Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is My Fat Making Me Fat? Part I

Is My Fat Making Me Fat?

Part I - What's up with fat cells?

In my time of working with clients, this question has been posed to me frequently. And the short answer is yes, fat does seem to beget fat. The longer answer is it’s complicated.

Let’s take a look at the commonly accepted basics about human fat tissue.
Fat, also know as adipose tissue, is made up of individual cells called adipocytes. There are two main types of fat cells – white and brown. However brown cells are found in very small amounts in adults, so we will ignore them for now.[i]
It turns out fat (the white type for this article) plays a pretty major role in our daily lives, for the good and the bad.

The Good[ii]:

•Energy Metabolism
•Heat Insulation (it keeps you warm, like the blubber of a whale – yeah sit with that image)
•Mechanical Cushioning (hehe – a fancy way of saying it provides a protection layer, for say perhaps falling on your buttocks)

Fat is the body’s main source of energy storage, specifically over longer durations of time. In fact, fat is one of the only energy, vitamin or mineral sources that the body has developed ways to keep excess stores of.[iii] I know, lucky you, right? Well, in the words of those paleo diet folks, there’s a pretty significant evolutionary adaptation for this – food shortage. Our not too distant ancestors had to deal with food insecurity – whether it be time in between hunting kills, or cold weather limiting foraging options (think berries, greens, nuts, fibrous foods), to droughts affecting crop yields. Thus survival became imperative on, one, being able to store a great deal of fat and, two, building up those stores quickly.

However, the strides made over human history have helped us alleviate food security issues and provide us with ever better and tastier high caloric eating options. Which means, if you’re ever in a zombie apocalypse,
you’re going to be pretty pleased to find a pack or Oreos to live off of for a few weeks. Yet, minus, a zombie apocalypse or Revolution type situation, our modern food options, bring us to the bad about fat and back to my initial question.

Studies in the past 10 to 15[iv] years have started to elucidate the mechanisms of fat cell development and interactions to really understand what it means to have excess fat.

The three main factors that lead to gains in fat are:

•Diet (specifically the amount of calories ingested, versus the amount of calories used in a specific day)
•Exercise (How active a person is in their daily life, as well as type, frequency and intensity of workouts)
•Heredity (Not just your genetic predisposition to have a certain number of fat cells, but also your muscle make-up, lung capacity, skeletal structure and metabolism)[v]

Lets look more at diet to start. So when you ingest, say fat, it gets processed through the stomach and intestines to forms that allow it to enter your blood stream. Once in the bloodstream, the body is uncannily adroit at breaking down these fat forms into free fatty acids (FFAs) that can be used in the muscles (as energy), stored in fat cells (as fat droplets), or sent to the liver to be converted into the bodies preferred energy source, glucose.[vi]
Side note, did you know that brain cells can only use glucose for energy? (Well ketones in dire situations) And that the brain accounts for about 20% of the calories burned in a person’s Resting Metabolic Rate (the amount of energy the whole body uses in a day of limited to no activity)? Crazy stuff[vii].

Pretty much any fat you ingest is down to be converted into fat droplets in your body, so don’t eat fat right? Not exactly, most modern humans ingest the majority of their calories from carbohydrates, which are sugars in various sizes/levels of complexity. They are most often broken down into the terms complex carbs aka starches, which include cereals, breads, pastas; and then simple carbs aka sugars that include candies, jams, desserts. However, most non-animal food products contain carbohydrates as well, like vegetables and fruits.

Why did I go into details about this? All of these types of food, along with meats (proteins), can also be converted into fat. There is however a metabolic cost for this conversion, for example an extra 100 calories of carbohydrates in the bloodstream takes 23 calories to convert and store as fat[viii].
What it all means, is that all of the above are sources of calories (as well as vitamins, minerals and amino acids) for the body. When you consume more calories then the body needs, it stores these excess calories as fat, in the most simplistic terms.

