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“I want to get toned” is a ubiquitous statement in the personal training and weight loss arena. I don’t know how many times I have had clients say it or the number of times I have seen it written. But what does it really mean? When I ask people what they mean when they say it I get a number of answers. After a brief discussion with them, the general conclusion is they want to lose fat, and look lean and fit. They also stress that they don’t want to get “muscular” or “big and bulky”. They don’t want to look like a bodybuilder, as if it was as easy as lifting weights a few times a week for 30 minutes. There is no problem with wanting to get “toned”. The problem has to do with being clear about what that really means and how you can actually accomplish it.
First, there needs to be a clear definition of what being “toned” is. Although there will be varying views and preferences, I think most people would agree with the following definition of “toned”;
“Having a body fat level that is low enough so that the contours of the muscles have a greater level of visibility resulting in a more fit or athletic look”
So looking “toned” comes down to how much body fat is covering the muscles. Therefore, depending on where people hold their fat stores, some parts of the body will more “toned” than others. Why certain areas will have more or less fat, at a given level of body fat, is largely due to genetics/gender/hormones. For example, it is common to see a guy with “toned” arms but still have a good size belly. In females, it is common to have a more defined upper body, but still have a good amount of extra fat in the lower body. As a side note, when it comes to health, extra fat in the lower body is typically NOT a health risk (Janssen et al). The resulting distribution of fat stores on a particular individual will usually lead to a desired to lose fat in a specific area or areas. In general, men want to lose weight from their midsection and women want to lose weight from their backside and thighs. It is an understandable goal, but can you really “tone” a specific area?
Toning a specific area, which means losing fat in that area, leads to a discussion of “spot reduction”. There is no lack of programs and gadgets, such as The Contour Belt©, 6 Minute Abs©, Brazil Butt Lift©, Hip Hop Abs©, and many others that promise to help you “tone” a certain part of the body. But can these really deliver on their promise? The short answer is NO, but here is why. Spot reduction is based on the idea that if you work the muscles in the area that you want to “tone” (lose fat) the body will specifically breakdown or burn the fat in that area ONLY, or to a much higher degree than working other muscles. Sounds good, but it really does NOT work that way. There is some increase in fat breakdown but it has such a minor affect that it has no real-world benefit (Stallknecht et al). When it comes to those electric “ab belts” there is no evidence that they will help you lose fat in the midsection (Porcari et al; Porcari et al). This is well known physiology and anyone who calls themselves a health and fitness professional should know this. As mentioned before, what dictates what fat will be burned is largely dictated by genetics/gender/hormones. Diet and exercise can have an effect, but not in a spot reduction way. What I mean is that exercise in GENERAL and a low carbohydrate diet can help the body specifically use or burn fat that is in the midsection (visceral fat) (Freedland). Again, to be clear, working a muscle that is next to the area you want to “tone” will NOT have any REAL-WORLD affect on the amount of fat that will be burned in that area, therefore it will NOT reduce the fat in that area any more than exercise that works another area. (Please memorize that last sentence).
Associated with this discussion is the idea that you can build muscle from exercise and that this affect will make you look more “toned”. There is no doubt that increasing the amount of muscle has the potential for improving one’s appearance. However, unless the amount of fat that is covering the muscle is reduced, you will NOT look more “toned”. When it comes to gaining muscle, exercise, particularly weight training, can be a good stimulus for it. However, for those people that are trying to get more “toned” typically they need to lose a good amount of weight, probably 30 pounds or more. This means that the person will have some level of calorie deficit which will hopefully be compensated by an increase in the utilization body fat. But, what often occurs during weight loss is that fat and muscle are broken down, to varying degrees, to make up for the calorie deficit. One benefit of exercising during weight loss, getting “toned”, is that it can help preserve muscle tissue and make the body burn more body fat (Stiegler et al; Volek et al). This affect seems to be enhanced with a low carbohydrate diet (ref). In fact, there is some research that demonstrated the ability of a low carbohydrate diet with resistance training to elicit fat loss and increase lean tissue. However, this affect will probably not occur in most people and even if it did the amount of lean tissue gained is only a very small fraction of the amount of fat that would be lost. The point here is that you should do some exercise on a regular basis, it has numerous health benefits, and it may help you lose weight, particularly fat. But, when you are trying to lose fat, get “toned”, it is not likely you will increase the amount of muscle you have.
A final aspect about getting “toned” is loose skin. There are no hard numbers on the occurrence, but having loose skin after losing a substantial amount of weight is possible. The likelihood of this occurring is due to genetics, age, how big you were, how long you were big, and how much weight you have lost. If this should happen to you I am afraid to tell you that it is not likely that you will be able to modify this with exercise, diet, or other lifestyle habits. Your best bet to help modify this problem is to gain some muscle. After you have reached your goal weight you should focus on an intense weight training program, along with the proper nutrition plan. However, for most people, particularly older people and women, it is not likely that you will gain a lot of muscle tissue. Therefore, you can help fill-in the loose skin by building muscle, but it is not likely you will be able to have a substantial affect on the looseness.
