If you’ve stuck with me in this series this far, WAY TO GO. I know, this isn’t nearly as much fun as meatballs or onion rings, but if you want to end up as the best you, it needs to be addressed. Today we are going to continue to build on everything we’ve learned thus far – and the most important thing in all of this? YOU. Any success you get isn’t because the Hobbit, nope, this is all you. All I’ve been doing from Day One is pointing you in the right direction(s). Having the courage to start and continue I can’t and haven’t given you, that has come from within. Be proud of yourself, I am.
Structure is the key to lifestyle change. You need to plan in advance so that you avoid having to make dozens of daily decisions about diet and physical activity. Over 2 out of 3 people in the US are overweight and over 1 in 3 is obese. More than 25 million have Type 2 diabetes. Even with help, most people don’t lose more than a few percent body weight after years of dieting and the majority of people gain back most of the weight they lost (yo-yo effect). As you know, I’m all about empowering and enlightening. Getting you involved in your health by education and breaking free of unconventional wisdom. This time, let’s talk about that dreaded topic – working out. First, let’s nail down the basics.
LIC (Low Intensity Cardo): Slow to moderate speed activity such as walking.
HIC (High Intensity Cardio): high speed activities like biking, running, treadmill work, elliptical work.
HIIT (High Intensity Intermittent Training): Short, extremely high-intensity work that combines cardio with body weight training.
Body Weight training: Weight training focus on using just body weight for muscle growth – crunches, pushups, pullups, lunges, unweighted squats, etc.
Mechanical Weight training: using weights or machines for muscle growth.
When I first started this lifestyle, I was in the anti-cardio group – a very small percentage of people that understood “cardio” and “fat loss” are at best, loosely connected. A few others agreed with me: Lyle McDonald, Menno Henslmann are the most notable. Fast-forward a chunk of years and now most people that study science and fitness agree: if you want to burn fat and keep it off, cardio isn’t your best path there. Cardio doesn’t burn nearly as much fat as people give it credit for, overdoing cardio can actually hurt your progress, and the amount of work you have to do to see any gains is a lot. I’m all about working smarter, not harder. Cardio fits in the “harder” column. The muscles you are using when performing cardio are Type 1 fibers, also known as “slow twitch” muscles. They do sustained endurance work. Because of the nature of their work – unlike Type 2 muscle fibers which are “explosive” or move heavy things muscles – they do not (remember ENDURANCE) burn calories at the same rate as Type 2, up to half as many calories in normal use.
Slow twitch (type 1): slow, even energy, uses more oxygen (aerobic) to create energy from serum (blood) energy at a slower rate. Highest concentration in the legs and lower back.
Intermediate (type 2a): combination of slow and fast twitch, found in highest concentration in the upper back and abdomen. Can be used as either fast or slow twitch, depending on need.
Fast twitch (type 2): explosive power, high energy usage in short period time, releases energy without increased oxygen (anaerobic) from energy stored in muscle cells that will need to be replenished (glycogen). Found in highest concentration in the upper body.
You’ve been told for decades that cardio is “good for your heart,” but recent studies have shown that isn’t exactly correct. While LIC can have some residual cardio benefit – since the heart is a bundle of endurance muscles that never stops (well, until it does but we won’t go there) – the effects are not as great as originally touted, and in the case of HIC, can actually make things worse (its also damaging to your joints). This goes back to what we talked about last time and the hypothalamus. We talked about how the hypothalamus reacts to metabolic threats last time. This time, we are going to bring into things physical threats. When you crank up the cardio, you crank up your heart rate. While conventional wisdom says this is good, it can be counterproductive if extended. Extended elevated heart rate cause other things like increased blood pressure (expected), but the real tricky thing is this: extended elevated heart rate is perceived by the hypothalamus as a crisis situation. It doesn’t know (nor does it care) that you aren’t running to escape from an axe murder when doing 45 minutes on the treadmill, it just knows that something is different. Extended cardio, the type when you start sweating and aching, hits that region of activity that the hypothalamus starts getting concerned. Will this stop? Are we actually in a crisis? These are questions – since it cannot reason – it won’t figure out on its own, all it knows is you are under unexpected stress. So, it will do what it does… REACT. Its primary reactions are: end this ASAP, and if it cannot do that, then make sure it can be extended at all costs. There’s a lot that will happen when it reacts, again, we are going to keep this high-level and not get into every little detail. Here’s the top things you need to know:
1) The hypothalamus will tell the pituitary gland to trigger off some chemicals and hormones. If the hypothalamus is the supreme ruler, the pituitary is its most trusted general. The pituitary calls out the troops: insulin, adrenaline, cortisol, serum cholesterol, HGH (human growth hormone), and serotonin, reduces leptin and increases ghrelin. It also tells a critical gland to STFU – the thyroid. This response becomes a perfect storm of “not what we want to happen.”
