Fitness Articles

How To Turn Yourself Into A Fat-Burning Machine

Turn Yourself Into A Fat-Burning Machine

JORDAN DAVIDSON

Let’s face it: When you want to lose weight, it’s the fat that you want to get rid of. Muscle burns calories and looks good. Fat is lumpy and just lies there. So you’ll be happy to hear that researchers at McMaster University in Canada may have found the trick to building muscle while losing fat, and they’ve revealed it in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. However, you may be less thrilled when you hear what it takes.

In a nutshell, the researchers put a bunch of out-of-shape young men who weighed more than 200 pounds on a restrictive diet and a grueling workout regimen for a month; half of them ate a high-protein diet. The high-protein group lost more weight (13 pounds), fat (11 pounds), and added more muscle (2.6 pounds). The lower-protein group lost 8 pounds—all of it fat—but failed to put on any lean muscle. Here’s what the guys had to do:

Weight training workout

PHOTOGRAPH BY ALEXANDER LUKATSKIY/SHUTTERSTOCK

Mondays and Fridays: Full-body weight lifting for about 30 minutes, alternating upper body and lower body moves with no rest.
Tuesdays: Four 30-second, all-out sprints, with 4 minutes of active rest between sprints. Each week, add one more sprint-rest interval.
Wednesdays: Three strength + cardio circuits of 10 reps each: jumping jacks, push-ups, star jumps (jumps in which you splay your arms and legs while in the air), sit ups, walking lunges, broad jumps, and running in place.
Thursdays: Ten exercise bike intervals of 1-minute sprints followed by 1-minute recovery pedaling.
Saturdays: Pedal at about a 7 or 8 level of effort (10 being all out) until you burn 60 calories—about 10 to 12 minutes.
Sundays: Finally, a rest day. But the guys were still encouraged to walk at least 10,000 steps.The Diet

High-protein shakes

PHOTOGRAPH BY SAVA ALEXANDRU/GETTY IMAGES

Not nearly enough food to support the guys’ size and efforts. They guzzled down four milk-based shakes per day and heated up a well-balanced frozen meal for lunch and dinner. (The low-protein group’s diet gave them half a gram per pound of bodyweight, which is around the RDA for protein; the high-protein group got just more than a gram per pound.) The total calories were calibrated to be about 40% fewer than what their bodies needed. In other words, if you typically eat 2000 calories a day, this would take you down to 1200. Honestly, that’s neither sustainable nor enjoyable, says Stuart Phillips, PhD, director of McMaster Physical Activity Centre of Excellence, and an author of the study. 

 

Both groups reported feeling ravenous throughout the month. “It wasn’t pleasant for them,” says Phillips. “Energy restriction is inherently displeasing, and the men we studied got irritable and cranky, or what you’d call ‘hangry.’ ” Phillips observed that when the study participants congregated in the gym, they’d talk food—what they would eat when the month was over, or various strategies to spread their rations throughout the day. “When you’re in need of calories to sustain weight, all you think about is food,” says Phillips. “And that’s a problem dieters run into.”

Is this program right for you? 
Although the regimen was incredibly effective, Phillips doesn’t think it’s a roadmap to health for the average person. “It’s remarkably difficult to withstand the rigors of this training and the severe energy deficit,” he says. Phillips was mostly interested in how muscle would respond to the restricted calories. “Dieting wears down the brain and the body, but the data is piling up that eating more protein helps preserve muscle when you face an energy deficit.”

A more palatable regimen comes from a study that Phillips published a couple of years ago in the Journal of Nutrition: He put overweight women on an exercise program of roughly 30 minutes of cardio five days a week along with two days of strength-training. He also had the women cut 500 calories from their usual diet and then asked one group to follow a high-protein, dairy-heavy meal plan. The rest of the women followed lower-protein versions of the diet. While all the women lost about 10 pounds in the 4-month study, those in the high-protein group were the only ones to build more muscle; they also shed more fat than the rest.

The real secret to the perfect weight-loss regimen? Muscles are made in the gym, says Phillips, but preserving muscle—and losing fat—is done in the kitchen.

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