Tag Archives: low-carb diet

Ten Rules for Fat Burning

I have previously offered tips and principles for training and fat burning. But if you’re seriously trying to lose fat, these are firm rules you should follow. Following these will produce short and long term results on burning the fat you need to burn off.

Weigh yourself every morning

Arguments exist either way, but your weight is the ultimate scoreboard for how much fat you need to burn. If the number is going down, you’re trending in the right direction. If the number goes up, you’re trending in the wrong direction.

The one way to keep track of how your fat-burning is progressing is whether the number on the scale is going up or down.

If you ate something unhealthy for dinner, Intermittent Fast the next day

Sometimes you have to eat a processed, unhealthy meal. Life gets in the way. This is not a killer. Ideally, the meal had a lot of protein, but the key is to clear the inflammatory mess from your body as soon as you can.

The easiest way to do this is to make sure you skip breakfast and intermittent fast the next day. Your body’s 16ish hours without a meal going into tomorrow will churn and burn the mess you ate last night, and it will pass from your digestive tract and bloodstream more quickly.

Ideally, you break this fast with a clean meal. But the big thing is that, once your stomach has been emptied, your body taps into stored bodyfat, uses the unhealthy food for all it’s worth and sends it packing through your intenstines and kidneys.

If you wake up heavier than yesterday, Intermittent Fast the next day

Regardless of the quality of your last meal, the scale showing more weight than it showed yesterday is a sign that you’ve got some water weight and/or extra fat to burn.

So get to burning it, and make sure you go 16ish hours before your next meal. Load up on coffee and water, and give your body a chance to fat-burn and flush any extra water that’s accumulated.

Unless you eat a ton or eat really badly out of that intermittent fast, you should get the scale number moving once again in the right direction.

If you ate something unhealthy for dinner, drink 1 extra glass of water the next morning

Along with intermittent fasting, the best way to flush out inflammation-built water weight is to give your body more water. This will encourage a cellular reset, and more so will encourage your body to ditch the extra water and flush it towards your kidneys and bladder.

You don’t want to drink yourself into hyponatremia nor do you want to overkill and spend a ton of time running to the restroom. So the best middle ground is to take whatever water you usually drink in the morning and add an extra 16oz, 2 cups, one (typically sized) glass of water to that during the morning.

Sure, you will still take an extra trip or two to the toilet. But this will speed along the body’s return to homeostasis as well as the flushing of inflammatory nonsense from said body.

Do a minimum of one hour of demanding exercise activity every day.

Diet may be roughly 80% of your body composition, but 80% is only good enough for a B-. Honestly, while you could conceivably lose weight just by overhauling your diet, you may not feel too great and losing the remaining fat could be a longer, more difficult process as you approach a more normal weight.

It’s here where exercise really covers the gap. 60 minutes of solid activity, anything from walking to any other kind of demanding exercise, will burn at least 300 calories as well as any residual afterburn from having revved up your heart rate and associated hormonal effects.

You will simply burn more fat in the long run from having exercised than if you hadn’t.

Why an hour rather than half an hour? Anything less than 45-60 minutes is a negligible difference in your body’s net basal metabolic rate, and can be undone as easily as eating a slightly too large portion at one meal. The 300+ calories or 60 minutes of exercise carves out enough calorie/fat burn to make it so you’d need to make a clear eating decision to get back to maintenance calories.

Plus, the aerobic, circulatory and metabolic benefits of exercise are best manifested at and around the 60 minute mark. To exercise for less is to stop short of where these max bodily benefits would kick in.

Break every fast with a clean, non-processed meal. Prep the night before if you must.

Obviously, avoid eating garbage. And if you have just gone more than 4-6 hours from your last meal, the metabolic impact of that 1st meal post-break is more substantial. If it’s unhealthy, you set a negative metabolic tone for your body for the rest of day. You’ll probably feel crappy. And you won’t burn as much fat over the next 12-18 hours.