This brings us to some interesting modern day research. How does one gain weight as fat? Do you get more fat cells? Do fat cells get bigger? 

During development through adolescence the number of fats cells appears to be malleable. As a child gets fatter, their fat cells not only become larger, but as the cells fill with fat they can also trigger stem cells near them called preadipocytes to turn into fully developed fat cells, thus increasing the number of fat cells in a person.[ix] But what if you/this child loses the weight? Those fat cells die right? Ummm . . . no . . . sadly. Once cells are developed they’re with you for the long haul. This was recently proven by scientist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden who through radioactive carbon testing were able to demonstrate that the number of fat cells in adults, even those who were lean and had gained weight and those that had lost weight, stayed the same.[x] 

Yikes, so what is happening to those cells? It turns out that they are just being emptied. Waiting like a collapsed lattice
like structure to refill as soon as you start back into calorie excesses in your diet (muahh ahahaha)

And it gets worst, cause you’re probably thinking well at least as an adult I can not develop new fat cells, the science shows that right? Well a big thank you to the great researchers at the Mayo Clinic who have demonstrated that it appears adults can form new fat cells, specifically in their lower body.[xi] Beware of your pants tightening through the thighs; it can be the harbinger of some newly formed friends. 

Alas, look there on the horizon, some positive news. The same researchers who showed that the number of fat cells remained constant in adults, also proved something else, that fat cells turnover in the body to the tune of about 10% every year,[xii] which means in ten years, you could have a whole new set of fat cells. Why is this good? Remember, when I mentioned fat gains in adults are most typically associated with the hypertrophy (getting bigger) of their fat cells? Well, guess what, when new cells replace old, fat – fat cells (yes I just called a cell fat) they haven’t been asked yet to be expanded by excess calories, so the chances of them being smaller and thus you smaller are greater especially if you’re actively trying to live a healthier life in caloric balance.

“How Fat Cells Work”, Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D.
[ii] Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Second Edition, Jack Wilmore, PhD, David L. Costill, PhD,  1999, Human Kinetics
“Obesity and the Regulation of Energy Balance”, Bruce Spiegelman and Jeffrey S. Flier, Feb. 23, 2001, Cell, Vol. 104.
“Key Regulator in Fat Cell Development Identified”, Johan Ericsson, Jun. 6, 2010
“Delving into fat cell development”, Haley Bridger, Broad Communications, Sep. 30, 2010
Karolinska Institutet – Department of Cell and Molecular Biology
“Why do fat cells get fat? U-M findings point a plump finger at a new suspect”,
[v] Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Second Edition, Jack Wilmore, PhD, David L. Costill, PhD, 1999, Human Kinetics
“How Fat Cells Work”, Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D.
“Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories?”, Ferris Jabr, Jul. 18, 2012
“How Fat Cells Work”, Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D.
[ix] “Dynamics of fat cell turnover in humans”, Kirsty L. Spalding, Erik Arner, Nature, Jun. 5, 2008.
[x] “Dynamics of fat cell turnover in humans”, Kirsty L. Spalding, Erik Arner, Nature, Jun. 5, 2008.
“What is new in adipose tissue?”, Endocrinology Update.
[xii] “Dynamics of fat cell turnover in humans”, Kirsty L. Spalding, Erik Arner, Nature, Jun. 5, 2008.
“How quickly do different cells in the body replace themselves?”, Weizmann Institute of Science

Oprah and I Share a Favorite Thing

Good Enough for Me

Good Enough for Oprah

Good Enough for You?

As an aging runner with bad knees, I’ll be on a lifelong quest to find suitable cardio alternatives to my first workout love, running.

Luckily I’ve come across a piece of equipment to be my fitness companion as I continue the journey of health and wellness. The Octane elliptical machine is a great advancement in low-impact cardio training. The thing I noticed first is how well it approximates the running movement with an adjustable stride length and handles that allow for a closer simulation of the “arm pump” used in running.

