Saturday, August 8, 2009

Saturday workout & initial thoughts on Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle

First, the workout. You will be shocked to learn there was a kettlebell involved. I began with cleans, 5 on each side, followed immediately by get-ups, 1 per side. Catch breath, repeat for 5 rounds. I used my 16 kg for all reps, and it went okay. My goal is to be strong enough in a few weeks to press the 16 kg for reps. We'll see how it goes.

Then it was on to two-hand swings, sets of 30 for 12 minutes, with a minute of active recovery between sets. For my active recovery I usually do something lame such as jog in place because I want to emphasize "recovery" as opposed to "active." The point here is to do perfect swings, not burn as many calories as possible in 12 minutes.

Now for my thoughts on BFFM, keeping in mind that I am still only about halfway through my review of the book:

1. This is pretty much a straightforward old-school bodybuilder cutting program. No real surprise there, as the book is subtitled "Fat Loss Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models," or something like that. Tom Venuto is in fact a bodybuilder and fitness model, and I have no doubt that he actually follows a program very similar to this. For what it's worth, every physique competitor I know, not that I know all that many, follows a program similar to this.

2. I acquired my copy of BFFM in 2005. Very possibly there is an updated version that takes into account some of the research as to the benefits of intermittent fasting. I admit I don't know much about the benefits, other than that obviously it's useful in creating a calorie deficit as long as you eat no more than your maintenance calories on non-fast days. I think there's some research to the effect that intermittent fasting stimulates the release of growth hormone, which helps with fat loss, and I believe it's also supposed to be useful for detoxification or something like that. Those of you who've read Brad Pilon's Eat Stop Eat know a lot more about it than I do. And if you're following ESE and getting good results you will not be impressed by Tom Venuto's insistence that 5-6 meals a day is the absolute best way to eat for fat loss.

Mr. Venuto's main arguments in favor of frequent meals are (1) if you eat every 3 hours or so, you'll never get so hungry that you end up binging (2) if you're constantly supplying nutrients to your muscles you won't lose lean mass even though you are in calorie deficit mode (3) if you eat frequently you'll stimulate your metabolism, especially if you stick mostly to foods that require a lot of energy to digest, and (4) if you go for too long without eating you will trigger your body's "starvation response," resulting in a slowdown of your metabolism, a loss of lean mass, and difficulty in losing fat even if you're eating fewer calories than you need to maintain your weight.

Reason #4 in particular is a bit controversial these days, and Mr. Venuto himself has conceded on his Burn the Fat blog that missing a meal now and then, or even fasting for a day, isn't going to send your body into starvation mode. The starvation response is a real phenomenon, but there's no evidence it kicks in unless a person has been maintaining an extreme calorie deficit for a prolonged period of time. If a person who requires 1800 calories a day to maintain her weight decides she's going to eat less than half that, and does so for weeks on end in a misguided effort to lose fat, the starvation response is going to kick in defensively. She's going to lose muscle, her metabolism will slow way down, and the only thing that will get her body fat level moving in the right direction is a re-feed.

This is not a hypothetical example, by the way. "She" is me at age 18. I spent most of my college years subsisting on roughly 500 calories a day. If it wasn't for the starvation response I would be dead today.

3. As you will have gathered from the foregoing, Mr. Venuto does not approve of large calorie deficits. He recommends that people cut their calories by no more than 15-20%. In the case of our not-so-hypothetical female college student, this would mean cutting anywhere from 270 to 360 calories per day. Of course at that rate she'd be losing less than a pound of fat a week, but if she were to increase her activity level as Mr. Venuto recommends, she would speed things along. On Mr. Venuto's program one doesn't starve the fat off, one burns it off.

4. Mr. Venuto is a numbers guy. He believes in counting calories and weighing and measuring portions. None of this "the size of your fist" or "the size of your palm" nonsense (which I actually don't think is particularly nonsensical, at least for anyone who's not an aspiring physique competitor). He contends (and I agree with this) that it is absolutely vital to log food intake at least for a while, because if you don't you're likely to underestimate the number of calories you're consuming over the course of the week. Once you're at the point where you know off the top of your head how many calories are contained in 3 oz. chicken breast and how much space it takes up on your plate (hint: not much!) you can probably ease up a little on the weighing and measuring and writing everything down. Also, if you plan your meals in advance, all you need to do is stay on plan and you'll know how many calories you ate without having to actually lug a journal around with you.

5. I personally believe that a lot of this is overkill unless you are a physique competitor or want to look like one. If that happens to be your goal you probably do need to eat 6 times a day and strictly control calories and portion sizes for the best possible results. But keep in mind: your goal is to achieve a level of leanness that's not natural to most people. For that reason you're probably going to have to pull out all the stops. When you're 15 percent body fat and looking to get down to 12 percent, worrying about the thermic effect of food probably makes some sense. If you're 25 percent looking to get down to 22 percent, not so much. Take my advice and don't make yourself crazier than you must!