Fat loss is often the number one priority for many people who are trying to get in shape. That's the good news. The only problem? There's a lot of confusion on exactly how one should go about ditching that excess flab. Here are three common -- and very important -- fat-loss questions, along with answers that should set the record straight.
1. Do I Have to Exercise to Lose Weight?
When it comes to fat loss, regardless of the type of diet you choose, calories matter – and you need to be in a calorie deficit. Burning off more calories than you take in is the cornerstone of any effective fat-loss program.
Exercise is also essential to any fat-loss program because exercise makes creating the necessary deficit easier. Theoretically, you need to create a 500 calorie per day deficit in order to lose one pound of fat per week. To accomplish this, you could cut 500 calories from your diet or you could add four exercise sessions that each burned 500 calories and then you'd just need to cut about 215 calories (the equivalent of one cup of cooked rice) per day from your diet.
As your diet progresses and you need to create a greater and greater deficit in order to keep the fat coming off, exercise becomes an even more essential tool. Exercise helps make sure that you can create the calorie deficit needed without starving yourself and forcing your body to harvest its own calorie burning resources, like muscle.
2. Does the Type of Exercise Matter?
Turn on any talk show and you're bound to hear a "health expert" spouting off about how the type of exercise you do doesn't matter when it comes to fat loss and how you just need to be more active.
While cleaning the house or raking leaves in your yard is a nice addition, it isn't a good long-term fat-loss strategy.
The number of calories you burn each day consists of your base metabolic rate plus the calories you burn from daily activity. This number rests heavily on the amount of metabolically active tissue you have; the amount of stuff you have in your body that actively burns calories.
What are these components? Your brain, your internal organs, and your muscles. We can't make our brains or livers bigger so that they burn more calories, but we can build (or at least protect) the muscles we have in order to maximize the number of calories we are burning each day.
Exercise is a key player here.
A 1999 study from Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise found that when people were put on a low-calorie diet 31 percent of the weight they lost was muscle. Other participants were put on a diet combined with cardio or endurance exercise. The addition of exercise allowed this group to hold onto a little more muscle but in the end, 22 percent of their weight loss was still muscle. But the addition of weight training proved to have a profound muscle sparing effect as the final group that added weight training held onto the most muscle and only 3 percent of their weight loss was muscle. Exercise, and specifically weight training, allows you to hold onto more muscle while dieting, thus allowing you to burn more calories.
3. What Is the Best Combination of Diet and Exercise?
The goal for any weight-loss program should be to put into action the most efficient and effective means of losing fat. So far we've established that exercise, specifically resistance training, is needed to create the easiest calorie deficits while also protecting calorie burning muscle tissue. But does weight training pair with a particular diet better than others?
The pairing of weight training with a low carbohydrate diet is the best way to lose the most amount of fat for your efforts. A University of Connecticut study compared low-fat diets against low carbohydrate diets when combined with weight training. After 12 weeks, the low-fat team lost an average of 7.7 pounds of body fat –an impressive total, until you consider that carbohydrate-cutters torched an average of 17 pounds.
The takeaway: By combining a low carbohydrate diet with 3-4 days a week of weight training, you are going to be able to elicit the greatest amount of fat loss possible while also minimizing the loss of your calorie-burning muscles.
Take Your Answers and Put Them Into Action
There are lots of ways that you can lose weight, but dieting is no fun and most of us want to be done with it as soon as possible – right? If so then you should be in search of the most effective and efficient methods possible. Methods that give you the biggest return on your time spent. This is without a doubt, resistance training combined with a low carbohydrate diet.
About the Author
Michael Roussell, PhD is a nutritional consultant to professional athletes, executives as well as pharmaceutical and food companies. He is the head of Nutrition at Manhattan's Peak Performance gym which was named one of the top 10 gyms in America by Men's Health Magazine. Dr. Mike is most well known for his blend of nutritional science and psychology which helps clients make long lasting and power changes to their body and health. He is the author of The 6 Pillars of Nutrition.