Written by Dan Osman
Common myths perpetuated by the media and extreme celebrity diet’s, which often exclude whole food groups, are nowadays almost glamourized and promoted as the ‘go to’ to lose body fat rapidly.
Identifying misinformation can be difficult because it’s persuasive, but by separating fact, fiction and fallacies, can set you in good stead toward achieving your goals. Below are a few of the most common misconceptions I still come across, that still need to be ‘debunked’ and refuse to fade away gracefully.
1. Eat fat, to lose fat
Overconsumption of fat will increase fat mass, just the same as overconsumption of protein and carbohydrates in excess up and beyond energy requirements will also. It’s particularly important to acknowledge that of all macronutrients, it is in fact the most calorie dense per gram, at 9 kcal per 1g in comparison to protein and carbohydrate at 4 kcal per 1g. For example, 30g serving of protein would equate to 120 kcal, whilst 30g of dietary fat would equate to 270 kcal. This point, by no means ‘demonizes’ the consumption of fats and in fact providing the body with enough dietary fat can significantly influence the fatty acid status in men and women, along with variations in hormone levels (1,2).
Many hormones, especially those related to fat loss and general bodily function is synthesized from cholesterol, again reiterating the importance of the enough dietary fat within ones diet, those of particular importance being that of saturated and monounsaturated fats, such as:
Meat, poultry, butter, cheese, cream, whole milk, coconut, egg yolks and dark chocolate
Olives, canola and peanut oils, nuts and avocados
I digress, the previous is merely an attempt to encourage you to be mindful of this fact. Overall caloric intake and with reference to fat loss, a sustained hypo-caloric state will dictate rate in which one drops body fat. Energy balance above all else will be the key contributor in the pursuit of any body composition goals. The overconsumption of any nutrient, and ultimately a surplus of calories over a prolonged period of time will increase body mass and fat mass too. In it’s simplest form; calorie surplus = gain, calorie deficit = loss. If ones goal is to achieve fat loss, then above all else, (including manipulating macronutrient intake, nutrient timing, addition of supplements, etc) a sustained calorie deficit is the most important to achieve (3).
2. Eating frequently speeds up metabolism
A common misconception is that meal frequency and eating more regularly ‘speeds up’ the metabolism and ‘stokes the metabolic fire’. Meal frequency has little, if anything to do with metabolism regulation and fat oxidation (this is more to do with protein synthesis and hormone regulation in relation to muscle retention and gain, but that’s perhaps a discussion for another time). Rather, meals evenly spread or ‘feedings’ throughout the day should be based around other factors, such as satiety, performance related goals, work/life commitments, personal preference, etc, rather than stick to a set formula or pattern of eating. Probably above all with regards health alone, both lifestyle and personal preference are in my opinion the most astute to consider in terms of meal frequency and sustainability when embarking on a new 'diet'.
3. Fasted cardio is optimal for fat loss
The suggestion of performing ‘fasted cardio’ is still common place amongst aesthetic based sports as the ‘optimal’, ‘superior’ and most effective strategy for fat loss toward body composition goals, where by one performs their cardiovascular exercise after an overnight fast, before breakfast. In actuality of the vast array of literature surrounding the area of research only one study has looked at the chronic effects of fasted vs. fed cardio on body composition changes during energy restriction (4) which demonstrated zero differences between fed and fasted groups. In what can often be described as the extreme mentality of some fitness enthusiasts performing their ‘fasted cardio’ at un-godly hours, an judicious suggestion would be add you cardiovascular training at a time in your day where it is most likely to be consistently performed at the best of your ability on a regular basis.
4. HIIT training is best for fat loss
For some, ‘cardio’ is the ‘go to’ when it comes to losing fat/weight and for some in the fitness industry with reference to the different modes, LISS (low intensity steady state) and MISS (medium intensity steady state), and sometimes HIIT (high intensity interval training) and the word ‘cardio’ is often demonized as ‘muscle wasting’ and detrimental to body composition goals.
What is truly important is gauging how important this is within the context of one’s personal goals and whether or not at all, or which one method of ‘cardio’ is used, toward your end goal – as suggested above, the most astute choice is the one that you will consistently adhere to performing regularly.
