This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker May 2005 edition
With the summer months fast approaching, many of us are looking to get lean and ripped for our holidays or those beach and BBQ days out in the sun! How do I do it, you may ask? I don't want to loose all the hard earned muscle I've trained for over the winter!
Too true! Lets look how to strip that fat and keep the lean body mass. Well respected training and diet specialist Tom Venuto assess the strategies available for effective cutting (2004). He looks at how effective each method is in relation to how risky they are for losing muscle. Weight reduction is easy enough; body fat reduction is another matter.
Should we do cardio first thing on an empty stomach to strip the fat? In theory this is the perfect situation for fat burning, blood sugars are low and glycogen levels are also low after a fast, but cortisol levels are also high which is perfect environment for muscle loss. Therefore, although there is a perfect environment for 'fat burning' there is also a perfect environment for muscle loss, something which we bodybuilders quite rightly fear!
So, let's add a 'protein only' meal in before we hit the cardio to reduce the potential loss of muscle. This reduces cortisol levels whilst keeping insulin levels sufficiently low for effective fat burning. This reduces the risk of muscle loss compared to the empty stomach method and still allows us to tap into those fat stores. Although the risk of catabolism (muscle breakdown) is still there, it is reduced significantly.
With this in mind, should we do cardio at night instead? As we'll be fasting afterwards whilst asleep thus increasing lypolysis (burning of fat)? The answer in short is 'no'. Not only is it possible that it will disrupt sleep but Venuto suggests reduced metabolism during sleep is not ideal and this fasted period may possibly also lead to the loss of muscle mass due to insufficient fuelling for a lengthy period. It therefore seems cardio done first thing in the morning after a small protein only meal is the way forward for optimal fat loss with minimal muscle loss.
This then brings us onto the question of the structure the cardio session: Long and slow or hard and fast? Again Venuto looks into the benefits of both methods.
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) can be carried out for shorter periods with hard sprints followed by periods of easy pace recovery sessions. This method of cardio allows for high EPOC (excessive post exercise oxygen consumption) to occur and more calories are burned when the exercise has finished as metabolism is raised for the rest of the day, compared to steady state training. The session typically lasts 12-15 minutes opposed to 35-45 minutes. This is fine but many of us who are less fit may not benefit as much due to higher levels of fitness being required.
Should we go for moderate pace, moderate time (35-45 minutes)? Efforts in the 'target zone' as Venuto shows, allow for more calories to be burned during the work out, as it doesn't elevate the metabolism as high as HIIT training and therefore the NTOC (net total oxygen consumption) will not be as high in some cases due to lower EPOC.
This leaves us with long cardio sessions at a low intensity. Venuto suggests that although the risk is low in terms of muscle loss (work out durations of approx 1hour), the benefits of EPOC are not that high due to the low intensity of the session.
There is also the issue of time constraints. One hour of exercise at 6 am isn't often practical for those with a busy schedule!
So from the information provided it seems HIIT training, done after a protein only meal is the way forward.
Now, you ask me, how often should we do this? Well, in theory, the more we do it, the more calories we burn as it's calories in versus calories out that will determine weight loss. To a certain extent this is true, but seven days a week will possibly lead to over training, fatigue and burn out. Again this is true to some extent, but, frequent cardio will ensure that metabolic slow down doesn't occur as we are constantly 'revving' metabolism after each cardio session.
Therefore 5 times a week, with two days off seems to be a logical solution, enough time to recover without losing the fat burning advantage, as well as improving cardio vascular health.
To summarise, it seems that HIIT interval training approx five times a week after a protein only meal is the optimal way of getting that body ready for the beach this summer! This method will be effective for body fat reduction when combined with a well structured diet to support training and your lifestyle.Reference:Venuto, T. 2004. Risk To Benefit Ratios of Extreme and Controversial Fat Loss Techniques. Fitness RenaissanceLeave a comment