A quick introduction
Before we begin, we just want to emphasize that this article isn’t going to sell you a miracle that is going to make the weight fall off you by just reading it! If that is what you were hoping for, then we apologise. What this article will do, is try to simplify what it may take to lose weight, but also what it then takes to keep that weight off.
Before we go any further, let’s start by changing the word ‘weight’ to ‘fat’. Ideally during a weight loss plan, we want to maintain as much of our lean mass; muscle tissue, bone, connective tissue, water, and lose excess adipose tissue; fat cells = fat mass.
Finally, before we really delve in to trying to simplify this topic, to lose fat, we cannot emphasize enough; you have got to WANT to lose it! A lot of people talk about wanting to lose fat, however they aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. There are going to be some sacrifices you’ll have to make. Don’t let us scare you; the sacrifices don’t have to be extreme at all, however it is going to take discipline and determination to make these sacrifices.
Still with me?
Excellent! Read on!
How many words: around 2000. How long to read: 5 - 10 minutes.
This hot topic of January can be so confusing, and it is easy to see why. Every day, there are various claims in the media that this person lost x pounds following this diet, this food is no longer deemed healthy, eat fat, don’t eat carbohydrates, eat carbohydrates, don’t eat fat…. the bamboozlement is endless!
If we were to simplify what it takes to lose fat, then we could simply say eat and drink as close to mother nature intended. You’ll notice we’ve not mentioned exercise in that sentence. We’ll cover the exercise bit later.
As mother nature intended?
Simply put, you want to eat and drink things that we were intended to eat and drink in the first place, which sadly doesn’t include donuts and sugar sweetened beverages! As the legend that is Gregg Glassman (founder of CrossFit) puts it:
“In plain language, base your diet on garden vegetables, especially greens, lean meats/fish, nuts and seeds, little starch, and no sugar”.
Ok, as nature intended. But what do I eat?!
There lies the golden question. Over the last few years several different methods of losing weight have gained traction. Covering the majority of fat loss methods is beyond the scope of this article. However, what we can confidently say is that evidence has repeatedly shown a significant influence on fat loss from an increased intake of protein. This is especially the case if we are creating an energy deficit; eating less calories than we expend.
More Protein. Why?
Firstly, on its own, protein has the highest satiety factor; it ‘fills us up’ more than other foods. Put simply, protein is more complex than other energy sources, and takes longer to digest, thus requiring more energy to do so. Also, physiologically, compared with carbohydrates, it is inefficient for the human body to convert excess protein into fatty acids, meaning it is more likely to be used directly as an energy source, or converted into glucose (carbohydrates), to then be used immediately or stored in the muscles and liver.
Various studies have also highlighted the improvement in health biomarkers as a direct result of weight loss through increased protein intake. Markers such as decreased blood pressure, improved blood lipid profiles and reduced C-reactive protein* concentrations all reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiac disease. Furthermore, another important factor in fat loss; insulin** sensitivity, has been shown to increase from elevating protein intake.
↑ protein intake = ↑ insulin sensitivity = ↑ satiety = ↓ carbohydrate intake =
↑ fat loss
We will talk more on insulin sensitivity shortly.
Further research suggests increased protein intake can aid in maintaining lean mass when on an energy restricted diet, vital when aiming to lose fat (1). Research also highlights further benefits when consuming a higher protein diet spread over smaller, more frequent meals i.e. 6 small meals versus 3 large meals (12). It is suggested that increased dietary induced thermogenesis; energy required to break down more frequent protein based meals, results in greater fat loss benefits.
This depends on the activity levels of the individual. Research suggests that around 30% of your total daily calorific intake should come from protein (3). Please see the below table for approximate guidelines according to current literature (2)
|Bodyweight (kg)||Sedentary - min of 0.8 g/kg/day*** (g)||Active - min of 1 g/kg/day*** (g)|
|1 g||1.5 g||2 g||2.2 g|
Is that healthy? Unless you have a pre-existing condition with either your kidneys or liver, the above guidance has been highlighted as perfectly safe.
