educating individuals seeking chronic disease prevention and a healthier lifestyle. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University and completed her dietetic internship at Michigan State University.

Carb Cycling: A Comprehensive Guide and Its Influence on Your Fitness

By Diet, Nutrition

Counting the number of calories you eat in a day is no longer effective for improving your fitness potential.

Eating healthy is often a more involved process than simply tallying the number of calories you eat in a day. There are also the actual nutrients in those calories that need to be considered, like your protein, fat, and, most infamously, carbohydrates. Low-carb dieting is highly popular for weight management, but many people find that it’s too restrictive to be a realistic,  long-term solution. Enter: carb cycling.

Here’s everything you need to know about carb cycling and how it can help you achieve your fitness goals.

What is Macro Counting?

“Macro counting” is an eating strategy in which you keep track of the number of grams of each macronutrient you eat per day. Macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) are all metabolized differently in your body. As such, each macronutrient also has a different calorie value per gram.

  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories/gram
  • Proteins: 4 calories/gram
  • Fats: 9 calories/gram

The three major macronutrients and their equivalent calories per gram. 

Not all calories are created equally, and several studies show that the macronutrient contents of your diet can alter your end results. Macro counting addresses the importance of understanding how food affects your body beyond simple calories in/calories out approach. While counting your macros tends to be more involved than simply adding up your total calories for the day, this method can give you better insights into how the food you eat is affecting your workouts and your body composition.

One of the most popular examples of a macro counting diet is IIFYM, aka the “If It Fits Your Macros” diet. This type of eating pattern generally allows for more flexibility in your daily eating plan, rather than strict restriction and elimination that go hand-in-hand with more regimented diets.

What is Carb Cycling?

Carbohydrates have historically been villainized as the culprits behind unwanted weight gain and fitness plateaus. However, the relationship between carbs and your fitness is a little more nuanced than that. Carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source so your body needs a certain amount of carbohydrates that it can use to fuel your daily activities.  While weight loss is a benefit of low-carb diets, like the Keto Diet, they’ve also been linked to some concerning side effects like nausea, fatigue, dehydration, and limited exercise capacity.

This is where carb cycling comes in. This more advanced eating pattern has traditionally been used by athletes to optimize their athletic performance, and now it’s also being used as a method for weight loss.

Rather than slashing your carbohydrate intake to a minimum, as you would with a traditional low-carb diet, carb cycling involves switching off between lower-carb intake days and moderate-carb intake days. Carb cycling can look different for everyone, but the most popular option is to save your higher-carb days for the days that you are going to be participating in higher-intensity workouts. This way, you can make sure that you’re giving your body enough carbohydrates to fuel you through your most active days.

How Carb Cycling Affects Your Body Composition

So why try carb cycling in the first place? One major reason lies in its potential to help you build muscle while losing fat.

Low-carb diets are a successful method for weight loss (at least in the short term) for a couple of different reasons, including their potential to help improve insulin sensitivity, lower your calorie intake, and put you into a state of ketosis, or “fat burn.”

But low-carbohydrate diets can also lead to a loss of muscle mass during intense exercise. When you eat carbohydrates, they’re broken down into glucose, which then circulates through your bloodstream (aka “blood sugar”) to be used for quick energy. And, they can also be stored in your muscles and liver in another form called glycogen. But when you’re eating a limited amount of carbs, you have much less circulating glucose that can be used for energy to complete a high-intensity workout. Instead, your body has to use your stored glycogen for energy, depleting your muscles in the process.

By cycling your carb intake, you can prevent this muscle degradation by refueling your muscle glycogen stores with an adequate amount of carbohydrates on those extra-active days.

It’s also interesting to note how low-carb diets can impact some of the hormones that influence your weight management behaviors. Take leptin, a hormone that regulates your energy and hunger cues. There’s evidence that eating a low-carb diet is linked to lower leptin levels, which can notify your body that it needs to eat more, throwing a wrench into your otherwise carefully-planned diet. For many people, this means that they need to experiment with different amounts of carbohydrates to find the intake that will best support their fitness goals. Because of this, carb cycling can be a potential solution for many.

Is Carb Cycling Good for Your Fitness Goals?

Carbs provide quick, easy-to-use fuel when you need it most. So a downside to low-carb diets is they are not very well-suited for people who work out. However, with carb cycling, you can use higher-carbohydrate days to give your body enough fuel to finish those longer,  harder workouts that might be more difficult to complete when you’re taking in fewer carbohydrates.