Here is the take home message, if you want to get “toned”, follow a quality eating plan (read SPEED), and do some weight training for the whole body a few days a week and do some cardio two or three days a week. The most important thing is sticking to it (read SPEED). This is certainly not exciting, and it will likely not turn into a million dollar infomercial, but it may save you some time and money and will actually get you “toned”.
Freedland, E. (2004). Role of critical visceral adipose tissue threshold (CVATT) in metabolic syndrome: implications for controlling dietary carbohydrates: a review. Nutr & Metab; 1(12).
Janssen, I. et al (2004). Waist circumference and not body mass index explains obesity-related health risks. Am J Clin Nutr; 79: 379-384.
Porcari, J. et al (2002). Effects of electrical muscle stimulation on body composition, muscle strength, and physical appearance. J Strength & Conditioning Research; 16(2): 165-172.
Porcari, J. et al (2005). The effects of neuromuscular electrical stimulation training on abdominal strength, endurance, and selected anthropometric measures. J Sports Science & Medicine; 4: 66-75.
Stallknecht, B. et al (2007). Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans? Am J Physiol Endo Metab; 292: E394-E399.
Stiegler, P. et al (2006). The role of diet and exercise for the maintenance of fat-free mass and resting metabolic rate during weight loss. Sports Med; 36(3): 239-262.
Volek, J. et al (2004). Comparison of energy-restricted very low carbohydrate and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women. Nutr & Metab; 1(13).
It has been nearly a year since Matt and I completed SPEED. We recommended some weight loss supplements that we thought had enough evidence and real life applicability. To make sure that our recommendations are sound, Matt and I continually re-evaluate the evidence for our recommendations. One supplement that we did not recommend at the time was CLA. Based on some additional information I have come across since the publication of SPEED and a discussion with a professional acquaintance, I thought I would re-examine CLA for its ability to help with losing weight and keeping it off.
Here is the basic conclusion for those of you with a short attention span; from my extensive re-evaluation of the evidence CLA will help to reduce body fat, particularly in the midsection, and may help to preserve lean tissue, but its effects are so minor that the real world significance is very poor (it will cost about $42 to lose an additional 1.1 pounds a month). This means that the cost of the supplement, for most people, is not justified by the results it will produce. To learn more on how I came to that conclusion keep reading.
To read the entire report click here.
Following this link to watch the documentary “Why are thin people not fat”. This is a great documentary about the genetics of weight regulation. Take the time to watch it.
Taurine is an amino acid, which is what proteins are made of. It is a ubiquitous ingredient in energy drinks and is often promoted as an energy booster. However, is there any evidence that ingesting larger than normal amounts of taurine will increase a person’s energy level?
Before getting to the “energy” aspect, I want to give you a short overview of what taurine is. As mentioned above, taurine is an amino acid and is a very important one. In fact, “taurine [has] considerable biological significance” (Lourenco, p.266). It is so important because it is found in almost every tissue in the body, particularly the heart, brain, skeletal muscles, pineal gland, liver and the retina. Due to its functions, taurine supplementation has been found to have a positive affect with many conditions such as hypertension, arrhythmias, seizures, macular degeneration, and diabetes. The amount of taurine used typically ranges from one to six grams a day. This amount is often many times higher than what is typically ingested from dietary sources, which ranges from 40 to 400mg/day for non-vegetarians to virtually none from a strict vegan diet. With respect to supplemental taurine, the safety of this supplement is very good and many grams a day is not likely to cause any significant adverse effects.
Taurine is considered a conditionally essential amino acid. This means that an adult can typically make enough taurine, in the body, from other amino acids, particularly cysteine. However, taking in higher amounts may have some benefits as mentioned above. Additionally, because dietary taurine is mostly found in animal products, particularly in seafood and organ meats, people that follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may benefit from supplementing with taurine.
Now what about the “energy” aspect of taurine? Well it seems that there is no good evidence that supplemental taurine, found in energy drinks or supplements, gives someone an energy boost or helps with maintaining a higher energy level. As mentioned above, taurine has the potential to have positive health effects and is considered very safe are relatively high levels for most people. But when it comes to more energy, it falls short. So why is it in energy drinks? Like many things, it sounds good and boosts sales! But, the fact is, it is not the ingredient in energy drinks or supplements that can give you an energy boost.
Braveman, E. (2002). The healing nutrients within. North Bergen, NJ. Basic Health.
Galloway, S. et al (2008). Seven days of oral taurine supplementation does not increase muscle taurine content or alter substrate metabolism during prolonged exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol; 105: 64-651.