There are several sources of protein:
- Whole foods such as lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds.
- Supplemental foods such as whey and casein protein powders.
- Vegetarian and vegan options such as pea, rice and spirulina
Based on the above guidance, supplemental protein powders can help you reach your daily protein intake target, if your whole food intake fails to meet the guidelines. They are of particular benefit when consumed around exercise (3).
Ok, more protein. Got it. What else?
You may or may not be surprised that the latest research is finally beginning to quash the fallacy that fat is the enemy. For years, we were led to believe that we should swap foods naturally high in fat for processed, low fat, high sugar foods.
Evidence is clear that diets higher in natural fats can create significant results when it comes to fat loss (4 & 5). In fact, studies have shown that diets higher in fats can improve blood lipid profiles (cholesterol) as well as reducing C-reactive protein, similar to the results seen in high protein research studies. Evidence has shown that even after optimal fat loss has been achieved, health biomarkers continue to improve through following high fat diets, suggesting health as well fat loss benefits through following high fat diets (4). It may also further surprise you that researchers are now highlighting ‘sensible’ amounts of saturated fats should form part of your diet, as evidence has shown that testosterone reductions can possibly be prevented in male athletes on an energy restricted diet through adequate intake of saturated fat (6).
As dietary fat is higher in calories per gram; 9 compared to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates/protein, you’d need only consume small amounts from whole foods. Research suggests that between 15 – 30% of your total daily calorific intake should come from healthy fats.
- 1500 calories – restricted diet = 225 – 450 calories from fats = 25 g – 50 g of fats.
There are several sources of healthy fats:
- Nuts and seeds such as cashews, almonds, walnuts, chia and flaxseed.
- Avocados, whole eggs, oily fish, high % dark chocolate.
- Small amounts of butter, oils such as coconut oil, olive oil.
It must also be noted, some of the above foods are also very high in dietary fibre, another important point when it comes to fat loss.
Don’t rule out the carbs, though.
There is also evidence to highlight those consuming a diet containing ‘sensible’ amounts of carbohydrates can still lose significant fat mass (3). The key here is the carbohydrates are natural, high in fibre, and the individuals concerned have good insulin sensitivity! Refined, processed carbohydrates packed with sugar should be avoided wherever possible! We have an upcoming article on sugar in the next few weeks – keep an eye out.
A little bit of science…
Hopefully there is a pattern emerging here, that the key is consuming whole foods, with a balance coming from carbohydrates, protein and fats.
For now though, as a nutrition company that thrives on utilising the latest scientific evidence, we just wanted to share with you a bit of science behind fat loss.
Simply put carbohydrates, and to a lesser extent protein, eaten in excess are converted into triglycerides; the main form of body fat in the human body. Remember we have very limited ‘storage’ for carbohydrates in our body; in our muscles and liver. On the other hand we have enormous capabilities for storing energy in the form of body fat in our adipocytes (fat cells). Think of our caveman days, where we would sometimes have to go without food for days at a time.
One of the most misunderstood topics of fat loss is ‘where does the excess fat go’. Well, much to everyone’s surprise, our lungs are the prime organ responsible for excreting excess body fat (7). According to researchers in Australia the oxidation/break down of 10 kg fat mass requires the inhalation of 29 kg of oxygen, producing 28 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2), and 11 kg of water (H2O) (7)!
The researchers found for the majority (84%), fat mass is exhaled as CO2, whilst the remaining fat mass is excreted as H2O (16%) for example in urine, sweat, tears and other bodily fluids. The saying ‘blood, sweat and tears’ springs to mind!
We have mentioned insulin sensitivity being important for fat loss. What is it, I hear you say? Simply put, insulin sensitivity highlights how effective the body is at using insulin to reduce elevated blood glucose levels (8); if a small amount of insulin is required to help store a small of amount of glucose, you are insulin sensitive. You are insulin resistant if a large amount of insulin is required to store the equivalent amount of glucose. The latter is what leads individuals to develop type II diabetes.