Furthermore, anecdotally, it feels much closer to the workout I get while running. During an octane session I feel my core engaged and the ability to vary my stride length makes maintaining a pace very similar to my normal running routine. Another great and often overlooked feature is that the stride turnover correlates to the pace I would take on a run. Meaning a 6:30 mile on the octane felt like a 6:30 mile on the treadmill.

The Octane Ellipticals, specifically their Q37 and Q47 models, became my go to cardio machines as I rehabbed a knee injury. They far and away provided the best experience I've had on a elliptical machine. So one day after another great workout, I came home and looked up the company. Turns out, I'm not the only one in love with their products. Who was another one of the company's biggest fans? Why none other then Oprah. She placed Octane on her 2012 Favorite Things List.
Octane has done a great job in designing their elliptical and having it reviewed. There's a great white paper on their website that goes into specifics about biomechanics and their patented ergonomic designs that Octane uses to provide the best possible workout experience. You can read ithere.

Turns out that anecdotally I had hit on a lot of their design points. Here are some highlights:

•Stride length - customizable on the Q47 and set at an optimal length of 20" for the average sized exerciser on other models.

•Stride width/pedal spacing - they moved them closer together to better approximate natural walking and running patterns.

•Motion - pedal acceleration and inertia adjustments to allow for a controlled and challenging stride motion throughout a workout.

•Handlebars - unique pivot point for improved range of motion in the arm pump. They also created a divergent path of the handlebars that brings hands to the middle as your drive them forward, simulating the arm swing in walking and running.

If you are not already using or have not tried an Octane Elliptical, I strongly recommend you do!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Is My Fat Making Me Fat? Part III

Is My Fat Making Me Fat?
Part III - So what do I do now?
What are some guidelines to weight loss?

Losing more than 4 lbs in a week is discouraged because this weight loss is made up of a ratio of about 60% Fat Free mass to less than 40% fat deposits.
A more realistic weekly weight loss goal is about 1 pound per week. This can be achieved by eating a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. 
 The amount of calories consumed from these food groups should be 200 to 500 kcal less than the calories needed for your daily energy expenditure. An approach like this would result in fat mass being the almost exclusive loser in your weight loss to the tune of 0.5 to 1.0 lbs of fat a week.[i] In a year you could drop as mush as 25 lbs of fat alone.
And some interesting new research is showing what is happening on the molecular level when people exercise or improve their diets to affect change. A recent NY Times Well article highlighted research about the methylation of genes and the epigenomic affects this has on muscle and fat cells.[ii] The methylation process makes it harder for genes to send or receive messages. In one study, moderate exercise for 6 months showed effects in fat cells, specifically on genes associated with fat storage.[iii]   
Another study showed that participants who biked until they had expended 400 calories showed methylation in their muscles cells with genes associated with metabolism. The even more interesting part of this study was that it provided further evidence to debunk the myth that fat-burning workouts should be done at a lower intensity. Your body’s energy systems work more off of storage. Meaning it will only not burn fat for as long as it has stores of glucose / carbohydrates to use. Once these energy sources are depleted, it has no choice but to switch over to fat burning (aerobic energy) in the muscles, and to start breaking down fat in the body to replace glucose stores. So if you can perform an activity for 30 minutes say, doing it at as high of an intensity level as is possible and comfortable will burn more calories and thus more fat. Doing it a lower intensity will not result in more fat burned.[iv]
 As Ms. Spears would say, you wanna the body? You better work!
Concluding Thought:
With a long-term approach it’s not only possible to lose fat weight, but also make tangible changes to your body on a molecular level.


[i] Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Second Edition, Jack Wilmore, PhD, David L. Costill, PhD, 1999, Human Kinetics
“How Exercise Changes Fat and Muscle Cells”, Gretchen Reynolds, The New York Times, Jul. 31, 2013
“A six months exercise intervention influences the genome-wide DNA methylation pattern in human adipose tissue.”, Rönn T, Volkov P, Davegårdh C, PLoS Genet., Jun. 9, 2013
[iv] Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Second Edition, Jack Wilmore, PhD, David L. Costill, PhD, 1999, Human Kinetics

Is My Fat Making Me Fat?

