To get lean, you’ve got to exercise

Weight loss is fundamentally a numbers game – If you eat fewer calories than you need, you will lose weight. As much as people go on about the effects of different nutrients on the body’s hormones, weight loss remains primarily a game of energy in and energy out. Diets focus on the energy in part of the equation and most people will lose weight on any diet that causes them to eat less. However, if you want to get lean by losing fat and gaining muscle mass, you need to combine diet with exercise.

As discussed last week, simply cutting calories usually results in losing both muscle and fat mass. You may be lighter, but you’ll still have the same proportion of fat to lean tissue. However, regular whole body exercise, particularly resistance exercise, can help preserve and even increase lean mass when dieting. Not only does this improve your health and make you look good, but the higher your muscle mass, the more calories you burn at rest. Muscle takes energy to maintain itself, even when you are not exercising, while fat does not. So, more muscle mass means you need more calories.

Between 60 and 70% of the calories we use each day come from our resting metabolism. These are the processes that are needed just to live, such as keeping our heart beating and brain working. Anything which changes our resting metabolism can have a huge effect on weight loss or gain. Sadly, dieting lowers resting metabolism – our bodies think there is a famine so reduces any unnecessary processes. A lower resting metabolism means you need fewer calories just to maintain your weight, let alone lose any. Plus, eating less also causes us to unconsciously move less, so we burn even fewer calories. All of which makes losing the fat even harder!

However, exercise increases resting metabolism, even when reducing calories. This is both a recovery effect (the body has to work hard to repair the damage caused by exercise), and an effect of gaining muscle mass. While burning more calories though exercise is helpful for fat loss, the big win is the effect of exercise on your metabolism.

Fundamentally, losing the fat is much easier if you get active!

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International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition

Alan A. Aragon, Brad J. Schoenfeld, Robert Wildman, Susan Kleiner, Trisha VanDusseldorp, Lem Taylor, Conrad P. Earnest, Paul J. Arciero, Colin Wilborn, Douglas S. Kalman, Jeffrey R. Stout, Darryn S. Willoughby, Bill Campbell, Shawn M. Arent, Laurent Bannock, Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Jose Antonio

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, volume 14, Article number: 16 (2017)

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