Happy New Year, everyone! With another year gone, I took a look back at the past year, and took inventory of what I have learned about fitness and nutrition. Some new, better controlled research studies have helped to clarify past conflicting studies. I have also gained access to more reliable sources of information, such as Alan Aragon’s Research Review.
Recently, I have espoused ideas and views that contradict something I have written about in the past, without properly explaining the switch in position. I am going to explain that switch right now. As one gets new, more reliable information, one must be willing to change one’s mind. Fitness and nutrition is not a religion, though some people would like to make it out to be.
Let me kick it off by discussing Intermittent Fasting. I have recommended IF in the past as a way to lose fat, without restricting calories. I still think it has its place and can work for some people, but it is not for everyone. I have learned that there is nothing magical about fasting. When one consumes most of one’s calories in a limited period of time (i.e. one or two large meals), it often results in a caloric restriction. Not only has this been born out by carefully controlled studies, I experimented with myself, tracking my intake via MyFitnessPal, and the only thing that affected my weight was overall calories, not when I ate them. That said, if IF helps one reduce overall intake, great! By all means, do it. But, for some people, it can result in overeating during that one meal and result in a higher daily intake.
By the same token, restricting carbs to a certain time of the day, i.e. only at night, reduces caloric intake. Carbs are very easy to overconsume. By limiting intake to only certain times, it naturally helps to prevent overeating them. But, one can get the same result by being able to control the amount at each meal. Some people do better eating carbs throughout the day, others restricting carbs to certain meals. Do what works for you!
Related to the topic of carbs, there is the theory that I used to subscribe to that obesity is due to elevated insulin levels. The theory goes that consuming carbs causes insulin to be released, and insulin, which is a storage hormone, causes fat to be stored. However, a carefully conducted study by Kevin Hall of the National Institute of Health, showed that lowering insulin did not result in more fat loss. In fact, the group that continued to eat carbs lost more fat than the group that went low carb, although insulin levels were greatly reduced in the low carb group. Both groups reduced their calories by the same percentage. The analogy that helps explains this phenomenon is that, even if you have a lot of bricklayers available (the hormone, insulin), you cannot build a wall (fat) without bricks (calories).
Finally, I have learned that the most important nutrient when trying to lose fat is protein. Various studies have showed that different diets, low carb, low fat, and everything in between, all performed about the same, as long as adequate protein was consumed. The optimal amount of intake appears to be much higher than the RDA (recommended daily allowance), which is about 56 grams for the average adult male. People seem to do much better consuming about a gram of protein per pound of lean body weight. Protein is the most satiating nutrient, and it helps prevent overeating and improves diet adherence. So, if you are trying to get lean this year, make sure to consume enough lean proteins, such as chicken, fish and lean beef.
These are some of the things I have learned over the past year. I hope to continue to learn and get better. Decades of good research have validated time and time again that it is a matter of consuming fewer calories than one expends, when it comes to fat loss. Although it is a very simple proposition, it does not mean it’s easy. In the coming year, I hope to lean more about how one can improve adherence to a caloric restriction. Until next time, be well!