Carb cycling could also be a useful tool for weight loss simply because of the low-carb element. Low-carb diets are proven to help you lose fat, making them similar to other calorie-restricted approaches. But, because carb cycling allows you to eat some carbohydrates when factored wisely into your eating plan, it could be a more sustainable approach. By carb cycling, you can approach nutrition from a more sustainable angle, and you won’t have to be as restrictive. Successful diets are the ones that you can follow for the long run, so carb cycling could be a viable option for anyone who wants to take advantage of better insulin sensitivity without eliminating carbs completely.

Are There Any Downsides to Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling could be an effective way to help you reach your fitness goals, especially when compared to stricter diets that do away with many carbohydrates. But on the flip side, this method is more complicated and involved than simply adding up the number of calories you ate in a  day. It requires thorough planning to ensure that you’re meeting the correct amount of carbohydrates (in grams) for your body while ensuring your exercise plan is working with your nutrition to get you the results you desire. This type of eating plan could feel overwhelming if you’re looking for a simpler way to monitor your food intake.

Another thing to consider is  carb cycling can come with some unpleasant side effects on low-carb days like fatigue, sleep problems, gastrointestinal distress, and mood issues. Carb cycling is not suitable for just anyone, either. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it, as should anyone who is underweight, managing an eating disorder, or dealing with any adrenal issues.

People with diabetes should also consult with their doctor before determining if carb cycling could be a fit for their lifestyles. Evidence for its use among those with diabetes is somewhat conflicting, though. While low-carb diets seem to be helpful for managing blood sugar, some experts believe people with diabetes and hypoglycemia should not try carb cycling.

Also, there is very little evidence as of now to suggest how well carb cycling actually works. More evidence-based research is needed to determine the effects of carb cycling on your health and fitness goals.

How to Start Carb Cycling

Familiarize Yourself With Different Kinds of Carbs

If you’re going to start watching your carb intake, it pays to understand the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.

Your body can break down and absorb simple carbohydrates very quickly, so they can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. Simple carbohydrates also tend to be processed more heavily than complex carbohydrates, which can strip them of other healthy nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Therefore, having too many simple carbohydrates in your diet can increase your susceptibility to conditions like weight gain, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates contain healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They take longer for your body to break down and absorb, and they won’t trigger massive blood sugar fluctuations in the same ways that simple carbs will.

When it comes to carb cycling, it’s usually better to stick to more complex carbohydrates, both on low-carb and more moderate-carb days, to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients. Some examples of healthy  complex carbohydrates you might want to add to your carb cycling rotation include:

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

It’s also important to note that these recommendations are general and not all-encompassing. It’s always a good idea to speak with a  registered dietitian or certified nutritionist to better understand your individual needs.

Experiment With What Works Best for You

There is no hard-and-fast definition of carb cycling, which means that what works best for you may not work for someone else Generally speaking, a typical low-carb day might mean restricting your carb intake to roughly 20-57 grams of carbohydrates (about one cup of brown rice). In contrast, a more moderate-carbohydrate day might see about 225-325 grams per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet. But again, this can vary.

The frequency of low-carb to moderate-carb days also matters. Many people who carb cycle schedule their moderate carbohydrate days on the days when they are exercising intensely. But there isn’t currently enough research to suggest that there’s an “optimum” number of days per week that one should eat low-carb versus higher-carb.

Ultimately, your macronutrient needs can vary widely based on the number of calories you eat per day, the frequency and intensity at which you exercise, and your current health status. You might need to do some experimentation to find the right cycle that fits your goals.

Use a Nutrition Tracker

One of the biggest considerations to keep in mind before you start carb cycling is the amount of math it can involve. Not only do you have to determine how many carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are in each food you eat during the day, but you also need to tailor your meal plan according to whether you’re following a high-carb or low-carb meal plan for that particular day.

 So nutrition trackers can be invaluable tools for anyone interested in carb cycling. . Plugging your daily food intake into a smartphone app reduces the amount of math you need to do and simplifies macro counting while ensuring you are eating the right number of calories for weight loss, maintenance, or gain (depending on your goals). Popular apps include:

Track Your Measurements and Body Composition in Addition to Weight

Because carb cycling seems to affect your body composition and weight in various ways, it’s important to track more than just your weight to get an accurate picture of your progress.

To better understand how carb cycling is affecting your body fat versus your muscle mass, take regular measurements. Start by measuring your biceps, waist, abdomen, hips, and chest to use as a baseline for tracking healthy progress. You might also be able to track changes to body composition outputs like  Body Fat Percentage, Skeletal Muscle Mass, Lean Muscle Mass, and Body Fat Mass—all of which can more accurately show you how your diet is changing your body more than a single number on the scale.

