Tuesday, August 09, 2011
When I was in my kinesiology courses, I spent hours reading journal article after journal article about why exercise (especially strength training) is important for weight loss and preventing weight gain. Then, one of my professors asked me if I had ever heard of metabolic flexibility. He is a physician and has done some research in metabolic flexibility and obesity. We had a long discussion about it and I asked him how he thought metabolic flexibility may be involved in weight loss. Metabolic flexibility is a major aspect in the physiology of weight loss and maintaining a healthy body weight because it shows how efficient the body can be when it receives proper exercise and food sources. Understanding metabolic flexibility helps explain why calorie deprivation alone is usually insufficient for weight loss--and in particular for weight maintenance. The changes (or "adaptations") brought about by exercise help reduce inflammation that leads to metabolic inflexibility. The topic of metabolic flexibility is so massive that a little tiny blog can't cover everything, but I hope I can explain the basics, as metabolic flexibility has been the basis of my weight loss (or body composition change) plan. I will also post some other blogs about metabolic flexibility and how I've set up my exercise and diet plan around it. I find I have difficulty writing about physiology stuff without being uber-technical, but it will be good practice for when I am a trainer.
"Metabolic flexibility" may sound like a sexy term, but the American Physiological Society defines metabolic flexibility as the following:
"Metabolic flexibility is the capacity for the organism to adapt fuel oxidation to fuel availability" (from ajpendo.physiology.org/content/295/5
/E1009.short ). What an eyeful! For the rest of us, this translate to how efficiently the body switches between using carbohydrates or fats for fuel. I decided to approach weight loss like any other event and developed a "training plan" with metabolic flexibility in mind. Increasing metabolic flexibility is good for everyone; even someone who has never been overweight benefits from having increased metabolic flexibility, as it makes it much less likely that the body will store fat. The body is less prone to inflammation when there is a high degree of metabolic flexibility.
Creating increased metabolic flexibility ultimately makes it more likely that the weight will stay off in the long run, because the body's energy systems become so much more efficient. I've talked about a lot of technical terms, but ultimately, what I've been talking about describes the reason why slow weight loss is better and strength training helps us lose weight (even though it is unlikely to cause major calorie burn during the workout itself).
Metabolic flexibility helps explain why calorie deprivation alone is not sufficient for sustainable weight loss. The body NEEDS the proper fuel in order to burn fat effectively. Carbohydrates are important because they cause an insulin spike that allows glucose to enter muscle cells and be efficiently utilized for fuel. The muscles also store more glycogen for future energy use. Glycogen helps provide energy during endurance-type workouts. This is the basis of why we have to make sure we are eating enough, especially with regards to exercise. In general, I try to avoid having more than a 500 calorie deficit between diet and exercise.
For example, last week I burned about 6,000 calories. Now had I eaten, say, 1,500 calories a day, I would have been exhausted. Instead, I ate at least 2,200 calories per day, more on heavier workouts days, so as not to have more than a 500 calorie deficit on most days. Common sense would say that I should have left the 6,000 calorie deficit and lost almost 2 pounds...well, I ate heartily every day and lost 3 pounds. My eating and workout routine were similar the week before and I lost 0.5 pounds (and I'm happy because that averages out to 2 pounds per week over the past 2 weeks). My body will have different adaptations from week to week, so of course my losses won't always be the same, even when I'm doing the same thing. This has been how I've been eating throughout this 40 pound loss. I've certainly had ups and downs on the scale, and I'm sure my eating plan will need tweaking from time to time, but I don't make major adjustments unless there are gains for several weeks.
In addition to the fuel from nutritious foods, the body needs the adaptations brought about by a varied exercise plan. Burning calories through aerobic activity is not the be-all and end-all of losing weight. This is where strength training comes into play. The adaptations in the body caused by strength training combined with varied aerobic activity increases the number of mitochondria (or "little powerhouses") in the muscles, which increases the rate of oxygen use. Increasing muscle mitochondria increases metabolic flexibility because the body can utilize more oxygen for energy.
Mighty Mitochondria! Image from www.ageofautism.com.
Insulin is the hormone that "chooses" whether fats or carbohydrates will be used for fuel. Consistently high insulin levels tend to cause fight storage and inefficient use of fat for fuel. Increasing lean mass (i.e. muscle mass) and increasing aerobic capacity (i.e. more muscle mitochondria from aerobic exercise and strength training) increases insulin sensitivity and keeps insulin levels lower, thus increasing fat-burning (yes!). Once this machine is set in motion through good diet, strength training with heavy weights, and aerobic exercise, weight loss tends to go more smoothly and long-term weight maintenance is much more likely.
A lack of metabolic flexibility may eventually lead to "metabolic syndrome," which may lead to diseases such as diabetes because insulin is not being utilized properly. The body responds better to insulin when there is a high degree of metabolic flexibility, and it appears the being metabolically flexible leads to decreased incidence of insulin resistance. Diabetics usually start to use insulin more efficiently with weight loss, and especially with the adaptations brought about by exercise.
This blog is the short, short version, but I will probably post some more blogs about metabolic flexibility and what I'm doing to try to increase metabolic flexibility through diet and exercise. I found it helpful to learn about metabolic flexibility since diabetes runs in my family and I have fought off diabetes in the past. I need to stay on the right track to prevent insulin resistance and diabetes, and learning ways to increase metabolic flexibility will hopefully keep diabetes at bay and lead to decreased body fat and increased lean mass.