Gupta, R.C. (2004). Taurine: Insurance of sound health. Indian J Pharm; 36(5): 333.
Lourenco, R. etal (2002). Taurine: a conditionally essential amino acid in humans? An overview in health and disease. Nutr Hosp; 17: 262-270.
Wesseling, S, et al (2009). Taurine: Red Bull or Red Herring? Hypertension; 53: 909-911.
Jeff and I continue to coach people one-on-one and in small groups at our weight loss clinic in Mesa, AZ. It’s something we enjoy very much and we feel privileged to have the opportunity to affect people’s lives so greatly.
It’s through this experience that we see our research proven correct time and time again. When we wrote S.P.E.E.D., we found that nutrition is more important than any other variable, including genetics, when it comes to getting weight loss results. We found that exercise, while important, had its importance greatly inflated. We also found other variables that are not often addressed which are very important, hence our Psychology, Sleep and Environment chapters.
If you have our book, you know how this all fits together. If you don’t, you might not be aware of our approach or what it is that our book can help you with. Here’s the basic idea.
Your diet will determine about 80% of your results. Without meticulous attention to what is going in your mouth (both solid and liquid), you’re spinning your wheels. In fact, if you had to choose one thing to focus on, we would advise you choose nutrition before exercise. Our diet chapter, although the last in the S.P.E.E.D. acronym, is the most important part of the book and the chapter we spent the most time detailing.
Everything else, Psychology, Environment, Exercise and Sleep all help you stick to the Diet. You see, you can’t just will yourself to stick to a diet. It just doesn’t work for 99.95% of the population. (that’s not from research, I made that figure up) But setting up your environment, getting proper sleep and having a proper mindset increases your ability to stick to an eating plan dramatically!
This is what we see come true in our work with clients at LEAN. We see people come in and work their butts off during our workouts and lose no weight after a few weeks. Why? Because they haven’t properly addressed the other variables and are not sticking to an eating plan. Once they start focusing on their eating, it all falls into place. Then, they start realizing that it takes a lot less will power to stick to that eating plan if they get some sleep, modify their environment, and start programming their mind for success.
Jeff and I know the hours we spent researching and writing S.P.E.E.D. were spent with one goal in mind; make the most comprehensive, easy-to-read, science-backed weight loss book on the market. We accomplished that. When we see people put it to use, it works. Every time.
There have been two TV ads about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that have been airing on a regular basis since 2008 (click here and here to watch them). I was reminded of these ads because one of them aired during a show I was watching this past weekend. Basically the TV commercial is telling people that HFCS is natural and not unhealthy in moderation, just like regular sugar. Is this true? Hardly!
So what is HFCS? HFCS come from corn, but it is definitely not natural. There is an elaborate process to turn corn into HFCS. The basics of it is that it takes many steps, chemcial processes, in the lab to produce HFCS (for a more detailed explanation of the process see The Murky World of High-Fructose Corn Syrup, click here). The result is a sugar that is about 55% fructose and 45% glucose. This is similar to regular table sugar which is typically 50% fructose and 50% glucose. It is similar but different in a way that makes it worse.
What makes it worse is the increase in fructose. I know that fructose sound healthy, reminds us of fruit, but the fact is it is the worst type of sugar you can ingest. The reason fructose consumption has the potential to cause negative effects is because the body is not well equipped to handle large amounts of it. The following are some of the negative effects associated with high fructose consumption, whatever the source;
This does not mean that eating some whole fruit is bad, but anything over small amounts, probably 2 to 3 pieces a day, is not good for many people. This typically translates to about 15 grams of fructose a day. For a comparison, a 12 ounce regular soda has about 40 grams of sugar typcially from HFCS. Therefore, this single soda will have about 22 grams of fructose. For those of you drinking fruit juice I am afraid you are not doing any better. One 12 ounce serving of unsweetened orange juice has about 36 grams of sugar and about 18 grams of fructose.
What about the moderation aspect? The first problem is that it is a processed simple sugar and has not redeeming nutritional quality except having calories. It has no vitamins, minerals, protein or essential fats. There is no need to ever ingest HFCS or regular sugar. Second, what is moderation? This is an ambiguous term. Again, there is no need to eat any amount of processed sugars, regular or HFCS. There is nothing good about them and they are typically added to foods and drinks that have no redeeming nutritional qualities to them.
The bottom line is that processed sugars, this includes HFCS, should be avoided at all costs. There is nothing natural or healthy about them. Can you eat a little bit everyday and be healthy, probably. But for the millions of people who are unhealthy and/or have a weight problem these substances should be avoided. Don’t be fooled by the slick marketing, which, by the way, is paid for by the Corn Refiners Association. HFCS is not natural and it can contribute to health and weight problems.
