Science is on your side

While eggheads aren’t known for their muscles, the truth is that some of the best physiques belong to big-time nerds.

While eggheads aren’t known for their muscles, the truth is that some of the best physiques belong to big-time nerds. It’s often stressed that intensity, dedication and consistency are the keys to success in and out of the gym; combining these virtues with an in-depth understanding of the human body and nutrition can help trainees take themselves to the next level. While there is many an adage about how a poor plan executed with passion is better than getting bogged down in details, those who apply the ever-increasing amounts of scientific knowledge (without losing that all important passion) are at a distinct advantage.

Fat loss is all the rage whenever the summer season creeps up on us, and it’s also a very interesting area to examine for aspiring fitness geeks. While the golden rule of fat loss is that an individual needs to expend more calories than they consume, there are a plethora of ways trainees can use a little scientific knowledge or understanding to speed up their progress while in this calorically deficient state. Sometimes this can mean finding ways to manipulate your body chemistry to our benefit, other times it can be as simple as seeing through misinformation.

We’ve all heard of the fat-burning zone by now. It’s regularly espoused by magazine writers, trainers, professional athletes and sometimes even academics. Heck, it’s not uncommon to find cardiovascular equipment with heart rate monitoring devices that allow the trainee to make sure they are training at the optimal intensity to maximize fat burning. Many of us have spent years almost neurotically trying to stay within the narrow confines of the fat-burning zone. After all, it sounds pretty scientific and convincing. However, the true fitness geeks, the folks who bury their noses in the research journals, were shaking their heads at us all along.

See, while we’ve all been obsessing about how much fat was oxidized (i.e., utilized as fuel) during exercise, the fitness geeks were looking at the bigger picture. While it is true that more fat is oxidized during the low-to-moderate intensity exercise, this is strictly a proportional outcome. A greater percentage of fat is used (in comparison to higher intensity exercise, which makes greater utilization of the phosphagen system and glycogen), but does this mean avoiding higher-intensity exercise is the best choice when fat loss is the goal?

As long as caloric expenditures during exercise are equal, most long-term studies (spanning days or weeks, rather than a single 24-hour period) show that exercise intensity doesn’t make much of a difference when it comes to weight loss. Most coaches and trainers don’t look beyond this fact, leading them to mistakenly believe that exercise intensity is of little consequence.

However, weight loss and fat loss are two very different things. The groups that perform lower intensity exercise for longer durations tend to lose a lower percentage of fat while also losing some lean body mass (muscle). On the other hand, the high intensity exercisers lose a greater amount of fat, but also gain lean body mass. So, though both groups may lose equal amounts of weight, the high intensity group looks much better in the end. They also wind up with better cardiovascular conditioning overall.

Furthermore, other long-term research showed that High-Intensity Interval Training oxidized nine times more fat than low intensity exercise of a 20-week period. While the exact mechanisms for this impressive disparity are still being investigated, it is believed that the HIIT exercise may have resulted in metabolic adaptions within the lean body mass of the subjects. These adaptions would cause the muscle tissues to favor the process of fat oxidization.

The moral of the story here is that it’s often wise to investigate commonly held views on training because they may only be half true. For the real nitty-gritty, seek out the real fitness geeks. Combine their superior knowledge with the unparalleled passion of an athlete or coach for the highest levels of achievement.  ?