For an ultra-Nerdrageous explanation of Metabolic flexibility, see this article: journals.cambridge.org/download.php?
Article on metabolic flexibility and insulin resistance/diabetes: ki.se/content/1/c6/07/80/41/George%2
Monday, August 08, 2011
My week-long staycation starts TODAY! Actually, I just got home from work, and I am super wired with excitement over an entire week off without having to think about work. Here is my plan:
Image from ihasahotdog.com
Okay, maybe that is not entirely accurate. I'm too much of a spaz of a human being to TRULY do nothing, but I love the idea of having a whole week of doing whatever I want whenever I want. Other than my saxophone lesson on Tuesday, I have no structured plans. Here are my plans for my staycation, in no particular order:
1) Clean house.
2) Clean yard (yikes!).
3) Have a movie/T.V. day (and probably order pizza from my favorite pizza joint).
4) Practice my sax at least an hour a day.
5) Go to kickboxing at least twice.
6) Do active things with friends (walks, bike rides, etc.).
7) Go to the beach at least once.
8) Go to the Saint Paul Irish Fair next weekend (my mother is a performer!).
9) FINALLY post some Nerdrageous Blog! entries.
10) Read, read, and read some more.
Other than that, there will be lots of down time, and I will just fill in the time however I please. I know how spoiled I am to live by myself and get to do whatever I want, but I promise to at least get off my ass.
Sunday, August 07, 2011
There have been some twinges of impatience this week with returning to kickboxing. I just feel so fat and out of shape being around the very fit fighters at my gym, as much as I try to convince myself that I belong there as much as they do. Even though I've lost nearly 40 pounds as of this week, I felt fat and gross. I almost wanted to cry one day after leaving the gym. Nobody was mean to me, nothing happened...it was just those thoughts creeping in: "I never should have gained the weight back." "Of course you're embarrassed, just look at you." "I want to be at my goal weight right NOW."
I know these thoughts are not true. I know they are unreasonable. But it kind of goes to show how joy may not be the only feeling as the scale goes down.
It's funny how we can see the number on the scale go down, yet be a bit oblivious to the changes in our bodies. It seems like one day clothing is super tight, and the next, it's practically falling off. I have been wearing the same workout pants since I started this journey almost 40 pounds ago. This week, during kickboxing, my pants actually started to fall off. Needless to say, trying to pull up your pants while wearing big bulky boxing gloves is neither graceful nor discrete. It got to the point where I just had to giggle at myself during class as I fought harder to keep my pants on than I was fighting with my opponent. I looked in the mirror at the gym, and saw how really baggy my pants are. So I bought a new pair of shorts (yes, shorts) this week. Hopefully then I'll just show off my mad kicking skills, and not my ass.
I can either choose to acknowledge and accept the changes in my body, or I can wait for my clothes to fall off before I realize what is happening. I know that, in the long run, it does not matter that I weigh 258 pounds right now. When I walked into my kickboxing gym again in February, I weighed over 290 pounds. For some reason, this week I had felt as though I hadn't gotten anywhere. All I have to do is put on those huge pants and remember that they were form-fitting a few months ago. I also have to remember that next summer, at this time, I will probably be near or at my goal weight. My routine will be no different than it is now, and I have to remember that I am just as valid an athlete now as I will be then.
On a more cheerful note, my week-long staycation starts tomorrow. There will be a lot of kickboxing and working out going on. I will do my best to keep my pants on...but I can't make any big promises.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Today was a day of fun, a day of good teachers, and a day of working out until I almost vomited. Funny, that's when I get the biggest grin on my face...
I had today off of work, and I had a great day. I started the day with a 15 minute Pilates session. What a great way to wake up! Then I practiced my saxophone for about an hour, then had my lesson. Since I'm starting to get to know my teacher better, I'm a little less uptight around him now. We joked around a lot today and my playing wasn't too gawd-awful. He seemed pleased with my playing today, and hopefully he could tell I had been practicing a lot this past week.
And then, I went to my first kickboxing class in well over a year. I was trying to remember the last time I was able to do kickboxing, and I believe it was in February of 2010. Needless to say, it's been a while. Since my main trainer is getting ready for his fight this upcoming Saturday, the instructor tonight was one of my other favorite teachers, Team U.S.A. Kickboxing coach Justin Whiley. I have always liked his teaching style--just the right amount of challenge while at the same time never overdoing it. He'll be running classes more often now, so I'll have the opportunity to learn from him and hopefully improve my kicking and punching.
Team U.S.A. Kickboxing coach Justin Whiley. Image from cellarkickboxing.com
I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous about going to the class. What if I look stupid? What if everyone thinks I'm fat? What if no one will be my partner? What if I've totally forgotten how to kick? It really was ridiculous. I steered myself towards the beginners since I was just coming back, but Justin tapped me on the shoulder, shook his head, and pointed me to the other end of the mat with the advanced people. I paired up with a guy, which was nice since some of the women at the gym are very clique-y. We had a great workout, and I kept up okay until we did sequential kicks, which my leg just wouldn't tolerate. That's okay; I was very happy to be able to get through the whole hour. The gym was like a sauna, though--so I don't think I did too bad for working out in the 90 degree heat! And nothing works really deeply into my abs like kickboxing--I could feel it the day after my kickboxing workout earlier this week, and I'm sure I will feel it tomorrow. Hopefully soon I will be able to SEE it...
Now I am beat--time for a date with a recliner, the T.V., kitties, and a big bowl of popcorn drizzled with olive oil. What a day!
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