P.S. There is a very good lecture on this topic called; Sugar-The Bitter Truth by Robert H. Lustig M.D. Click here to watch it.
We all have things we will do no matter what. We consider these things to be top priorities in our life. For example, most people will take a shower daily, eat a few times a day, and go to work for 8 or more hours, the core necessities. But what about all the other stuff that ranks very high on the priority list or takes up the bulk of our time every day? The other things that you make sure you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis no matter what. Some examples include getting your haircut, having your nails done, playing Facebook games, watching certain TV shows or sporting events, going shopping, going out to dinner and so on. For many people these things will dominate their top priorities and will use up most of their available time. As fun and enjoyable as these things are, they typically do not contribute to achieving a high level of success in life. This does not mean that these activities have to be completely avoided. My point here is that many people have a priorities list that is dysfunctional. People tend to focus on, and succumb to, immediate gratification. There is no or little focus on the long-term benefits/consequences of their actions. The result of this type of thinking and behavior is very negative as is evidenced by the average economic and health status of many people. What can be done to improve this situation?
First, there are no shortcuts to success and happiness. It takes persistent effort. In fact, it is the effort that really gives us the deep feeling of accomplishment. Without some effort, sometimes a lot of effort, attaining some goal or reward will have little meaning and the potential high from achieving it will be fleeting.
All the information so far has been a build-up to a discussion of your nutrition and fitness priorities. However, the information can be applied to any behavior you would like to modify. It seems that many people, from my experience with many clients and the clinical research, put the nutrition and exercise aspects of their life, and therefore their health, low on their priority list. Or it may be high on the list but it easily gets bumped down by many other things. Why is this?
There are many reasons why a person does not make eating well and exercising regularly top priorities. A few of the reasons are legitimate, but most of them are poor reasons to justify the neglect. Regardless of the reasons, most people have the time to eat well and exercise a little. In fact, eating well will often take no more time than eating poorly. But, for arguments sake, let’s say it takes an extra 30 minutes a day to do it. Do you not have 30 more minutes in your day to be able to nourish your body properly? Again, this is about priorities. Do you need to watch 2 hours of TV a night? Do you need to surf the web for 2 hours a day? There is no doubt that you want to do these things. However, do these latter things really contribute to the “good life”?
When it comes to exercise, 30 minutes a few times a week can have significant health benefits. Exercising more can possibly be better, but for most people, who just want to be able to function well in daily life, hold-back some of the effects of aging, and be able to play with their kids or grandkids, then this amount of exercise can do the trick (more on the specific exercises in another article). Do you not have 90 minutes a week? Really, is this amount of time not available? I would guess it is, but you have probably scheduled other things to do, for right now, that you considered more important. This brings us back to priorities.
The first step to setting your priorities is to spend some time and figure out what YOU want. Think of this as your personal vision quest. Do YOU want to feel good, physically and mentally, most of the time? Do you want to feel comfortable with how you look? Do you want to be able to do some physical activities with friends and family? Do you want to increase your chances of living a long and healthy life? You need to really want these results and be able to envision the benefits you will receive from putting in a bit of time and effort. If you do not cultivate a deep, passionate, emotional feeling connected to the exercise and nutrition habits then the likelihood that you will change your priorities is unlikely, particularly for the long-term.
If you want to look and feel better then you need to prioritize your life in a way that will facilitate daily habits that will move you in that direction. There are many techniques that help can help your motivation levels and ability to stick to your plan, such as setting SMART goals, journaling, and getting a mentor or coach. For now focus on creating a compelling vision in your head and on paper. Huge time commitments are not needed, but consistent effort is. If YOU really want to change, then stop the excuses and begin prioritizing your time.
Where can I find a table that tells me (according to height and weight), how many calories I should have each day? If I wanted to lose 10 pounds in 2 months, how many calories will I need to cut out to attain this goal?
In the Doing SPEED chapter, we outline our preferred method to find your caloric and macronutrient (Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat) intakes. Below is a link to a calculator I created that should make it even easier. Just plug-in your height, weight and age. Choose your sex and activity level. Then choose the degree of caloric restriction you’d like to use (20-40%) and the amount of carbohydrates you’d like to consume.
Figuring out the amount of calories you need to cut to lose 10 lbs. in 2 months is in one respect more complex, but in another very simple. Let me explain.
There are equations for figuring out the human metabolism that are complex and confusing. There are educated guesses as to how large a caloric deficit a person will need to lose a certain amount of weight in a certain period. These aspects, however, seem to be highly variable between different people which makes it all a complex guessing game.
Here’s where it gets easy. Cut calories. If you want, start by cutting 20%. If after a week or two that doesn’t work. Cut 30%. And then 40%. This all hinges, of course, upon your ability to KNOW, for sure, that you’re taking in a certain amount of calories.
Journal. Journal. Journal.