The most significant and easy way to improve insulin sensitivity is with exercise. Discussing what, how and why, is beyond the scope of this article. However, both aerobic exercise; walking and cycling (9) and anaerobic exercise; resistance training (10), are proven to enhance insulin sensitivity.
It must be noted that insulin sensitivity has been shown to improve without correlating reductions in fat mass (11). However, it is thought that improvements in insulin sensitivity, through exercise and the lifestyle changes discussed previously, should concomitantly result in fat loss.
Fat loss can be as complicated or as simple as we make it. There are several topics that have not been discussed as they are also beyond the scope of this article; hormone balance and caffeine’s potential to help with fat loss to name but two.
For now, we’d like to summarise by noting some of the key points from this article that may help you:
- Keep at it! There is no quick fix.
- Eat more protein – regularly throughout the day – smaller more frequent meals.
- Don’t fear fat!
- Eat wholesome, natural, unprocessed foods – they are much tastier!
- Be prepared to try different methods - what works for others may not work for you.
- Eat better, eat less, move more!
The last point you may say states the obvious, because it does! By changing your nutrition based on this article, chances are you will naturally eat less due to increased feelings of satiety.
Finally, it must be stressed this article is looking at fat loss. Nutrition and lifestyle for athletic performance will differ, and we will talk about this in the near future.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If so, please do share with your friends.
Thanks for reading!
*C-reactive protein is a protein found in blood plasma, and is a measure of acute and chronic inflammation. High levels may indicate certain infections and diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular complications.
**Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. It helps maintain and promote absorption of carbohydrates, proteins and fats from our blood for storage in our liver, muscle and fat cells.
- Noakes, M., Keogh, J.B., Foster, P.R. and Clifton, P.M. (2005) ‘Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 81, pp. 1298 – 1306.
- Campbell, B., Kreider, R.B., Ziegenfuss, T., La Bounty, P., Roberts, M., Burke, D., Landis, J., Lopez, H. and Antonio, J. (2007)’ International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4 (8).
- Helms, E.R., Aragon, A.A. and Fitschen, P.J. (2014) ‘Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11 (20).
- Shai, I. et al. (2008) ‘Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet’, The New England Journal of Medicine, 359 (3), pp. 229 – 241.
- McAuley, K.A. et al. (2005) ‘Comparison of high-fat and high-protein diets with a high-carbohydrate diet in insulin-resistant obese women’, Diabetologia, 48, pp. 8 – 16.
- Lambert, C.P., Frank, L.L. and Evans, W.J. (2004) ‘Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding’, Sports Medicine, 34 (5), pp. 317 – 327.
- Meerman, R. and Brown, A.J. (2014) ‘When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go?’, BMJ, 349. Open Access
- Meshkani, R. and Adeli, K. (2009) ‘Hepatic insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease’, Clinical Biochemistry, 42 (13 – 14), pp. 1331 – 1346.
- Winnick, J.J. et al. (2008) ‘Short-term aerobic exercise training in obese humans with type 2 diabetes mellitus improves whole-body insulin sensitivity through gains in peripheral, not hepatic insulin sensitivity’, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 93 (3), pp. 771 – 778.
- Van Der Heijden, G.J. et al. (2010) ‘Strength exercise improves muscle mass and hepatic insulin sensitivity in obese youth’, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42 (11), pp. 1973 – 1980.
- Duncan, G.E. et al. (2003) ‘Exercise Training, Without Weight Loss, Increases Insulin Sensitivity and Postheparin Plasma Lipase Activity in Previously Sedentary Adults’, Diabetes Care, 26 (3), pp. 557 – 562.
- Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A. and Krieger, J.W. (2015) ‘Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis’, Nutrition Reviews, 73 (2), pp. 69 – 82.