Part II - Is there something, like, to eat my fat?

Bringing us to the next logical question, how does a person lose fat? Well, glad you ask, cause I just happen to help people do that for a living, gosh how did this happen, fortuitous I suppose.
Just as the body is really adroit at storing fat for energy in food crisis, or in the case of the modern person, when you haven’t eaten in awhile or are working out for a long period of time, it’s also quite good at using that stored fat. In fact, do you know that muscle is uniquely designed to burn fat through beta-oxidation and the oxidative system during aerobic activity? And as previously mentioned that the liver can breakdown fat to maintain glucose levels in the body?[i] Well, it is and it can. 
Lets be a little more specific about muscle, there are two commonly accepted types of skeletal muscle fiber/tissue: type I – slow twitch (ST) and type II – fast twitch (FT).
ST fibers have more mitochondria and oxidative enzymes that enable them to use, fat more efficiently and at higher rates. FT fibers have a different enzyme make up that enable them to better process glucose and glycogen for energy through the glycolytic system (an anaerobic process – without oxygen). And as their names state each are better at different muscle movements. ST is great for extended activities, like running, biking, swimming and FT is great for sprints, lifting.[ii]
When it comes to losing weight there are a couple of objectives. 
One: Adjust the diet such that a person is no longer in calorie excess in terms of in and out. 
Two: Increase physically activity. 
Three: Create a balance between diet – calories consumed – and physical activity such that gains in muscle size, strength, and metabolic efficiency can occur.
Knowing, that every person is different, I tend to like to approach things as if I were training an athlete for a competition. In the absence of expensive genetic test that might indicate your ratio of fast twitch muscle to slow twitch muscle, or cumbersome test to determine VO2 max, there are basic ways to test what your capable of doing with your body. Exercising each major group of muscles (chest, shoulders, back, arms, legs) 
separately to gauge for muscular endurance (lifting a weight a lot of times), muscular strength (lifting a heavy weight slow a few times) and muscular power (lifting a weight and the time it takes to do it) provides a baseline of what you’re currently capable of and where you might naturally be better, whether it’s a specific muscle group or type of muscularity.
Cardiovascular fitness is a little trickier to test. I’ll often throw in the mile test, for people who are good runners. However, the interesting thing with cardio is that different people and different body forms are more efficient in different types of cardio exercises. Some people can swim for an hour; others are great bikers, for some it’s running, rowing, elliptical, or athletics. The important thing is to give things a try. Myself as an example, I had a natural predilection towards running. I get my heart rate/breathing up the highest for the longest periods of time when I run versus being on a bike or in a pool. Now that’s part genetics and part training.[iii] Years of running have developed a certain amount of muscle memory and efficiency that puts running ahead of everything else along with some great genes from the parents. 