On a related note, it’s important to understand that changes to your body composition and weight can also lead to changes in your energy requirements. To avoid plateaus during your fitness journey, reevaluate your macronutrient intake every 8-12 weeks, as instructed by your dietitian, especially if you start to notice stagnation in your progress.

Conclusion

Carb cycling has been used as an energy optimization strategy by endurance athletes for years. But more and more people have recently begun to use this advanced strategy to take advantage of the fat-burning benefits of low-carb diets without burning out too quickly. It’s a fairly complicated diet that requires more research to understand its long-term effects, but it seems to be a promising method for weight management. Before you hop onto the carb cycling bandwagon, take some time to educate yourself on the types of carbohydrates and their individual benefits, and be sure to speak with a professional to ensure you can fuel your body properly using this method.

The Relationship Between Body Composition and Liver Function

By Body Composition, Health, Medical

Your liver is a true powerhouse of an organ. It has a hand in some of your body’s most crucial regulatory processes, from the digestion and metabolizing of various nutrients to the detoxification of your blood. So, when there’s something wrong with your liver, the consequences can be serious. And unfortunately, a damaged liver may not always emit any overt or obvious signals that something is wrong. That means that major liver issues may go undetected for a long time.

But, as it turns out, one of the most telling indicators of your liver function is actually your body composition, which makes it much easier to keep tabs on your own health! Read on to find out how your body composition impacts your liver function, and how you can use this information to proactively protect your wellbeing.

The liver: what it is and why it matters

Your liver is a large organ that sits in your abdominal cavity, near your stomach, intestines, and kidneys. As a part of the digestive system, your liver plays a huge variety of roles in your body, including:

  • Producing bile for digestion
  • Metabolizing fat-soluble vitamins
  • Processing drugs
  • Producing cholesterol
  • Regulating carbohydrates and proteins
  • Detoxifying blood by removing drugs and other potential toxins

Liver issues

Because it’s an integral factor in so many different bodily processes, your liver’s health directly impacts your overall health. Unfortunately, under certain circumstances, your liver can become prone to conditions and diseases that lessen its ability to function normally, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

As you might be able to guess from the name, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (or NAFLD for short) is a set of conditions in which excess fat accumulates in your liver. This type of fat accumulation can also occur from excess alcohol consumption, in a disease aptly named “alcohol-related liver disease” (ARLD). But, unlike ARLD, NAFLD can occur in the absence of excessive alcohol consumption, influenced instead by factors like your lifestyle and genetics.

While NAFLD does not always cause symptoms on its own, having it can increase your risk for other serious health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

There are two different kinds of NAFLD: 

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL): People with NAFL have an enlarged liver with excess fat accumulation, but this type of NAFLD comes with minimal inflammation or damage to the liver itself.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): People who have this kind of NAFLD can experience inflamed livers. Twenty percent of these patients will progress to cirrhosis (scarring), which can damage the liver itself. These devastating impacts mean that NASH has even been linked to liver cancer and liver failure, and it is highly associated with the necessity for liver transplants.

Generally, people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease will develop either NAFL or NASH. However, some people with one form of NAFLD may later be diagnosed with the other form.

So, how does fatty liver disease develop in the first place? As it turns out, your body composition plays a big part in it.

How your body composition affects your liver function

Your body is primarily composed of four components: body water, minerals, skeletal muscle mass, and body fat. While all of these factors can have a major impact on your overall metabolic health Two of these factors, your skeletal muscle mass, and your body fat mass, can have a huge impact on your overall metabolic health. In this case, they can also influence how much fat is accumulating in your liver.

Some specific body composition risk factors that can affect your liver function include excess body fat, uneven body fat distribution, and low skeletal muscle mass.

Excess body fat mass

Obesity is one of the biggest body composition risk factors for developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and other liver issues.

Under typical circumstances, the dietary fat that you consume breaks down into fatty acids which are then stored primarily in your fat tissue, although small amounts are also stored in your liver. But it’s thought that the high amounts of fat tissue present in obese patients increase the rate at which fatty acids are released into circulation, which then goes on to increase the rate at which the liver accumulates fat. More specifically, researchers have found that increased risk for NAFLD occurs if the total percent body fat exceeds 32.23% in women and 26.73% in men.

Body fat distribution

You don’t necessarily even need to be obese for your body fat to impact your liver health either, because the location in your body that your fat tends to accumulate also matters.