2) The hypothalamus will also tell some of your organs to chill and take a break – kidneys, digestive system, reproductive system – so it can focus on getting away from the axe murderer who is not actually chasing you. That last thing, the reproductive system? It might sound logical, who is thinking about babies when there’s an crazed person chasing after you with a sharp tool? There’s a problem with this, and it relates to what you need for muscle growth and repair: testosterone and estrogen.
So putting this all together:
Cortisol is released, known as the stress hormone as that’s what it functions as. It does some funky stuff in the time of crisis: it ramps up serotonin (to keep you calm), norepinephrine to kick the heart into overdrive, and fights back against insulin to reduce glucose uptake in muscle cells to sustain energy levels. Yes, that’s a fancy way of saying it is going to increase your insulin resistance, at least until the crisis is over. What happens when insulin resistance is increased? Fat storage increases. Oh, and since cortisol wants to make sure energy is sustained, it’s going to think about scavenging some of the muscles you are currently not using to escape for amino acids to make ketones if needed. So, while you are thumping those gluts and thighs, cortisol is looking at your upper body as a snack.
The adrenal system releases stuff called catecholamines, that do some stuff. It kicks up cardio output (rate and pressure), opens up skeletal muscular blood flow, starts hoarding sodium, kills digestive work, tells the liver to crank up the glucose, and the lungs to open up like your life depends on it (which it does, duh). The conundrum with this is, slow twitch muscles use more oxygen than glucose for energy, so yeh, you are breathing hard for a reason: you need FUEL because it can’t just use the fuel it is pumping out around in your blood.
HGH increases, which would normally be good, it is called the “growth” hormone so lets grow muscles! But it doesn’t work that way since muscle growth and repair also depend on amino acids, estrogen, testosterone, leptin, and insulin (other stuff is involved too, again, the basics), all the stuff that the hypothalamus is telling your body to suppress. In cases where HGH is abnormally elevated, it becomes insulin-antagonistic (anti-insulin). Right, more insulin resistance. All of this stuff is triggered by the crisis response, so it does what it does in these situations – help the body conserve energy by shuffling stuff into fat cells.
So what we have is a situation where we have a metric ton of glucose running around, insulin isn’t able to do its job efficiently, hormones are stealing stuff from muscles, and half of our organs that would normally be using energy also are out on a 15 minute break behind the building. Next to the dumpster. With a Mt. Dew and a donut. The hormones that are not out on break are balancing “get the hell outta here” energy usage with “if this goes on much longer we need backup” energy usage. Since we know that the body loves homeostasis and will adapt as we present situations to it, repeated high-intensity cardio tells the hypothalamus “dude (or dudette), this isn’t isolated, you need to learn from this,” it does what it does, adapts response to threat. It’s going to trigger the above responses quicker each time. It’s going to tell the Type 1 fibers “you can do with less,” and tell the fat cells “you can have moar!” While being efficient is awesome when it comes to appliances and cars, when we are trying to lose fat, efficient is the exact opposite of what we want. And now, you have all this glucose and HGL\LDL running around that has to be cleaned out, two of the things as ketogenic people we don’t want to have excess of :(.
So, what about LIC, Hobbit? Can I do that? Sure you can. It won’t hurt you – especially if you are moderately overweight – because LIC actually brings Type 2 fibers into play. You aren’t moving fast like HIC, you are moving weight at a steady pace. Unlike body weight exercises, though, you aren’t engaging muscles you don’t normally engage, so the results – yes, there will be results – are not as dramatic as they are with moving heavy things. The side benefits of doing LIC like walking or swimming is the effects it can have on the supporting structures – tendons, ligaments, blood flow, lung efficiency, etc. – because no matter what, if you go from not moving much to moving safely more often, you are going to help these supporting things wake up. Ligament and tendon response can help us prevent injury, and as we know from past discussions, improved blood flow is awesome. So, if going for a walk before you start your day is something you feel like you want to do, go for it. Just don’t push it. The returns diminish markedly after the 20-30 minute mark. Much longer than that and you start invoking the same response you would get running from Freddy or Jason. And yes, I said “morning.” I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but exercising in the first hour or so after you wake up is ideal as it leverages the circadian rhythm. When you first wake up, glucose is higher and so is cortisol. By doing healthy, safe exercise while in this state, you can help clear this stuff out of your system faster and get a little dopamine hit to start the day. Studies have shown that exercising in the first hour of being awake can increase mental clarity and energy well into the afternoon. Just something to think about. If first thing in the morning isn’t your thing, that’s ok too. It’s not ideal to do later but its not going to hurt you either.
Next segment, we will discuss HIIT and weight training. The good, the bad, and the ugly, or how to safely kick Freddy’s ass into next week and burn fat at the same time :).