Eat healthy. Eat a lot of protein and other healthy, whole foods. But eat a nutrient-rich natural meal that your body will put to good use, and set a tone that will maximize the benefits of any food or exercise you do the rest of the day.

If this is hard to do from scratch, then you will want to spend the previous evening preparing or gathering food you can immediately grab and eat for your first meal the following day.

For example, back in Chicago, I would often set my rice cooker to have brown rice ready the following morning. I’ll also buy cans of tuna, fruit and other ready to grab food with the plan to eat it for lunch on subsequent days.

Worry less about net calories and worry more about calorie quality

I’m as big on counting calories as anyone. But I also recognize that 400 calories of lean whole food animal protein is a lot better and more nutrient-rich for me than 400 calories out of a box.

People who eat the same number of calories as before but much cleaner, whole food versions find that they still lose weight. This granted is in part due to shedding water weight from no longer being inflamed by processed food. But the whole food is put by your body to much better use and isn’t sitting in your bloodstream further rendering you insulin resistant. Your muscles are rebuilt, instead of your fat stores and retained water mass.

Even if you eat the same amount of food as before, just make that food non-processed instead of processed, and you will certainly notice a difference on the scale either way.

Protein first, fat/carbs second.

The easiest way to adhere to a cleaner, whole food diet is to front load all your protein, and make sure every meal is built around a protein source. Meat, dairy, eggs, fish, perhaps a amino-friendly combination of nuts, grains and legumes. Make sure you have a satisfying portion of one or more of the above, and then add fats and carbs as desired. This will ensure more satisfying meals without the need to gorge or overeat.

It’s very hard to overeat on a protein-rich diet. And your body needs the building blocks of protein anyway.

Give every carb a purpose.

I’m not a fan of low/no carb dieting, unless you live a purely sedentary existence and your only exercise is a brief visit to the weights at the gym 2-4 times a week. Sure, you can fat-adapt, but your brain and organs still use carbs, and often a low-carb diet just leaves the user feeling fatigued from the perpetual lack of glycogen.

Fat can be adapted a primary fuel source but it burns very slowly, much more so than glycogen. Your body will want to slow down in kind to keep up. Those who find success with such diets tend to have the necessary privilege and lifestyle to allow for that diet to provide suitable energy. Someone who is more active will need carbs.

That said, most people overdose on carbs, eating hundreds of grams a day despite being sedentary and not really exercising. Imagine trying to fill your gas tank everyday even though it’s full, and not caring that the excess petrol overflows all over your hands. Yet that is what most people do with carbs.

What you want to do is either:

  • Plan your carb intake around your exercise.
  • Plan your exercise around your carb intake.

Maybe you should workout right before dinner, if dinner with the family requires you eat a lot of carbs. Or maybe you can plan every meal… and it just makes sense to have those potatoes and fruit at breakfast right before that killer workout. Runners often don’t need to worry about carb timing, because they’re often running long distances and can easily use all the carbs they’re ingesting.

Try to look at your diet, and ask yourself, “When and where do I plan to use those carbohydrates?” No need to do complex Romijn glycogen calculations on your exercise. Just know that, if you want to have potatoes at dinner, you need to know at the very least when in the day or next day those carbs are going to get burned, or what exercise requires that you restore your glycogen stores.

Be conscious about what carbs you eat and why.

Dinner should always be satisfying, protein rich, and as unprocessed as possible

The crappier (i.e. less nutrient rich) your dinner, the worse you will sleep that night.

Sleep is where you recover not just from exercise but the rest of your life. Sleep is where your energy re-generates. What and how you eat impacts your sleep. If you go to bed having last ingested a dearth of nutrients, your body will either keep you awake wanting for more nutrients, or will wake you up during the night having exhausted the garbage you arte of all its lacking nutrient value, and starving for more nutrients that you likely aren’t going to eat at 3am.