Getting back to fat, as you can see there are a lot of different ways to train the body and the reason that I brought up training like an athlete is because of how meticulous and accountable they are in their training regimen. In order to achieve a desired result in competition they know that they might have to get faster, stronger, or improve their endurance. They do workouts that improve those areas and drop things that don’t help. The average person should take the same approach – assess strengths and weaknesses. If you’re routine isn’t improving strength, endurance, cardiovascular fitness, it’s time to switch it up. An example is a person who may put on muscle size quickly, but struggle with improving strength performances or endurance. Trying to improve weaknesses while still spending time on what you’re good at is a great way to tackle your workouts, because being good makes it a lot easier to keep doing something.
Through training and workouts there are a few things you’re trying to accomplish at a cellular level with your muscles to turn your body into a fat burning machine.
 (1) Hypertrophy – we can’t increase muscle cell numbers, but we can increase their size.[iv] And the larger a muscle is, the more energy it requires to function, meaning you’re going to burn a lot more fat or be able to consume more calories. 
(2) Increase metabolic capabilities. For ST muscle this means increasing the number of mitochondria in your muscle cells.[v] Mitochondria are the “engines” that process the fuel of muscle activity. Additionally with slow twitch muscles, you’re increasing capillary supply to muscles, meaning they can get more oxygen and nutrients, while also being able to get rid of waste products faster. The end result is like putting a more powerful engine in your car. Your car is the same size but its ability to burn fuel (fat in this instance) is greatly increased.
 For FT muscle fibers it’s a little different, their main energy system uses anaerobic energy production and secondarily aerobic systems. Improving FT muscle fiber through cross-training, lifting, and interval workouts results in the muscles becoming better at using glucose as an energy source. These metabolic improvements help the body process carbohydrates more efficiently, ensuring that fewer carbohydrates are converted into fat. The great plus is that this means you can indulge in some “reasonably” sized sweet treats.
Additionally, FT muscle can also acquire attributes of ST like getting more mitochondria for aerobic energy system activities, thus helping to burn more fat!
You don’t actually want to cut your calories drastically with your wellness routine. This is because you’re working hard to develop your muscles with your workouts. Very low calorie diets and/or fasting set in motion the stages of starvation. As previously mentioned glucose is the preferred energy source of the body and if it’s not receiving it from food intake, the body will maintain glucose levels from glycogen (stored in the liver at levels to last a few hours) and proteins and fats.[vi] From fats you say, this is great; unfortunately, you’re wrong. Initial weight loss gains come predominantly from fat free mass in the body and water.[vii] Fat free mass includes the muscles you’re working hard to maintain and develop to better burn fat, so extreme diets or fasting causes the opposite of what you need to do in terms of long term caloric balance – muscle gains and fat reduction. Also, the water loss associated with these diets and fasts can lead to dehydration and its complications; all things that make it extremely hard to workout and develop your fat burning machine of a body.

[i] Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Second Edition, Jack Wilmore, PhD, David L. Costill, PhD,  1999, Human Kinetics
[ii] Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Second Edition, Jack Wilmore, PhD, David L. Costill, PhD, 1999, Human Kinetics
“Sports Gene By David Epstein: A Must-Read For All Coaches”, Robert Johnson,
Aug. 1, 2013
[iv] Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Second Edition, Jack Wilmore, PhD, David L. Costill, PhD, 1999, Human Kinetics
Saladin: Anatomy & Physiology,  2001 The McGraw-Hill Companies
[vii] Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Second Edition, Jack Wilmore, PhD, David L. Costill, PhD,  1999, Human Kinetics

Friday, September 13, 2013

Freebie Fridays is Back

That's right, we're back, do your dance!
After an extended absence, we're back to dishing out what we do best, free ways to help you look and feel good.

What's it going to be this time?

Our Total Body Training Program

The ultimate total body workout program to kick start your new fitness routine. This two week guided program features 3 distinct workouts and instructions for 5 days of training per week. Guaranteed to help you lose weight, gain muscle and sculpt your body.

The thinking behind the program is that everyone needs a base to start from and ideally that base should be helping them lose weight - meaning burn calories. The total body program works every major muscle group in the body through what we like to call controlled failure. Once you've maxed out on what your chest can do, we give it a rest and work your legs and so forth. This results in you being able to perform at maximal levels for longer periods of time during your workout, thus burning more calories and more fat. The program also deftly mixes in aerobic, anaerobic and strength moves to keep your heart rate up and effect the greatest amount of change in your body possible.

The benefits: After a few weeks, you'll find that your ability to perform exercises with more weight, at a higher intensity level, with less rest time between sets and exercises has improved. That new found efficiency is the result of metabolic, cardiovascular and muscular endurance gains brought about by the program.

Interested in learning more about our guided programs contact us here.

Want more free workouts and tips check out our download pages!