Abs and Fat: From Flab to Fab
By Dr. Nicholas Evans
Building your muscles is one thing; being able to see them is another. What’s the point in owning a set of strong, shapely muscles if you can’t see them? It’s like having a mint-condition vintage car that never leaves the garage. In the space between your skin and the underlying muscle lies a layer of fat. Fat owns that space; we rent it. Unless your body fat percentage is below 10 percent, that insulating layer of lard will obscure your hard-earned muscle mass.
The human body contains 20 to 30 billion fat cells. As well as providing a layer of insulation from the cold, body fat serves as an energy savings account; instead of money, the currency in this account is calories. The more calories you feed into the bank, the bigger the account gets.
Fat is a potent source of energy. Each gram of fat contains nine calories, compared to four calories per gram of protein or carbohydrates. So it’s understandable that our bodies prefer to invest energy funds in a fat account. Fat storage is a survival mechanism; the swollen fat cells provide a savings account of calories to draw on during lean times. Fat cells are also resilient—they love to stick around and hate to get too small.
Not all fat is the same. A fat cell’s precise qualities vary according to which fat deposit in the body it resides in. Fat from the belly, for instance, will lose and gain lipid more quickly than fat from the thighs and buttocks. When you’re ridding your body of lard, the thighs and buttocks are the last areas that shed fat. In many people, these stubborn fat deposits won’t disappear until body fat percentage slides below 6 percent.
So, how do you get rid of body fat and deflate that spare tire of blubber? You must stop feeding excess calories into the savings account. Stop making deposits and start making withdrawals. When you withdraw calories from the savings account, the fat cells shrink in size, and their number decreases.
In the fight against flab, the points on the scorecard are calories. Calories are the units of energy contained in food and are a measure of how much energy your body uses. When you consume more calories each day than you actually need, the excess is put into storage, and your body fat savings account grows. On the other hand, if you don’t consume enough calories each day, the deficit is taken from savings—-you burn body fat to provide the extra energy.
Each pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories. If your average daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories, you’d have to starve yourself for two days to lose that pound of fatty flesh. Even if you starved yourself for a week, you’d lose only four pounds of body fat.
Starving out the army of fat cells is a tough battle to win. The good news is that we have a secret weapon—exercise. Exercise requires energy. To provide this energy, your body taps into its fat reserves. Exercise forces fat cells to give up their ammunition, their calorie stores. As the fat cells lose lipid, they shrink in size and decrease in number.
Remember that losing fat depends on the balance between calories consumed and calories used. To kill off the fat cells, you either consume fewer calories, burn more calories, or both. As the fat melts away, your muscles come out to play, visible for all to see.
This is an excerpt from Men’s Body Sculpting.
Slowing metabolism when I hit 30?
It’s true that metabolism slows as we get older. The aging process depletes muscle while increasing fat deposits. Fat burns fewer calories than muscle, so as your body’s proportion of muscle shrinks your metabolism slows down. In the older years, fat tends to accumulate around the midsection, which poses more health risks than, say, thick thighs.
Women feel the effects of this body mass transition more so than men. To begin with, women tend to have less muscle mass than men. Age-related weight gain may also be linked to menopause. Some researchers posit that the hormonal shifts that accompany the change of life affect the way the body breaks down and stores fat, leading to weight gain. Generally, this weight increase begins in perimenopause, a pre-cursor to menopause lasting two to eight years. On average, women gain a pound a year during perimenopause. These pounds can be more difficult to lose compared to weight that might have been gained earlier in life.
A third explanation for weight gain as you age is genetics. Due to genes, some people are simply pre-disposed to be wispy or wide. Your relatives may some offer clues as to what’s in store for you. For example, if your family is on the thin side, you may have inherited a tendency to be slender as well. On the other hand, if your clan is a bit hefty, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will balloon up after your thirtieth birthday. Weight gain triggered by menopause usually appears after age 40, giving you at least another two decades before extra pounds may emerge.
Although many sources of weight gain are out of your control, one cause — excess calories — is possible to keep in check. If the number of calories you consume is greater the number you burn, weight gain will probably result. Eat too much, and your body stores the energy as fat. Exercise, and the body burns fat for fuel. One way to stay trim is to keep up your healthy eating and exercise habits. Keep in mind that you will need to adjust these habits as you age. Older folks generally need fewer calories due to their decreased muscle mass and lower activity levels. However, many people continue to eat the same amount resulting in a calorie surplus and weight gain.
Continuing to exercise regularly and eat well is the best way to stay healthy overall. However, you can’t stop the clock, and it’s also good to have reasonable expectations about growing older, even if that means adding a few pounds. Here’s to building healthy habits for life!
Understanding Your Body Fat Percentage
Body fat measurements and the measuring tape are recognized as superior methods for measuring “weight loss”. When one declares that they want to “lose weight”, what they often mean is that they want to lose fat. So, now that you’ve had your body fat percentage measured, what does the number really mean?
First, your body fat percentage is simply the percentage of fat your body contains. If you are 150 pounds and 10% fat, it means that your body consists of 15 pounds fat and 135 pounds lean body mass (bone, muscle, organ tissue, blood and everything else).
A certain amount of fat is essential to bodily functions. Fat regulates body temperature, cushions and insulates organs and tissues and is the main form of the body’s energy storage. The following table describes body fat ranges and their associated categories:
*General Body Fat Percentage Categories
|Classification||Women (% fat)||Men (% fat)|
|Obese||32% plus||25% plus|
Knowing your body fat percentage can also help you determine if your weight loss goals are realistic. Remember, weight loss doesn’t always mean fat loss. For example:
Let’s say you’re a 130# woman with 23% body fat, and you goal is to “lose 20 pounds”:
Initial body fat: 130# x 0.23 fat = 30 # body fat
Lean body mass: 130# total – 30# fat = 100# lean body mass (bones, organs and all else)
Goal: 130# – 20# = 110 pounds
As you can see, the goal of losing 20 pounds is not realistic or healthy. At 110 pounds, this woman still requires 100# of lean body mass (bones, organs, etc.), but would only be carrying 10#, or only 9% body fat. From the chart above, you can see that this is a dangerously low percentage.
A better goal might be for the woman to reduce her body fat from 23% to 18%. In this case:
130# x 0.18 = 23 # body fat
100# lean body mass + 23 # = 123# goal weight
So, for this individual to achieve a lean, but healthy 18% fat, she would need to lose only 7 pounds of fat, reducing her weight from her current 130 pounds to 123 pounds. Losing more than 7 pounds means losing lean body mass (usually metabolically-active muscle tissue), which is clearly not desirable.
So before you decide that you need to “lose weight”, remember to consider that “weight” consists of both lean body mass and body fat. Try to keep your weight loss goals realistic, and remember, keep the calorie-burning muscle, and lose only the fat.