A lack of sleep also inhibits fat loss. It promotes the product of fat-building cortisol and other damaging hormones and inflammation. You’re not helping yourself.

Eat well, eat right, for your last meal of the day, so you can sleep well.

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Primal Endurance: An approach to making low carb endurance running work

Image result for primal blueprintBack in 2011, famous Primal Blueprint guru Mark Sisson wrote a post about how he’d train for a marathon. Mark’s no novice when it comes to distance running: He is in fact a former marathoner! Mark’s conversion to his lower-carb, paleo-style “Primal” approach to eating and lifestyle is in no small part a byproduct of his experience and life lessons from training to race the longest run.

Sisson of course generally discourages any sort of endurance training, prefering a more biologically natural sprint-and-saunter approach to outdoor activity akin to our prehistorical ancestors. Like many paleo-minded humans he’s more into occasional high intensity low duration activity surrounded by lots of regular but very low intensity activity.

This level of activity is of course a better fit for a lower carb Primal style diet, as endurance training traditionally requires a very high carb intake… intake that Sisson’s experience and research taught him can be damaging to your long term health.

However, a lack of carbohydrates can compromise the quality of your endurance workouts, let alone your race performances, since your body typically utilizes glycogen for extended endurance activity.

Sisson historically has preferred to avoid endurance training entirely and focus instead on what he’s found to be a more long-term sustainable lifestyle. His 2011 piece was more of a hypothetical, ‘If I had to train as a Primal disciple to run a marathon this is how I would approach it.’ Sisson’s piece definitely hinted that he had far more intel behind it, and that there was probably a book in him on the subject.

Image result for primal enduranceWell, eventually he did write that book. Primal Endurance by he and Brad Kearns spelled out the ideal combination of the Primal diet and lifestyle with the ideal training approach to maximize your performance in a marathon without the usage of carbohydrates and their glycogen.

I’ve given the book a gradual read over time. While a lot of it reads like sales-letter filler for the Primal Blueprint (which seems superfluous since you probably aren’t reading the book unless you already own, have read and believe in the Primal Blueprint), the deeper material is a compelling and well-written approach to training as a Primal endurance athlete.

Sisson and Kearns of course are hardly the only believers that endurance athletes can succeed with a lower-carb approach. Many ultra-runners have sworn by training low-carb to train their bodies to maximize fat usage in their excessively long races. Other non-ultra runners have sworn by training low-carb as well (I even know a few!).

I’ve long since argued (as many do) that accepting this lifestyle and swearing off most carbohydrates does to some degree limit your capability as a distance runner. In principle, I still find that to be true.

But there’s no denying that long term the traditional endurance diet and lifestyle does take a toll on your hormones and to an accordant degree your health. I recall half marathon champ Ryan Hall being forced to retire in his early 30’s due to wanting to start a family and his training lifestyle compromising his body’s ability to do so. Sure enough, once Hall stopped running, his health rebounded.

I do think there’s a middle ground, mostly that you train in cycles and that you take breaks from training and the diet it demands. However, Sisson and Kearns argue that their recommended lifestyle can be practiced year round, in and out of training, without damaging your race performance.

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Can Low-Carb Diets Be Good For Runners?

A lot of fitness enthusiasts support eating low-carb lifestyle diets adapted from the traditional Atkins diet… typically with labels like Keto and Paleo, as well as carb-limited variants like the Bulletproof, Carnivore or Primal diets.

The obvious problem for runners interested in these diets is that running is the one form of exercise that demands a LOT of quick-burning glycogen, which can only be properly supplied by a diet rich in carbohydrates. Running minds like Hal Higdon and Matt Fitzgerald outright recommend avoiding low-carb diets and to build your diet around 60+% carbohydrates. Fitzgerald in fact found in his research for his book The Endurance Diet that pretty much every elite coach and endurance athlete he consulted with subsisted on a diet rich in carbohydrates.

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