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How Much Is Enough Exercise?

I received a great question this morning from one of my readers and I thought it would make for an informative topic of discussion. Basically, this person was STUCK from a weight loss standpoint and wondered if more cardio would be the solution?

As you can imagine a question like this would be difficult to answer without knowing how much cardio the person was already doing along with some other basic details. A quick email to her answered my questions and I was able to give her some recommendations.

Watch the video¬†after you’re done reading this as it will help reinforce everything and make it clearer.

What follows is a quick review of her situation and the lesson that can be learned from all this.

This individual has been working out 3 x week with resistance training for the past¬†six months and doing 30 minutes of¬†moderate intensity “aerobic” exercise on¬†her other two off days.

She wants to lose about¬†30 pounds and although she lost 5¬†pounds in the first month, since then¬†the scale hasn’t¬†budged!

She admitted to being a former “carb addict” and has made¬†significant improvements with¬†switching out the¬†sugars, whites, and processed¬†carbs with more whole grains and “healthy” carbs. I put that in quotation marks for a reason…more on that later.

Anyways,¬†back to her¬†situation. She’s been¬†couting calories, eating smaller, more frequent meals and drinking more water to compliment her¬†fitness routine.

On paper it looks like she’s doing really good right?

But the problem is nobody wants to get a blue ribbon for doing a “good job” with their diet. Heck no, people want to see results! And from this standpoint¬†to say she’s frustrated is¬†an understatement.

She’s discouraged and¬†who would blame her? She’s¬†cleaned up her diet,¬†started working out regularly and¬†except for the¬†fact she¬†knows¬†she’s¬†”healthier” and has better energy and strength, there’s little else to show for it.

It’s about this time most people fall off the wagon and I understand why. If only she would lose a mere pound a week she’d be happy and find the motivation to keep going. But unfortunately the body doesn’t work that way.

The truth is you’re either a “sugar burner” or a “fat burner” and the difference is going to come down to not ONLY exercise but more importantly how you fuel your body.

In fact, exercise has much less to do with this than nutrition does.

Here are some gospel truths of fat loss to get your head around…

The average individual can’t exercise enough to swing big doors from a fat loss perspective.

The¬†caloric expenditure would be¬†too little¬†unless you’re doing hours upon hours¬†each day and then we still have the issue of fuel (sugar or fat for energy).

You can’t starve yourself with severe low-calorie diets and expect to see significant fat loss.

The reason is simple…down regulation of¬†your metabolism due to hormonal shifts. The¬†body is really good at self-preservation. It will store fat much easier than letting it go.

So where does that leave us? Well we know that exercise is essential from a weight loss standpoint not only from a caloric expenditure perspective (although very small), but more importantly due to the following reasons.

  • Improves efficiency of heart and lungs to transport nutrients, primarily oxygen and the stored body fat you’re wanting to send to muscle cells for fuel.
  • Improves insulin sensitivity and stabilizes other hormonal balances.
  • Decreases cortisol production and serves as nature’s way of reducing both physiological and psychological stress.
  • Improves lean muscle mass and bone density.

To receive these benefits you don’t have to do LOTS of exercise. The key is doing a variety of different¬†types of physical activity¬†in all the different energy systems.

In other words, lift something heavy every now and then to really¬†create an overload with¬†your muscles. Get yourself out of breath and do short bursts of high intensity¬†physical activity on¬†occasion. And finally do some lower intensity “aerobic” work.

How often?¬†I’ve¬†found¬†5 x week will do the trick, 3 x week¬†will work if you’re not¬†looking to lose weight. For whatever type of exercise you’re doing (weight training, short burst interval training,¬†aerobic work) it won’t matter as approximately 30 minutes is sufficient.

While you may want to do more time¬†if you’re¬†bodybuilding, preparing for an endurance event,¬†training for a sport, etc, the idea is doing LOTS more cardio is not the magic bullet for fat loss.

Back to the story…

Back to the woman who asked me the original question¬†about whether or not she was doing “enough cardio.”

She was doing cardio 2 x week for 30 minutes, so I told her to¬†also include¬†it on her resistance training days. She didn’t need to do an hour of cardio or try killing herself with going right into¬†full blown sprint intervals.

I simply told her to look to start doing “short bursts” with interval training¬†by going at a higher incline and speed (while still walking)¬†on her treadmill, a couple times each week. The short¬†bursts (1-2 minutes) would be followed by a recovery period of the same length at a level incline and lower speed to let the heart¬†rate go down.¬†30 minutes was still the prescription, although at 5 x week instead of 2 x week.

But here was the missing link….

It had NOTHING to do with exercise but EVERYTHING to do with what her body was using for fuel. Remember how I talked about her being admittedly a former “carb addict.” This was a big clue for¬†me in¬†finding her problem.

She¬†had done “good” so¬†she thought by pulling out the whites, sugars, and other processed and refined¬†carbs. While this is¬†partially true, she wasn’t doing herself any favors by switching to¬†whole grain bread, high¬†fiber cereal, whole wheat pasta and the other “healthy”¬†grains.

Remember sugar is sugar is sugar….and all carbohyrdrates¬†end up as¬†sugar. Starch carbohydrates, aka “polysaccharides” simply mean¬†”many sugars” which are linked together. Think about that the next time some chubby dietitian or “nutrition expert” tells you that you need to eat more “healthy” whole grains.

The problem is this person is dealing with very low insulin sensitivity or insulin resistance. This simply means her body is flooded with glucose (blood sugar) as it is. Giving it more sugar (even from “healthy” choices) is simply going to keep her in a “fat storing” state.

It won’t be until she conditions her body to fuel off fat INSTEAD of sugar that she’ll be able to make significant strides with fat loss.

Does this make sense to you? It’s a hormonal problem, not an exercise problem. She needs to reprogram her body to fuel off fats instead of sugar.

And how does she do this….simple (although not with some initial discomfort with sugar cravings, headaches, and “withdrawal” symptoms).

She needs to simultaneously increase her protein and unsaturated fat content while also significantly reducing sugars and starch carbohydrates in her diet.

This means she’ll be eating mostly from lean proteins, dietary fats, nuts, seeds, fibrous vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit and “starchy” vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, etc.

She’ll also remove the following from her diet completely for the next 30 days.

  • All grains (wheat, rice, oats, barley, etc)
  • All legumes (beans)
  • All simple sugars (except for small amounts of fruit)
  • All milk and most dairy (except for cottage cheese, aged cheese, and natural or Greek yogurt).
  • All breads, pasta, cereals, fruit juices, white potatoes, etc.

Does this mean she can never have these foods again? No, but I’ll bet you after 30 days she won’t want to have them very often. The thing is she needs to take a¬†decisive step with improving her insulin sensitivity and this is going to take a complete¬†restructuring of her diet.

The “moderate” amounts of even “healthy” whole grains and other carbs with people who have insulin sensitivity issues simply keeps them on the “sugar wheel” so I call it. That’s why “moderation” can be a dirty word in my book until the hormonal problem is fixed.

If you would like more information about what foods to eat to help¬†kick start fat loss¬†check out my Lean Code Method Quick Start Nutrition Guide. It’s a FREE down-loadable e-book that is packed full of meal planning tips and nutrition recommendations.

Alright, that’s about it for now. I hope you found this to be helpful…remember it’s not always about the exercise but more importantly about what you’re using for fuel.

Be a fat burner!

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. Learn more about how you can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Fat Loss.