Typically, for those with body composition/weight loss/fat loss goals, however you want to term it, the mode in which they undertake their additional ‘energy burning’ or ‘cardio’ and the differences between them is marginal.
What do you, or are you likely to enjoy doing? What are you likely to continue doing, time and time again? What are you NOT likely to do?
Often ‘HIIT’ is termed as the ‘gold standard’ of fat loss based on the premise surrounding the subsequent effects of EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption) and the consequent calories one ‘burns’ after a bout of HIIT.
What has been demonstrated is that individuals that perform HIIT are more likely to consume more food post exercise in an effort to feel more satiated because they’ve worked harder. That is, hypothetically, if the subsequent effects of EPOC ‘burn’ an additional 20-30 calories and the individual consumes an additional 100 calories more than they would performing LISS, doesn’t this completely negate their original intent and are the effects substantially?? Perhaps for that individual LISS would have been a better option.
HIIT or generally any interval-based activity is fantastic at ‘breaking down’ and mobilizing fatty acids, but at these intensities the body doesn’t actually use fatty acids for fuel. In fact, the body can actually ‘re-store’ these mobilized fatty acids once exercised has stopped. At lower intensities the body does, however utilize these fatty acids as fuel. Taking into consideration the aforementioned, why not combine the two modes using both the anaerobic and aerobic systems and getting the best of both worlds if lowering body fat is your aim?? Personal preference should be the best option for you.
A couple of common sense top tips for a quick ‘nip ‘n’ tuck
1. Keep protein the ‘constant’ variable
Generally speaking 1.4-2.0 kg per kilo of bodyweight (2) is sufficient for muscle retention during periods of fat loss, of which should be made up of a variety of high quality protein sources rich in essential amino acids (EAA’s). Additionally the thermic effect of food (TEF - the energy required to digest a food, in order to get the calories from the food) especially with regards protein, is up to five times higher than that of carbohydrate and fat.
2. If in doubt, ‘track’
If you have well and truly hit a fat loss plateau and unsure where to make further change, tracking you current intake for some quantifiable bench mark figures such as your protein, carbohydrate and fat intake, as well as overall calories is a good place to start.
In this modern age there are many ‘apps’ if you’re a smart device owner and software programs that have the ability to track and collect data based on the foods you consume daily. Although these will have very basic and generic recommendations in terms of targets, they will give you a quantifiable reflection on your current nutrient and caloric intake. Becoming ‘mindful’ of the foods you consume is a skill in itself, especially toward a sustainable method of eating (what’s sometime termed “flexible”) and nutritionally balanced diet – By simply recording foods you regularly consume may give you some insight into foods that have slightly higher caloric values which can perhaps be switched to more ‘volumous’, less calorie dense options. For example, a side addition of 100g of wholegrain basmati rice may give you 350 kcal whilst three times the amount in 300g of butternut squash as a starchy carbohydrate alternative will provide you with just 115 kcal. Fat sources too, as previously stated, are much more calorically dense and whilst a ‘healthy’ snack option of a handful (roughly 50g) of tasty cashews can equate to nearly 300 kcal, those calories may go further elsewhere, leaving you fuller for longer.
Tracking long term is by no means a healthy approach to eating and life should never be dictated by numbers, but over shorter periods of time can potentially give you some insight into exactly where your current intake is, and with all previously stated how you can create a healthy and maintainable calorie deficit that fits in and around training and lifestyle towards your goals.
1. Hurtado de Catalfo GE, de Gomez Dumm IN. Influence of testosterone on polyunsaturated fatty acid biosynthesis in Sertoli cells in culture. Cell Biochem Funct. 2005;23(3):175-180.
2. Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Reed Larsen P, Kronenberg HM. 2011. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology 12th Edition. Philadelphia. Elsevier Saunders.
3. La Bounty, P.M., Campbell, E. I., Wilson, J., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency. 2011, 8:4
4. Schoenfeld, B. A., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Kreiger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2014. 11:54
5. Campbell, B., Kreider, R.B., Ziegenfuss. T., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2007. 4:8