Monday, November 29, 2010

Fat: The Good and the Bad

Just like most things, with fat there's a good side and a bad side. Yep, I actually said there's a good side to fat. Along with carbohydrates and protein, fat is an essential macronutrient. Fat is a backup source of energy. It also supplies linoleic acid which is an essential fatty acid needed for growth. Also, the nerves in your body are covered with something called a myelin sheath. Guess what? The myelin sheath is made of fat. That's one of the reasons why when you go on a starvation diet, you can actually gain weight. If your body thinks it dipping too far into the fat reserves, then it will begin burning muscle as fuel instead of carbs or fat, in order to protect itself.

So who da thunk that fat was a good thing. Well, just like most everything else in this wonderful world, there can be too much of a good thing. Fat is no different, especially if you're talking about visceral fat. Have you ever seen an individual with a protruding gut? Maybe you have one? Is it hard? Ever wonder why? Well, the hard protruding gut sometimes called a "beer belly" isn't strong muscle. The protrusion is caused by too much visceral fat. The stomach appears hard because unlike fat stored else where on the body, visceral fat is located beneath the abdominal muscles in the chest cavity. So as the amount of visceral fat increases, it begins to push the abdominal muscles out causing them to become taunt, not strong. Elsewhere in the body, fat is more subcutaneous which means it's found just beneath the skin. That's why on your butt, legs, arms, and thighs, you see it wiggle and jiggle. 

Just because you have a high body fat percentage doesn't automatically mean you have a lot of visceral fat. Have you ever heard, "It's better to have a pear shape than an apple shape?" Well, what that means is, if the body fat is carried below the waist it's in a healthier location. Now if a person has a body fat percentage that puts him or her in the Obese category, then no matter where it's located, it's not too healthy for the individual and they need to work on decreasing their total body fat. However, if you're within the healthy body fat percent range or maybe just a tad over into the overfat range, and what you do have is carried more below the waist, then you're at a lower risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Visceral fat is a fancy name for the fat in the chest cavity. Your body needs a little amount of visceral fat. It's kind of like nature's bubble wrap for your internal organs. It acts as a cushion for the organs and protects them when you're hit in the stomach or when you fall. The key phrase there is "a little amount of visceral fat." When you have more than you need, it becomes dangerous. High amounts of visceral fat have been linked to diabetes, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke and some cancers.

The first thing many people think of in trying to get rid of the gut or visceral fat is doing tons of crunches and or going on a diet. Well, exercise is key, but it doesn't have to be crunches. It's almost next to impossible to target a specific area and make it lose fat. So, doing crunches may help strengthen the area, but if you're losing fat, it's probably more just due to the fact that you're upping your metabolism and burning more calories as a result of the crunches.

Diet is great and everyone should be watching the types of fats that they're eating, making sure to eat more of the healthy fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated as well as Omega 3s. Many are surprised to find out that their total daily caloric intake should be comprised of 20%-35% fat. But again, this needs to be healthy fat. Decreasing your daily intake of fat or just trying to get rid of visceral fat with diet modifications alone will probably have very little effect.

Physical exercise is the best way to lose visceral fat. Not only will you look and feel better, your entire body will benefit when you decrease the amount of excess visceral fat you have. Decreasing the amount of visceral fat you have will decrease your resistance to insulin. This can help prevent or reduce your risk of Type II Diabetes. If you're already a diabetic, reducing the amount of visceral fat you have can increase the efficiency of the insulin your body produces, making it easier to control your blood glucose levels. If you have hypertension, reduced visceral fat can help you better control your blood pressure reducing your risk of stroke or heart attack. And best of all, your clothes will feel better!!

Full body workouts, fitness walking, and running are great ways to increase your metabolism overall which in turn will help decrease your body fat percentage on the whole, particularly fat in the gut. Resistance training or weight training is one of the best ways to lose body fat. It's probably even better than running. Yes, RunnerDude just said that resistance training is better. In this case, it really is. Running is great and while you're running you're getting a great caloric burn, especially if you're doing more intense types of runs such as intervals, fartleks, tempo runs, sprints, or hill workouts. But unfortunately when you stop running, that good caloric burn pretty much stops soon after. Research has shown, however, that with resistance training(weight training), the caloric burn can last up to 9 hours after you've finished your workout. Wow! What a better way to start your day than with a good workout and get the metabolism ramped up for the day; then top it off with an afternoon walk or run.

If you're worried that resistance training will add bulky muscles, you need not worry. If you stick to lighter weights and higher repetitions for each exercise then you'll definitely gain muscular endurance and you'll begin to see some more definition in your muscles, but you won't bulk up like a body builder.

Circuit workouts are great for upping you metabolism. You can get a full-body workout in a fairly short period of time. Or you can break the circuit workout into an upper-body and lower-body workout. A circuit workout is simply a workout where you move from one exercise to the next without taking a break in between. The circuit should consist of 10-12 different exercises. I like to insert a core exercise in between each exercise. For example you'd begin with an upper-body exercise (like a dumbbell pec fly), followed by a core exercise (like a plank), followed by an upper-body exercise (like an upright row), followed by a core (bicycle crunches), etc. After all 10 or 12 exercises are completed, then take a 1-3 minute break, get water, towel off, and then repeat.

If you're interested in having a custom full-body, upper-body, and/or lower-body circuit workout created to meet your specific needs, email me at I'll be happy to work with you.

What are you waiting for? BUST THAT GUT!!


Ever Strong said...

What a great post! While I played college softball we always did heavy weight, short reps and bulked up. I'm so glad my workouts have changed now that I am post-college sports.

Like you said, now I do many reps, with light weight- and I'm finally seeing muscle definition.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Ever Strong! That's awesome! Keep it up!!

Caroline said...

Super interesting! thank you for this post! I have just changed to doing lighter weights amd more reps, hsppy to read it is in fact a good plan!!!

Caratunk Girl said...

LOVE this post. For longer than I would like to admit, I did crunches and ab work, heavy weights..and didn't really focus on my metabolism or diet...not the way to make things happen...I learned many reps with light weight, increased cardio, and diet all are key to melting fat

RunnerDude said...

Hi Caroline! Awesome! Keep me posted on your progress!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Caratunk Girl! Took me a while to figure it all out as well. Hope you guys had a great Thanksgiving!