High levels of visceral fat, aka “central adiposity” (or, even more simply, belly fat), seem to play a key role in how your liver is affected by your body composition when compared to other kinds of fat accumulation. For example, one study discovered that, after averaging the weight of its subjects, higher levels of central adiposity were associated with increased instances of fatty liver. Meanwhile, subjects who had more fat stored in lower extremities, such as their legs, were found to have fewer instances of fatty liver.

Low skeletal muscle mass

Your body composition can contribute to liver complications beyond a NAFLD diagnosis. In conjunction with high levels of body fat mass and central adiposity, low levels of skeletal muscle mass can also cause further complications like fibrosis, or scarring of your liver, which can lead to more serious issues like cirrhosis. A cross-sectional 2021 study found that, among 149 participants being treated for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, instances of liver fibrosis were significantly and inversely associated with skeletal muscle mass, and significantly and positively associated with fat mass, waist-hip ratio, and visceral fat.

Other considerations

There are also some other common risk factors that you could use to predict the health of your liver and its subsequent functioning. While these factors might not necessarily be body composition measurements, they tend to be positively correlated with both metabolic conditions and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — and both of these can be influenced by body composition.

Take metabolic syndrome, for example. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of metabolic conditions like high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and abdominal obesity that can increase your risk for developing serious chronic conditions, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Because metabolic syndrome and nonalcoholic fatty liver are both heavily influenced by obesity and other body composition factors, scientists often find an association between the two. For example, one global epidemiological review found that there was a 42.54% association between NAFLD and metabolic syndrome. Interestingly, a fatty liver overproduces both blood sugar and triglycerides, two of the key components found in metabolic syndrome. So, while having metabolic syndrome might not cause fatty liver, or vice versa, having high triglyceride levels and/or blood sugar levels might indicate that it’s time to have your liver checked by a doctor.

Triglyceride levels

In addition to the amount of stored fat tissue in your body, there’s also the fat in your blood to consider, otherwise known as your “triglyceride levels.”

One of your liver’s jobs is to create triglycerides, a form of fat that it releases when your body needs energy. These triglycerides are then delivered to your cells via your bloodstream, where they can provide energy. But, under certain conditions, such as obesity, your body’s ability to process its fats can change, contributing to the accumulation of fat on your liver. In fact, a 2014 study found that, among 168 NAFLD patients, elevated triglyceride levels were the strongest predictor of NAFLD compared to other metabolic issues, including cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

Insulin resistance

Another risk factor for the fatty liver disease has to do with insulin resistance, which is also associated with obesity and high body fat percentages.

Under typical circumstances, the hormone insulin helps your body store glucose, which is what carbohydrates are broken down into upon digestion in your body. Insulin also suppresses lipolysis, which is the process by which your body breaks down its stored fat for energy. But your cells can become insulin-resistant for a variety of metabolic-related reasons, including regular overconsumption of calories. Unfortunately, some scientists believe that insulin resistance can impact your ability to suppress lipolysis, leading to increased fat storage in your liver instead. Insulin resistance can also promote inflammation, which may further contribute to liver damage.

Assessing your risk

Regular visits with your primary care provider are critical for diagnosing diseases like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. But, short of ultrasounds, CT scans, and invasive liver biopsies, you can also keep an eye on your risk factors for fatty liver diseases simply by keeping track of your body composition and taking regular blood tests.

 

  • Body composition testing is an easy, non-invasive way to keep an eye on those body composition factors that have been linked to liver function, such as your body fat percentage, skeletal muscle mass, and visceral fat. While body composition testing can’t help you diagnose diseases or conditions, it can certainly help you keep track of your risk for fatty liver and other metabolic conditions — and help you be proactive about monitoring your liver function without involving more expensive or invasive testing methods. The great news here is that if you do experience NAFLD or other liver issues, dietary changes and weight management may be able to help. Researchers have found that high-calorie diets and excessive fructose consumption are often associated with instances of NAFLD, but losing just 5-10% of your total body weight can lead to improvements.

 

  • Blood tests are an invaluable tool for taking a closer look at other risk factors that could be affecting your liver function. For example, triglyceride tests/cholesterol panels and blood sugar tests can provide key insights into your metabolic health and indicate if something more serious is going on that needs to be addressed.

 

If you do find that either your body composition tests or your blood tests indicate that you may be at a higher risk for developing NAFLD or other liver complications, you can check in with your doctor to ensure that any potential issues are detected in a timely manner.

Conclusion

A healthy liver is critical for an overall healthy body, but you may not always be able to tell that there’s something wrong with this important organ until it is too late. But by monitoring key body composition measurements, you can take a proactive role in managing your risk factors.