Archive for March, 2013

I’ve made a habit of getting lean every year for the past 5 years in preparation for beach season, and even though there is a lot that goes into burning fat, no matter how much there was to burn I feel it comes down to the 5 general factors to shed the as much fat as you want to.


Here are the 5 Factors:

  1. Effective caloric deficit
  2. Metabolism
  3. Hormones
  4. Adrenals
  5. Hydration

And now in depth…

1. Effective caloric deficit

Perhaps the most key factor is burning more calories than you consume.  In order to successfully achieve this you must first know how many calories you are burning, and how many calories you are consuming and then make appropriate changes to your diet and exercise.

To figure out approximately how many calories you are burning you need to be able to measure not just your weight, but your body composition (fat %).  With that information you can then use a formula such as the Katch-McArtle formula to determine how many calories you burn every day while at rest (BMR). Your BMR does not account for daily activities or exercise so to account for that multiply it by 1.5 and you’ll have a more accurate idea of how many calories you burn in a day (TDEE).

In order to know how many calories you are taking in food it is best to keep a diet log or journal of some kind.  A recent study showed that people who don’t do this are off on their caloric intake on average of 1000 kcal.

If you cut your calories too far below your TDEE you will burn muscle for energy, not just fat, yet if you don’t have it low enough your fat loss will be very slow.  A good starting point from my experience is to start around 85% of your TDEE, and based on your results adjust it from there.

2. Metabolism

Having a good metabolism means that your body is burning fat for fuel rather than holding onto it. There are several ways to increase your metabolism:

Small, frequent meals – By splitting your meals into five to seven balanced meals throughout the day you will be giving your body the steady flow of nutrients it needs to keep your metabolism healthy.

Protein with every meal – Protein burns more calories via digestion than most other foods, but also supplies your body with amino acids to help avoid your body breaking down muscle tissue as energy.

Weight training – resistance weight training does not generally burn a lot of calories, but it does force your body to adapt and build your muscles. As muscle mass burns more calories as a resting state this helps in the fat burning process (and also makes you look a lot sexier once the fat is stripped away). This also has a favorable hormonal affect that will assist with fat loss.

Cardio training – Cardiovascular training exercises your energy system that is primarily responsible for using fat as fuel and therefore is virtually a must in any fat loss program.  As far as intensity goes, generally it is my opinion that higher is better, when you think about it, you will never run on a treadmill and exhaust your anaerobic energy systems at the same rate as weight training, so you might as well get the most out of your time. A problem with low intensity cardio is that you will raise cortisol levels but not growth hormone, making your body catabolic.

Calorie cycling – At some point along the way your body is going to realize that you are depleting its energy reserves (fat tissue).  At this point it will put your body into starvation mode (see Leptin).  To overwrite this process have a strategic day of eating slightly more than your TDEE. I usually do this every fourth day, or two times a week (ie Wednesday and Sunday) as a starting point then adjust from there based on my results.  Generally I find it is best to increase your complex carbohydrates to achieve this slight caloric surplus (btw, having occasional days with higher carb intake can also positively impact your thyroid).

3. Hormones

Hormones play a huge part in your ability to burn fat, here are a list of the most important ones, why they need to be addressed and how to deal with them:

Estrogen – Known primarily as the female sex hormone, estrogens are correlated with fat storage, and cancer. Male or female it should be controlled. Solution: eat lost of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. A good idea is to use a greens powder drink once a day to get in a good serving of several vegetables you might not regularly use (beyond this there are a lot of other health benefits from having greens). Also, avoid soy-based products.

Leptin – This hormone is responsible for putting you into the dreaded “starvation mode” where your body holds onto fat and burns muscle for fuel.  As mentioned previously, this can be overcome by adding in strategic higher calorie or re-feed days.

Adiponectin – This is known as the “fat burning hormone”.  The most effective way I’ve found to ensure it is functioning properly is to simply supplement with magnesium, either on its own or with your multivitamin. most people need 300-400mg per day.

Growth Hormone – Growth hormone can help with both muscle building and fat loss.  To get the most out of this, avoid carbohydrates before doing intense exercise, and also avoid carbohydrates for a few hours prior to sleeping. Also increasing training intensity can raise growth hormone.

Insulin – This is a powerful hormone that transports nutrients both into fat cells and muscle cells. When insulin levels are high, by definition you are unable to burn fat.  Insulin is most commonly and most powerfully affected by carbohydrates, which is why controlling this is directly related to your carbohydrate intake.  This discussion could be an entire entry of its own, but for general purposes I’ll give you the following guidelines… (when I refer to carbohydrates I’m not referring to vegetables, as they don’t spike insulin) avoid carbohydrates first thing in the morning, pre-exercise and pre-bedtime. through the remaining meals eat complex carbohydrates as a source to keep blood-sugar levels (and thus insulin) stable. **There are times when an insulin spike is desired but this is more of a muscle building situation than fat burning.

4. Adrenals

this is often overlooked, but if your adrenal glands aren’t functioning properly you’re not going to burn fat effectively.  Often when people are dieting and especially when using fat burning stimulants/pills, they get adrenal fatigue and their fat burning actually slows down.  To support it, make sure to get adequate vitamin C, E, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium — all of these are found in high quality multivitamins.

5. Hydration

This seems to be commonly over-looked, and repeated ad nauseum.  Having plenty of water helps flush out toxins, helps skin elasticity (so when you lose weight you won’t have saggy skin), keeps muscle cells hydrated, and possibly most importantly it helps organs function properly — your organs are responsible for releasing hormones, which as discussed earlier play a huge role in fat burning.  As a general rule of thumb I suggest drinking a tall glass of water with each meal and between each meal.


You might probably notice that the fat burning pills on the market are geared towards one or more of these factors.  They might try to suppress appetite to trick you into eating less, they might have loads of caffeine to give you false energy so you move around more and burn more calories, or in some cases they increase your heart rate to boost your metabolism. Some can be effective is used safely, but it’s always best to start out addressing these in the ways I’ve listed before to ensure healthy effective an on-going fat loss at the optimal rate.


SuperHero Physique
superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington