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Are Abs Really Made in the Kitchen?

By Body Composition, Nutrition

There’s an oft-used saying that “abs are made in the kitchen.

The underlying theory, for those who haven’t heard this before, is that what you eat is more important than how much you exercise if you want to see defined abdominal muscles.

How much truth is there to this mantra? Are Instagram perfect abs really made simply by watching what you eat? Or can you just do a thousand crunches a day and reveal your six-pack that way?

In this article, we’ll 1) break down the science of nutrition vs. exercise and how each impacts body composition, 2) look at a few different types of diet plans and their effects on the body, 3) decide whether the saying “abs are made in the kitchen” is fact or fiction.

Let’s jump right in.

Background

The notion of “abs are made in the kitchen” is based on the fact that it is so much easier to gain calories than it is to burn it off through exercise.

 

This makes sense when you attach some numbers to it.

For example, let’s say your preferred exercise routine is swimming a few days a week. On average, you can expect to burn 400-700 calories in an hour.

But if you go home and scarf down a couple pieces of pizza, you can quickly take in the same amount of calories in a matter of minutes.

So from a time/practicality standpoint, it’s much easier to reduce your caloric intake by 400 – 600 calories a day and create the same calorie deficit as swimming/running for an hour.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that creating a calorie deficit through diet has the same effects on body composition as exercise.

First, we’ll look at some studies that weigh in (pun intended) on exercise.

How Exercise Impacts Body Composition

In a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, 320 post-menopausal women ranging in weight from normal to obese were split into two groups. The first were asked to do 45 minutes worth of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise, 5 times a week for a full year (they actually ended up averaging about 3.6 days per week). The second group did not exercise. And neither group was asked to improve nutrition or try portion control.

After one year, the exercise group lost an average of 5.3 pounds of body fat.

That’s a lot of work to lose 5 pounds of fat.

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, may be a more efficient approach to improving your body composition, especially in the abdominal region. One study compared two groups who exercised at different intensities: one that did three days a week of high-intensity exercise and another that did five days a week of low-intensity exercise. After 16 weeks, the high-intensity exercise group lost both more abdominal visceral and subcutaneous fat than the steady-state exercise one.

So it appears exercise, specifically high-intensity exercise, can produce faster results if you want to see those abs.

Next, let’s see what type of impact diet has.

How Diet Affects Body Composition

There are many different diet plans for those hoping to lose fat and/or increase lean body mass. We’ll look at some of the most popular and review which are effective for changing body composition and which need to be studied more.

Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet (or “Paleo” for short), consists of eating foods that are assumed to have been available to humans prior to the establishment of modern agriculture. If the caveman didn’t eat it, it’s out. This includes eating things like lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, eggs, and nuts. It excludes foods like grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and processed oils.

Paleo is relatively new (in terms of nutrition research) and therefore doesn’t have a whole lot of credible evidence on its impact on body composition specifically. One meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the Paleo to 4 control diets based on U.S. nutrition guidelines.

The researchers found that the Paleo led to greater short-term improvements in waist circumference, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure.

It’ll interesting to see if Paleo proves to be more effective than other diet plans on improving body composition as more studies become available.

Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet (or “Keto” ) consists of eating high fat, moderate protein, and very low carb foods. It’s similar to Paleo but carbs are restricted to 25-50 grams per day.

A 2013 meta-analysis that compared Keto to a low-fat nutritional plan suggests that keto is more effective for weight loss as well as improvement of cardiometabolic health.

Another study that compared the ketogenic diet to a low-fat diet found that Keto was effective in short-term body weight and fat loss. On top of that, it appears that Keto may support preferential fat loss in the trunk area, although this requires further validation.

Finally, a study in which men performed resistance training three times a week and compared body composition effects of keto vs. the traditional Western diet found that the ketogenic group experienced significant fat mass loss, as well as lean body mass gains, compared to the Western diet group.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is based on typical foods and recipes of Mediterranean-style cooking (native to Italy, Greece, Spain, etc.).

This includes large quantities of fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, fish and olive oil. The Mediterranean diet is one of the most studied diets and for good reason: It has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Let’s see what type of impact, if any, it has on body composition though.

One study on 248 healthy women published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the Mediterranean diet could help reduce body fat levels.

Another study in subjects with coronary artery disease showed that adherence to the Mediterranean diet significantly reduced body fat mass and percent body fat.

A meta-analysis published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders concluded that the Mediterranean diet “may be a useful tool to reduce body weight, especially when the Mediterranean diet is energy-restricted, associated with physical activity, and more than 6 months in length.”

Finally, when researchers looked at the Mediterranean diet’s effects on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor levels in overweight or obese individuals trying to lose weight and compared them to low-fat diets, they found that the Mediterranean diet produced greater weight loss.

Diets: The Bottom Line

Science shows there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dieting. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed 59 studies with various nutritional recommendations (low-fat, low-carb, etc).

Researchers found that weight loss differences between individual diets were small. Participants were able to change their body composition (lose weight) with both low carb and low-fat diets.

However, getting the right amount of protein seems to be one of the most important things you can do to improve your body composition.

In another meta-analysis of 87 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets favorably affect body mass and composition.

So it seems the consensus is that eating more protein can also help you preserve lean body mass when dieting.

Now, let’s look at the most effective approach for getting a six pack: combining a high protein/low carb diet with different types of exercise like cardio and strength training. This is where things get interesting.

How Exercise Combined with Diet Impacts Body Composition

According to another study published in the journal Obesity that compared the effect of dieting and exercising (alone or combined) on weight and body composition in overweight-to-obese post-menopausal women, the diet-only group achieved more weight loss than the exercise-only group. However, the greatest effects were seen in the combined diet/exercise group, “where 60% of participants achieved ≥10% weight loss at 1 year.”

Other studies show similar results: a combination of dieting and exercising works best if you want to lose fat (which is how you will see your abdominal muscles).

The question is, are certain types of exercise (resistance training, long duration cardio, etc) more effective than others for improving your body composition?

In a 2015 review published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders, researchers analyzed 66 clinical studies and came to the following conclusions:

  1. Exercise in combination with diet led to the most significant changes in body composition.
  2. The combination of resistance training and diet was more effective than endurance training or a combination of endurance and resistance training at altering body composition measures (reduction of body mass and fat mass).

Conclusion

Making adjustments to how you eat can lead to more fat loss in less time compared to exercise alone.

So, the verdict? Abs are made in the kitchen and the gym.

Like anything worth achieving in life, getting a six-pack takes both work and knowledge. Doing 1000 crunches and 1 hour of cardio a day won’t help you see your abdominal muscles any faster if you don’t make the right changes to your diet.

“Spot reduction” is also another myth. You can target your abs and core with resistance training that help with the muscles in that area, but you also need to lose overall body fat to see the definition in those abdominal muscles– and that requires a combination of diet and exercise.

So where do you go from here?

First, determine your body composition goals. If your goal is to lose fat and gain more definition, then you’re going to have to eat at a calorie deficit. If your goal is to increase lean body mass and lose fat, then your diet and exercise regimen may look different.

At the end of the day, the best exercise/nutritional plan is the one you can stick with. Once you find the right approach for you, you can make it a lifelong habit. That’s what will give you your six-pack.

***

Scott Christ is a health and wellness entrepreneur, writer, and website strategy consultant. He’s also the creator of the world’s healthiest plant-based protein powder.

How to Use HIIT to Improve Your Body Composition

By Body Composition, Fitness

If you’ve been trying to get in shape recently and you’ve been scouring the Internet for effective workout styles, chances are you’ve stumbled upon something called HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training.

Over the years, professional athletes and fitness buffs alike have sworn by this training method.

Whether it’s lowering fat mass or increasing muscle gain, you’re probably wondering if it’s the right workout type that will help you attain your body composition goals as quickly as possible.

Read on below for a closer look of this popular workout style and how you can use it to effectively attain your desired body composition outcomes.

The Lowdown on HIIT

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is based on the premise that short, explosive burst of activities can have a huge, lasting impact on your body composition. In a nutshell, it’s not about how long you’re exercising but rather how intense you’re performing the workouts within a certain period of time.

In a typical HIIT routine, you alternate between intervals of quick, intense bursts of exercise and short, sometimes low intensity, periods of rest. Here’s how the American Council on Exercise (ACE) describes HIIT:

Most endurance workouts, such as walking, running, or stair-climbing —are performed at a moderate intensity, or an exertion level of 5-6 on a scale of 0-10. High-intensity intervals, on the other hand, are done at an exertion level of 7 or higher, and are typically sustained for 30 seconds to 3 minutes, although they can be as short as 8-10 seconds or as long as 5 minutes; the higher the intensity, the shorter the speed interval. Recovery intervals are equal to or longer than the speed intervals.

Running HIIT-style involves intervals of 30 to 60 seconds of running near your peak of ability. You follow this almost breathless (but definitely not winded) running with a comparable cool-down period of walking. For instance, you can do a short sprint upstairs and walk back down four times in a row.

While there’s no specific set of guidelines as to how often you should do HIIT,  alternating periods of high-intensity and low-intensity activities at least three times a week as part of your exercise routine is a good rule of thumb to reap its benefits. One study in the European Journal of Endocrinology reported that male subjects following an 8-week HIIT program experienced muscle gain and lost a significant amount of abdominal fat mass, even though the program included no weightlifting.

The great thing about HIIT is you can apply interval training to almost any type of workout — from interval running to doing explosive laps at the pool to your twice-a-week kettlebell routine. This means that you can continuously mix things up in your routine so you won’t get bored and give up on our body composition goals.

HIIT and Its Impact on Body Fat

Let’s look at HIIT’s impact on body fat.

HIIT has been shown to be effective in torching body fat more than other types of exercise. In terms of belly fat, studies found that HIIT workouts help reduce both visceral (fat mass around the organs) and subcutaneous (under the skin) fat.

Another study compared the results between a group of participants who committed to three days a week of high-intensity exercise routine and another group who did five days a week of low-intensity exercise. After sixteen weeks, the researchers discovered that the participants who committed to high-intensity exercise routine for three days a week lost more fat than the group who showed up for low-intensity steady-state exercise.

HIIT’s significant role in reducing fat mass is good news if you’re not seeing consistent results in reducing your body fat percentage (particularly that stubborn belly fat) despite your regular workout routine.

HIIT and Its Impact on Muscle Mass

As for HIIT’s possible role in building lean muscle mass, let’s take a look at the findings of a study published last year in the Journal of Diabetes Research.

The researchers compared the effects of five weeks of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) among overweight and obese, young women in terms of cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and blood glucose.

Participants in the HIIT group performed 60 repetitions of high-intensity interval exercise — at 8 seconds of cycling at 90% of peak oxygen consumption, and 12-second rest on a cycle ergometer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, participants in the MICT group performed continuous cycling exercise at 65% of peak oxygen consumption for 40 minutes.

In terms of lean mass changes, the researchers concluded the following:

“..the MICT group experienced significantly decreased total lean mass (TLM) and leg LM. Meanwhile, TLM and leg LM in the HIIT group were unchanged. ”

Based on the study’s findings, here’s what we know so far:

  • HIIT may not be the most effective workout routine to build lean muscle mass
  • HIIT, however, can help preserve or retain lean muscle mass, while MICT can potentially make you lose lean muscle mass if you’re trying to lose fat mass at the same time

One of the many benefits of HIIT is that it increase the proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers over slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Why is this important? Fast twitch fibers are a main factor of your strength and speed. They are also very important to train in that if you don’t use them, you lose them, especially as you get older. That being said, you can see how important muscle gain is when you are young, in order to maintain your strength and speed (reflexes) as you age.

While HIIT may not be as effective in increasing muscle mass, it does offer potential benefits to achieve that sculpted look.  However, if your main goal is to build muscle mass, bodybuilding or weight training may be your best bet. Here’s an in-depth look between bodybuilding and HIIT to improve body composition. You can note also that both these methods may be used in conjunction to help you to attain your desired body composition.

Additional Benefits of HIIT

Besides helping improve your body composition through fat mass loss, HIIT also provides the following benefits:

  • Short yet explosive bursts of exercise may be more effective in boosting your V02 max— a measure of aerobic endurance— than performing the same exercise at a slower pace. This can help you to use oxygen more efficiently and increase exercise performance.
  • Incorporating HIIT workouts into your exercise routine is more time-efficient. This study reveals that you get the same cardiovascular effects from traditional endurance training in HIIT in just a couple minutes.
  • New research findings published last April concluded that HIIT improves glucose metabolism in muscles and boosts insulin sensitivity among type 2 diabetics.
  • HIIT is perceived as a more enjoyable activity than moderate-intensity continuous exercise. This finding suggests that HIIT will likely promote long-term exercise adherence than other workout styles.
  • In a 2015 study comparing the afterburn effect, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC, HIIT (as well as weight training) reigns supreme over regular cardio up to 21 hours post-workout. The more oxygen your body requires to return to its resting metabolic state, the more calories you burn. This means that HIIT can help you burn more calories even after a day (or almost) you exercised.

Making the Most of Your HIIT Workout

To help you accomplish and maintain body composition success, there are various types of HIIT methods to choose from — from the Tabata protocol to turbulence training. Plus, HIIT can be applied to almost every workout routine or fitness setup out there. You can do CrossFit, engage in bodyweight workouts, or even do HIIT with Pilates.

Regardless of the workout routine or HIIT method you prefer, you can make the most of your HIIT routine by sticking to the following best practices:

  • Don’t forget to do some warm-up before you engage in explosive, high-intensity moves.
  • Aim for at least three-to-five minute intervals completed at least six times. This interval has been shown to provide long-term sustainable results in a systematic review of studies on HIIT protocols that are most effective.
  • Complement your HIIT routine with other workout styles or training programs such as yoga or trail running to keep things interesting.
  • Incorporate as many muscle groups as you can. Using more muscle groups will help to burn more calories!
  • Use your own body’s cues to gauge exertion level. For example, you’re doing it right if you can say single words in the middle of your HIIT routine but you should not be able to complete whole sentences. So if you still find yourself chatting it up at the gym in between reps and you’re not seeing results, maybe it’s high time to pump up the effort level a few notches.
  • Watch what and how much you eat. The best HIIT routine in the world will amount to nothing in the long run if you’re not mindful of your diet and nutritional needs.
  • If you have existing health issues,  it’s best to consult with your doctor or healthcare professional first before engaging in HIIT.

It’s All About Consistency

To benefit the most from any form of HIIT, build a habit of doing it consistently. Even if you can only spare a few minutes, you can effortlessly incorporate these quick interval workouts to your day.

How about getting off your social media of choice for about half an hour to do HIIT? Perhaps you can do reps with your officemates during lunch hour.

The next time you feel like exercise is a chore or a task that you need to check off your to-do list, introduce HIIT into your workout routine! You might not know it but a quick, fun HIIT sesh may be the missing piece in bidding adieu (finally!) to your current body composition woes.

***

Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food. 

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/how-to-use-hiit-to-improve-your-body-composition/

All About Fiber and Its Dirty Little Secrets

By Body Composition, Nutrition

Ask anyone knowledgeable in nutrition about the benefits of fiber and the positives will trump over the negatives. People claim this type of carbohydrate will help you reduce your risk of certain cancers, lower your type 2 diabetes risk, and help with weight loss as it supposedly reduces appetite and increase satiety. In other words, fiber is magic and should be given the same amount of adoration that we shower antioxidants and the rest of the nutritional superstars with.

Yet when was the last time you fact-checked fiber’s benefits? What if we dig deeper into recent nutrition research to learn more?

In this article,  we’ll put fiber in the limelight and sort myths from facts. While mainstream beliefs will tell you that adding lots of fiber to your daily diet is key to good health, let’s figure out if this advice is scientifically sound, especially when it comes to sustainable weight loss and improving your body composition.

Know Thy Fiber

Before we dive into separating myths from established facts and findings, let’s cover the basics.

Dietary fiber, sometimes referred to as roughage, refers to a broad, diverse group of carbohydrates that we, as humans, cannot digest because we are lacking in digestive enzymes to break them down. For this reason, roughage ends up in your colon unchanged.

So why would something that humans can’t digest turn out to be beneficial part of your diet?

Fibers are inherently unique from each other due to their chemical properties. That’s right, the fiber you find brown rice is different than the kind you find in oats. Scientists categorize dietary fibers based on a specific set of characteristics.

To have a better understanding as to how fiber can possibly impact your body composition and overall health, let’s take a closer look at this indigestible carbohydrate through the lens of its popular methods of classification: solubility, viscosity, and fermentability, and a special note on resistant starch.

Soluble and Insoluble Fiber

irst of all, all plant-based foods are generally a mix of both soluble and insoluble fibers. Think of the soluble fiber as the dawdling sibling while the insoluble type is the speedster in the family. How come?

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and morphs into a gel-like substance when it passes through the gut. Foods high in soluble fiber include apples, beans, blueberries, lentils, nuts, and oat products.

Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and the term roughage generally refers to this specific type. Unlike its slow solubility sister, roughage does the exact opposite. It speeds up transit time in the digestive system and adds bulk to your stool. This is the basis of the most common health recommendation for eating more roughage: to prevent constipation by helping food move through your system.

Foods high in insoluble fiber include brown rice, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, wheat, whole wheat bread, and whole grain couscous.

Contrary to popular belief, solubility does not reliably predict whether or not a certain type of fiber is beneficial to your health. However, the terms soluble and insoluble are still used by many nutrition and healthcare professionals including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in nutritional labels.

Viscous and Nonviscous Fiber

Another way of classifying fiber is through its viscosity. Certain types of soluble fiber are more viscous, or more likely to form firmer, stickier gels when mixed with water than other types. When you digest food with high-viscous fiber in it, it increases the viscosity of the gel-like substance that passes through your gut. As a result, it reduces your appetite because you feel fuller longer.

Viscous fibers include the following:

  • pectins (abundant in berries and fruits)
  • β-Glucans (Beta-glucans: abundant in barley and oats)
  • guar gum (commonly derived from the Indian cluster bean)
  • psyllium (isolated from psyllium seed husks)

The most frequently cited benefits of fiber (e.g., reduce cholesterol levels, improve glycemic control in type 2 diabetes, improve stool form in both constipation and diarrhea) is directly correlated to its viscosity. Nonviscous food sources tend not to have these beneficial properties. This is incredibly important because the general public tend to lump all types of fiber as one and associate its health benefits to all types too. Until more is known about the beneficial effects of low-viscosity fibers, a good strategy is to learn toward foods higher in viscosity.

Fermentable and Nonfermentable Fiber

If you’re not aware yet, your entire body is host to trillions (yes, trillions!) of beneficial bacteria.  The majority live in your intestines and are referred to as your gut microbiome. Also known as the forgotten organ, these little creatures have a say in your body composition and overall health.

The beneficial bacteria in your gut thrive on fermentable fiber. Not to mention that this wonderful alchemy of fermentation in your gut produces short-chain fatty acids such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate that suppress gut inflammation and can possibly reduce your risk of various digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Majority of fermentable fibers are soluble, but some insoluble fibers are cool with fermentation too. Foods that are rich in fermentable fibers include oats and barley, as well as fruit and vegetables. Cereal fibers that are rich in cellulose (like wheat bran) are nonfermentable.

Special Note on Resistant Starch

Lately, many experts have been encouraging people to add resistant starch to your diet because of its powerful health benefits.

Resistant starch is not exactly a fiber, but another form of carbohydrate (long form of glucose molecules really) that functions like soluble and fermentable fiber. Like fiber, Resistant starch is not fully broken down and absorbed in your small intestine and gut bacteria thrive on it. When fermented, resistant starch produces short-chain fatty acids as well as gases (which in turn can lead to bloating and abdominal discomfort when eaten/taken in excess).

Great food sources of resistant starch to add to your diet include beans, various legumes, green bananas, cashews, raw oats, and cooked (and then cooled) rice/potatoes. The cooling process turns some of the digestible starches into resistant starches through a process called retrogradation.

So why differentiate all the different types of fibers? Because each types will have different effects in the digestive process and having an array of natural food sources (whole wheat, oats, brown rice, starch) in your diet can have a positive overall impact on your health by improving digestion and also feeding bacteria that work so hard to keep you healthy.

Fiber’s Claims to Fame: Legit or Not?

When we talk about fiber and its impact on one’s health, we are often told about the following benefits:

  • Lowers down blood sugar levels
  • Reduces cholesterol levels
  • Prevents chronic constipation
  • Reduces the risk of specific cancers such as colon cancer and breast cancer
  • Help with weight loss and improve weight control

The American Dietetic Association recommends 14g of dietary fiber per 1,000 kcal of food intake or roughly 25g for adult women and 38g for adult men. Food variety in your diet is encouraged to meet one’s daily fiber requirement. Mix it up with whole wheat, nuts, starchy carbs, and vegetables.

Like so much of nutrition, what’s true today may not be true anymore in the next three, five, or ten years. Research findings and conclusions that once seemed valid and well-founded may be revised— or even totally flipped— as new research is completed. The idea that fat doesn’t actually make you fat is a good example.

With that said, let’s figure out the recent science-backed truths of the aforementioned benefits.

Does fiber help in reducing blood sugar and cholesterol levels?

In terms of fiber’s ability to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, a review of studies on the subject published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics last February revealed the following:

“…high viscosity fibers (eg, gel-forming fibers such as b-glucan, psyllium, and raw guar gum) exhibit a significant effect on cholesterol lowering and improved glycemic control, whereas non-viscous soluble fibers (eg, inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and wheat dextrin) and insoluble fibers (eg, wheat bran) do not provide these viscosity-dependent health benefits…”

With this information, we can see that not all fibers are created equal. If lowering your serum LDL cholesterol and normalizing blood glucose and insulin levels is your goal, adding soluble, viscous fibers to your diet (mainly from whole food sources) would be beneficial.

Meanwhile, resistant starch can potentially lower down blood sugar levels after meals and improve insulin sensitivity.  This means that your body is less likely to store excess glucose as fat. This is good news if you’re currently working to lose fat mass as a priority in improving your body composition.

The takeaway: Not all types of fiber can help control blood sugar and reduce cholesterol levels. To gain fiber’s benefits in terms of regulating blood sugar and lowering cholesterol, opt for high viscous fibers and resistant starches.

Does fiber help with chronic constipation?

How many times have you been told to add more fiber to your diet if you’re having chronic problems in maintaining regularity in your bowel movement?

It turns out that this common advice is not as true as we thought.

In fact, a 2012 study concluded that idiopathic constipation (or constipation of unknown cause) and its associated symptoms can be effectively reduced by stopping or even lowering the intake of dietary fiber.

Furthermore, the same review of studies which examined fiber’s impact on blood sugar and cholesterol recommended that not all types of fiber can help with chronic constipation. The researchers concluded that large/coarse insoluble fibers are more effective as a laxative. Soluble fermentable fibers (e.g. inulin, fructooligosaccharide, and wheat dextrin) do not provide a laxative effect, and some fibers can even be constipating (e.g. wheat dextrin and fine/smooth insoluble wheat bran particles).

The takeaway: Not all types of fiber can help with chronic constipation. Specifically, fruits and vegetables can increase stool bulk and shorten transit time. Meanwhile, fiber supplements that are effective in treating constipation include cellulose and psyllium.

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of cellulose because this type of fiber is mainly found in plant cell walls. On the other hand, psyllium is isolated from the seeds of Plantago ovata, an herb mainly grown in India. Also known as ispaghula husk, it often comes in supplement form such as granules, powder, and capsules. Psyllium is the active ingredient in Metamucil, a popular supplement to reduce constipation.

Some baked goods and fortified cereals contain this type of fiber.

An important note on this is that sufficient fluid intake is also required to maximize the stool-softening effect of increased fiber intake.

Does fiber help reduce my risk of colorectal cancer (as what most people believe)?

The surprising fact is that much of the research does not support this. Recent findings from large prospective cohort studies and clinical intervention trials do not see an association between fiber intake and the risk of colorectal cancer. In fact,  a 4-year intervention trial found out that supplementation with 7.5 g/day of wheat bran had no effect on colorectal adenoma recurrence.

As for general disease prevention, it’s worth noting that observational studies that identify associations between high-fiber intakes and reductions in chronic disease risk tend to assess only fiber-rich foods rather than fiber itself. As a result, it is difficult to determine whether observed benefits are actually related to fiber or perhaps, other nutrients or antioxidants found in fiber-rich foods. Another point for eating foods that are naturally high in fiber instead of relying on fiber supplements.

Can I rely on fiber supplements to get the same benefits as fiber from whole sources?

To get the full-benefits of fiber, research reveals that fiber-rich foods trump (as always when it comes to nutrition) supplement sources. A systematic review of studies found out that most supplements do not help at all in reducing body weight.

Okay, Enough With the Science! I Just Want to Lost Weight. Can Fiber Help?

Yes. But you have to understand that fiber for weight loss doesn’t apply to all types of fiber.

As mentioned earlier in this article, some fibers are readily fermented by your gut microbiome, most of which are soluble fibers.  Soluble fibers, alongside resistant starch, help promote a thriving and diverse community of gut bacteria. Collectively, they are often referred to as prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics which are live bacteria). If Popeye thrives on spinach, your gut bacteria thrives on prebiotics!

So what do prebiotics have to do with weight loss and your body composition?

Currently, there is reasonable evidence that increased dietary prebiotic intake decreases inflammation and helps improve insulin sensitivity. It’s worth noting that both inflammation and reduced insulin sensitivity are strong drivers of weight gain and metabolic syndrome.

By feeding your gut’s friendly and health-promoting bacteria with the right type of fiber, you also reduce your risk of obesity or unwanted weight gain. As for fiber’s role in promoting satiety reducing appetite (thus the popular belief that fiber can help with weight loss), research on the subject continues to yield conflicting results.

Conclusion

In summary, fiber’s benefits are wide ranging, but they don’t all come from one food source. In the end, variety is king. Recent findings show viscous fiber types and resistant starch may be the best sources, not just in transforming body composition but also helping you improve in key biometrics like cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Ultimately, getting more fiber in your diet from whole food sources is always better than relying on supplements. After all, nutrition is not about eating more protein, carbs, or any specific nutrient, but it’s the synergy of these nutrients that truly matters. Besides, berries and apples are more flavorful (and more appetizing!) than chewable tablets, right?

***

Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/all-about-fiber-and-its-dirty-little-secrets/

Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

By Body Composition, Fat mass

If you went to primary school in the 90s, you probably remember this diagram from a nutrition class.

food pyramid nutrition

 

Released in the U.S. in 1992, the food pyramid was designed as an easy way for people to remember which foods they should be getting their calories from and the relative importance of each. Carbs were healthy and good, and so they formed the base; fats were bad and placed at the top. The fat category lumped everything together from healthy fats like Omega-3s and olive oil to saturated fats and sugar. This concept helped trigger the fat-free craze. Although this concept seems pretty normal to us now, at the time in the late 1970s it was actually considered quite radical – so much so that then-president of the National Academy of Sciences, Philip Handler, described the proposed shift as a “vast nutritional experiment.” Essentially, the Dietary Guidelines suggested that people eat less fat and get more calories from bread, grains, rice, pasta, etc. This was intended to protect Americans from weight gain and heart disease. This is why the “high carb, low fat” diet seem familiar and normal to you, and probably why you think eating fat makes you fat.  

What was the result of this recommendation?

Beginning at around the time when the guidelines were first recommended in 1977 and their release to the public in 1980, the percentage of Americans classified as obese increase almost 20% as they followed the government’s advice to cut fat and increase carbs. Why have obesity rates in the United States skyrocketed over the last 18 years? Because the idea that “fat makes you fat” is wrong. Fat is just another nutrient source, same as carbohydrates and protein.  What makes you fat is taking in more energy (calories) in a day than you use. That’s called being in a caloric surplus.

While this might seem like a somewhat challenging thought, fat isn’t solely to blame for weight gain, and it’s not fair to even say it’s a major factor in weight gain.  At fault is a confusing mishmash of terminology, the negative connotation of fat over the past generations, and a pesky little diagram that’s been imprinted in the minds of generations of Americans.

Let’s take a look at how fat got a bad rap to see what you really should be thinking about when you’re trying to lose weight.

Eating Fat Is Not the Same as Becoming Fat

Part of the reason people get confused and think that the fat they eat makes their body store fat is because we use the interchangeably to describe both body fat and dietary fat.

  • Body Fat = Adipose Tissue

The fat that is stored by our bodies is more accurately called “adipose tissue.” Adipose tissue stores are made up of primary adipocytes or fat cells and are responsible, among other things, with storing excess energy for times when you’re not able to give your body the energy it needs in a given day.

Body fat/adipose tissue is essential for survival.  Anyone with a body fat percentage of 0% would not be alive. When you cut your body fat level down to what’s called your “essential fat” – the fat needed to maintain a healthy and functioning body – complications arise.

Take the example of bodybuilders, who in a sense could be defined as “professional body fat cutters”.  When bodybuilders get into competitive shape, they try to lose as much body fat as possible in order to achieve more muscle definition.  Often, this can lead to some health complications that they don’t frequently advertise.

For example, in a 2013 study a competitive male bodybuilder preparing for competition was continuously observed 6 months prior to competing and 6 months after. During that time frame, the bodybuilder was able reduce his body fat percentage from 14.8% to 4.5% by competition time.

In the process of losing all this fat, the researchers observed various complications:

Of note, many of the physiological changes observed including an elevation in cortisol, reduction in testosterone, reduction in testosterone, reduction in immune function, alterations in mood status, and decreases in physical performance and maximal heart rate that occurred during the preparation period are consistent with markers of overtraining.

Rossow, et al (2013)

Contrary to popular belief, the study shows that a very low body fat percentage can disrupt important biological process and can actually be detrimental to your health!

  • Dietary Fat = Macronutrient

The fat you eat is dietary fat and is one of the three essential macronutrients your body can get energy from.

When we talk about calories, we’re actually talking about some combination of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Let’s examine a standard nutrition label. What do you see?

Although they’re not labeled as such, you’ll see the three macronutrients listed there – which we’ve underlined – along with the grams of each.  Each macronutrient contributes a certain numbers of calories to the total caloric content of the food.

  • Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram
  • Protein: 4 calories per gram
  • Fat: 9 calories per gram

You can actually multiply the grams by the calories and add them together to get the total calorie number listed at the top of the label (this one actually comes out to 232, but the government allows rounding to the nearest 10).

This bears repeating: fat is a macronutrient. It isn’t necessarily bad on its own.  Furthermore, you need dietary fat. That’s because your body can make all the fatty acids it needs, except for two: linoleic acid and linolenic acid.  These two necessary substances have to be found in your diet.

Would you believe that people actually used to eat more fat than they do now and at the time obesity rates that were much lower? It’s true, they did, and it’s true – obesity rates used to be much lower.  So if increased fat isn’t making you fat, what is?

What’s Actually Making You Fat?

Too many calories, probably from carbs.

Eating more calories than your body uses and needs in a day causes you to gain weight, and Americans continue to eat more and more calories with each passing year.

According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the total number of daily calories that Americans ate increased by 530 calories, an increase of 24.5%. During the same time period, the percentage of Americans categorized as obese increased dramatically.

What happened?

Americans started to eat more calories.  This is surprising when you consider that carbohydrates contain less than half the calories (4 Cal) that fat (9 Cal) does, gram for gram. Shouldn’t shifting away from fats and towards carbs just reduce overall caloric intake, just by simple math? It doesn’t work that way if you just eat more carbohydrates. You see, consumption of a high carbohydrate diet can trigger something called “reactive hypoglycemia.This is a condition experienced by people who do not have diabetes and are otherwise healthy. Among its symptoms is a feeling of hunger. 

Guess what’s the best way to make that hunger go away? Eat more carbs – your body will be craving them.  And since carbs were supposed to be the largest macronutrient source anyway, most people didn’t think twice about having a snack that consisted of bread, rice, or something else carb-heavy.

By advising people to eat less fat and eat more carbohydrates, the government actually made the obesity problem far worse.  Recognizing the sharp increase in obesity, the food pyramid was revised in 2005 and ultimately retired in 2011 in favor of what the USDA now calls “My Plate,” which gives people a much better visualization of the relative importance of each food category by showing roughly how much space each should take up on a plate.

 

To be clear, neither carbohydrates nor fats on their own cause you to gain weight – it’s just that you tend to eat more calories when your diet is focused on carbohydrates over fat.  Being in a caloric surplus causes you to gain weight. A carb-heavy diet makes it very easy to be in a caloric surplus.

So I Can Throw Away the Low Fat Options?

If you’re smart about it, yes, but you still have to be careful.

Remember, it’s not the fat itself that’s making you fat; it’s the extra calories that you don’t need that makes you fat.  While it’s very easy to eat extra calories on a carbohydrate-based diet, it’s also very easy to add on extra calories from a fat diet too.

At 9 calories, fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient by far.  This means that if you’re looking to lose fat, the low-fat options are still fine choices – not because of their low fat content, mind you, but because of their lower caloric content.  

The fat isn’t making you fat due to just being fat; it’s the extra calories from fat (as well as all the macronutrients) that is causing you to gain weight.

What this means is, if you are responsible with your diet, you can choose foods that contain fat, guilt-free.  You just need to be smart about your caloric intake throughout the entire day.

For example, if you really like the taste of whole milk and have been forcing yourself to drink 1% milk because you think you’re supposed to, you can drink whole milk guilt-free so long as you know that that whole milk contains 46% more calories than 1% milk and you understand that you’re making a deliberate choice to get more calories from milk than from somewhere else.

This means that if you choose to get more calories from milk (and by extension fat), you have to cut calories elsewhere.  If you’re like most Americans, you can probably find foods containing carbohydrates, that if you’re being honest, you can probably do without.

The current (2015-2020) Dietary Guidelines for Americans agrees, as it does not encourage a low-fat diet any longer.  It even encourages a lower intake of carbohydrates.

Optimizing Your Diet

Ultimately, the only person who has any real influence on how you divide your nutrient intake/calorie limit is you.

A lot goes into planning, preparing, and following a diet. Trying to balance what you like to eat with what you should be eating to maintain a healthy weight and body composition can be tricky. Don’t punish yourself with a extremely low-carbohydrate diet because it will probably be unsustainable. But if you want to make improvements, a good guide would be a diet that is low-sugar and low in saturated fats and high in healthy fats (like Omega-3s) and protein.

When you have a good idea of what your individual caloric needs are, which you can learn by using a combination of your Basal Metabolic Rate and your activity level, this will become a lot easier.

Understanding how fat and the other macronutrients make up these calories will only further ease the problems with designing a nutrient dense balanced diet. Remember, fat isn’t bad on its own.  Focus on building a diet that you actually want to eat, keep it within a reasonable number of calories, add in more physical activity, and you’ll be closer to your weight loss goals than if you simply just reach for packaging that promises “low fat” or “reduced fat” foods.

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/90571521-fat-doesnt-make-you-fat/

Your Body and You: A Guide to Phase Angle

By Body Composition

When it comes to body composition testing and analysis, most people instantly think of body fat percentages and muscle mass . Yet today’s medical BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis) devices do so much more than just measure body fat and muscle mass.

Body fat percentages are only one part of a complete body composition analysis. For body composition devices using Direct Segmental Multi Frequency-BIA technology (DSM-BIA), you can also measure and track other valuable indicators of your health like your visceral fat, body water distribution, segmental readings, and phase angle values.

Although your body fat percentage can be a strong indicator of your overall health and current state of your body composition, the aforementioned outputs are equally useful metrics that can help predict or detect health issues.

In this article, let’s go beyond the usual discussions on body fat and muscle mass when it comes to body composition. Read on for a in-depth explanation  about your Phase Angle (PhA) – one of the most valuable, and misunderstood, health indicators provided by medical grade BIA devices.

What’s Phase Angle Anyway?

In his book The Water Secret: The Cellular Breakthrough to Look and Feel 10 Years Younger, celebrity dermatologist and skin care expert Dr. Howard Murad writes:

PhAs have given us a remarkable window into how the body responds to changes in health — for better or worse. This explains why people with illnesses such as HIV or cancer, or those who are nutritionally deficient, routinely exhibit low PhAs. As expected, PhAs also decrease with age as your body loses its capacity to repair and return over new cells as quickly as it did in its youth. The true age of a human being can be determined by the changes in the Phase Angle. 

Furthermore, he elaborated:

The Phase Angle goes up when you’re healthy and down when you’re ill. It also goes down as you age. When you increase your Phase Angle, you slow down aging.

Slow down aging, did that catch your attention? But before we get to that, we need to learn the basics of PHa by reviewing the established facts and research.

Demystifying Phase Angle

Your PhA is a direct measurement of your cell integrity and the distribution of water within and outside the cell membrane. In his book Supercharge Your Cell Vitality, author Dr. Greg Barsten refers to PhA as merely a fancy name for cell membrane health.

Cell membranes hold in the important parts of the cell and also regulate what comes in and out. Think of this regulation like a fortress drawbridge.

In healthy humans, the cell membrane consists of a layer of non-conductive (insulator) lipid material sandwiched between two layers of conductive fluids (body water). When there are two conducting materials surrounding an insulator, we often refer to this insulator as a capacitor. That said, your cell membrane is like a fortress with capacitor-like capabilities that not only try to prevent currents from entering the cells but also other unwanted materials like toxins and waste. What this means is that healthy cells (or stronger capacitors) are better at preventing these unwanted substances from entering cells.

How is Phase Angle Measured?

In BIA, PhA is the relationship between resistance and reactance.

To understand these variables, you have to understand what lean body mass and body cell mass means.

Your Lean Body Mass (LBM) is the total weight of your organs, skin,  bones, body water, and muscles. It describes the entire weight of your body minus your body fat.  This is why it’s also often referred to as fat-free mass.

On Resistance, Reactance, and Impedance

Resistance happens when a conductor transfers the energy of (or moves) an electrical current. The greater the conductor, the lower the resistance. In the human body, low resistance is associated with large amounts of LBM. High resistance is associated with smaller or low amounts of LBM.

Body fluids consisting of water and charged ions readily conducts electrical currents. Both extracellular water or ECW (water and ionized sodium Na+) and intracellular water or ICW (water and ionized potassium K+)  provide a conductive pathway. When a person has a lot of lean body mass, they have a lot of body water, meaning greater conductivity of the current and less overall resistance.

It’s also worth noting that resistance in the body is proportional to one’s LBM because water is contained solely within your LBM. The unit of measurement for resistance is ohms.

Reactance, on the other hand, gauges your cells’ ability to store energy. Your body has high reactance if your cells can store energy easily and it has low reactance if it stores energy poorly. Cells that are “healthy” or those with intact cellular membranes hold the electrical energy charge “longer.”

For this reason, your body reactance is proportional to both the amount and strength of the cells in your body. Like resistance, the unit of measurement for reactance is ohms.

Impedance is the sum of resistance and reactance, but when evaluated trigonometrically, the relationship between resistance and reactance creates a ratio. This ratio is your PhA and is expressed in degrees.

You can measure your PhA and cell health using a Bioelectrical impedance device that sends electrical currents is used to assess cell membrane health. Impedance is measured by introducing a small alternating current into the body and measuring the effects on the current caused by the body. In humans, 50 KHz is considered ideal to maximize reactance and determine the point where cells are strongest at resisting the current (thus creating the highest PhA).

As the current travels in your body,  your body water will naturally resist the flow of the energy current as it travels and this is referred to as resistance.  To keep it simple, when the current encounters a cell, the cell wall will cause a “delay” as the voltage builds up enough energy to pass through the cell wall while the current continues instantaneously.  The brief time delay caused by the cells is compared to the amount of water, providing us with a PhA, in degrees. Impedance is a combination of these two values.

Why You Should Care About Your Phase Angle

What does PhA have to do with your overall health?

By tracking your PhA, you’ll be able to gain a more precise picture of your health because it examines cell integrity health and the amount of water inside them.

Based on established research findings, higher PhA values suggest greater cellular integrity and reflects better overall cell health.  A low PhA, on the other hand, is highly predictive of decreased muscle strength, impaired quality of life, and increased mortality in old adults with cancer. Low phase angles tend to be consistent in individuals with malnutrition,  HIV/AIDS infection, cancer (discussed in detail below), chronic alcoholism, and old age.

Thus, keeping your pHa high through healthy lifestyle habits is encouraged.

How do you know if you’re PhA is within normal values or not?

This is where things get interesting.

While it has been shown that certain factors can influence one’s PhA (age, gender, and BMI), it has been shown that there are considerable differences between phase angle reference values across different populations. These differences are not only explained by age or BMI and may be due to differences between impedance analyzers.

In short, PhA values tend to differ based on the BIA device you’re using. In clinical practice, multi-frequency- and segmental-BIA may have advantages over single-frequency BIA in these conditions, but further studies and validation are still required.

Below is an example of PhA reading using InBody’s 770 model.

Phase Angle Reading Example:

Finally, it’s important to note that phase angle is dependent on every person’s individual makeup. To gauge progress, comparing your current phase angle readings to your previous readings is more important than comparing your PhA values with someone else’s.

Your Body Composition and Phase Angle: What’s the Connection?

Can improving your body composition help increase your phase angle values? It sure does.

A 2016 study revealed that age plus a combination of FFM (fat-free mass) and height were the most important variables that influence PhA variability among healthy subjects. The same research concluded that the ECW:ICW ratio may justify the variations shown in PhA when it comes to several clinical situations and severe obesity. When someone has inflammation or edema (causing a higher ECW/TBW), the health of their cells (and their phase angle) will be negatively affected.

Based on the study’s results, you are likely to increase your chances of improving your cellular health and PhA values if you take steps towards improving your body composition, whether it’s through nutrition, exercise, or a combination of both.

Other lifestyle factors that are most likely to impact phase angle variability include but are not limited to:

  • Toxicity exposure
  • Consumption of highly processed meals
  • Lack of quality sleep
  • Stress (physical, mental, and emotional)
  • Lack of consistent physical activity
  • Excess intake of coffee, alcohol, and refined sugar

The same research concluded that the ECW:ICW ratio may justify the variations shown in PhA when it comes to several clinical situations and severe obesity.

In a healthy body, an ICW:ECW ratio of 3:2 is considered ideal. However, certain health conditions like renal disease, chronic inflammation, and even increased body fat mass in obesity (due to disruption of one of your body’s hormone systems (the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system) can potentially cause your ECW to go up.

For instance, patients with symptoms associated with heart failure have a limited ability for the heart to circulate blood, causing edema. Edema is irregular swelling caused by accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body. When this happens, PhA values will likely go down because the pressure from excess ECW causes cells normal functions to become compromised. In fact, phase angle seems to be an independent prognostic marker in patients with ADHF (acute decompensated heart failure) because of fluid retention. For the cells to function properly, it’s important to maintain or restore ideal (or near ideal) ECW (or extracellular) balance.

The link between your phase angle values and body composition can be summarized through the following:

Increased phase angle may be a result of:

  • Gains in muscle mass
  • Loss of inflammation and reduction of body fat

Decreased phase angle may be a result of:

  • Loss of muscle tissue
  • Increased inflammation

But wait, there’s one caveat: an increase in PhA is not always a good thing, nor should a decrease in your PhA values always be frowned upon.

Phase Angle: Implications for Clinical Practice

In regards to PhA’s use in clinical settings, research literature and data reveal the following:

A 2012 study found a significant association between low PhA and increased nutritional risk, increased hospital length of stay and non-survival. The researchers concluded that gauging PhA values can help quickly identify patients who are at nutritional risk at hospital admission. This will help save time on the hospital staff’s end (and possibly save the patient’s life)  because they can forego in-depth nutritional assessments by doing a quick BIA test instead.

Another set of studies came up with identical conclusions. This time around, the implications of PhA to a patient’s nutritional status are more specific. It turns out that bioimpedance-derived PhA can be a potential nutritional indicator for patients with advanced colorectal cancer and breast cancer.

Finally, a research paper presented at the 2011 AAAI (Association for the  Advancement of Artificial Intelligence) 2011 Spring Symposium suggested that phase angle is an independent indicator of prognosis in cancer (of most types) because it illustrates cell membrane integrity and function that may not be possible with other approaches that gauge prognosis. In fact, the paper suggested phase angle-based biometric scoring systems for determining prognosis among cancer patients. This is good news because BIA is quick and noninvasive in comparison to tools and tests used in cancer prognosis.

The Takeaway

Your PhA values can clue you in with what’s going on in your body. It can help identify health risks and address existing health issues and help track progress of lifestyle changes (diet and exercise). For most people, it has helped them make data-driven health and wellness decisions.  Medical practices also use it to personalize a patient’s health care plan.

However, keep in mind that your PhA values are only part of the equation when it comes to assessing the current state of your health.

The rest of the body composition outputs (body fat, muscle mass, body water ratio)  are equally valuable so finding a BIA device that can provide more detailed outputs is crucial. For instance, changes in your body fat percentages can be tricky to explain if the only outputs you have are merely body fat mass and fat-free mass values. For more accurate results, make sure you choose your BIA device wisely.

 

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Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.

How Menopause Changes Your Body and What You Can Do About It

By Body Composition

Menopause, which literally means the “pause” (end) of your “menses” (period), comes with many natural changes. Some women are lucky enough to skate through this time with no discomfort, while many experience the classic symptoms: fatigue, insomnia, and hot flashes. Reproductive and mood changes. And of course, the metabolic changes that result in weight gain around the torso and buttocks.

This increase in waist size has even earned a special name: “menopot”.

What exactly is going on during menopause, how does it affect your body composition, and what can you do about it? Read on as we answer these questions and more.

The physiological and metabolic changes of menopause

What exactly is happening during menopause? A lot! The transition to menopause, known as perimenopause, takes place over a period of several years. As the ovaries gradually reduce estrogen production, there are many hormonal fluctuations as the body adjusts to the inevitable shut-down of the ovaries.

A woman is officially in menopause when she has not gotten her period for 12-months straight. At this point, the ovaries have significantly reduced production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, ending a woman’s child-bearing years.

There are significant physiological and metabolic changes occurring at this time that directly affect your body composition.  So, if you feel like the struggle to lose weight or change your body is more difficult than it was 10 or 15 years ago, it’s not your imagination.

Aging

Aging, in and of itself, has been associated with changes in body composition and weight.  In general, as women age, lean muscle mass decreases while fat mass accumulates.  Part of this change is due to the natural change of your metabolism as you age. Another significant factor is lifestyle.

Women tend to become less physically active as they pass from their 40’s into their 50’s.  A decrease in physical activity means less calories burned, which inevitably leads to increased weight and fat mass and muscle mass loss.  Another culprit is not adjusting caloric intake to compensate for the reduced metabolism.

Estrogen

Estrogens often referred to as the “female hormones,” are responsible for your sexual and reproductive development.  Produced primarily by the ovaries in women, estrogen levels plunge when your ovaries stops releasing eggs.

Reduction in estrogen has a few negative effects on the body’s propensity to store fat.  Animal studies have shown that lower estrogen not only increases appetite and food intake, it is also associated with changes in weight and fat distribution.  Coupled with estrogen’s negative effects on your metabolism, which may reduce the rate at which your body burns calories and the efficiency in how your body handles starches and blood sugar, the end result is increased fat storage.

Cortisol

Commonly known as the “stress hormone”, the primary function of cortisol is to help you respond to stress.  When cortisol prepares the body for a stressful situation, it often signals the breakdown of muscle tissue to release energy.

Chronic stress, which results in a continuous release of cortisol, has been associated with fat accumulation in the midsection of women.  This leads to a vicious cycle as abdominal fat leads to more cortisol production and cortisol continues to promote fat in the abdomen.

To compound the issue, a study found that women in perimenopause and early postmenopause experience elevated nighttime cortisol levels.  The study concluded that nighttime production of cortisol is associated with biological changes rather than actual environmental stress.   This means that proper sleep and stress management may be important tools to prevent fat storage around the belly.

Fat Distribution

This leads to one of the most common complaints women have about their bodies after menopause is the loss of their waistline.

While a decline in reproductive hormones (follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, estrogen, and progesterone) has not yet been directly linked to weight gain, several studies shows that menopause does play a role in many midlife women’s transformation from a pear-shaped figure (wide hips and thighs with more weight below the waist) to an apple shaped figure (wide waist/belly with more weight above the hips).

The International Journal of Obesity published a study that investigated how menopause affects body composition and abdominal fat distribution.  The study concluded that this period of life is associated with increased total fat mass. Another key finding confirmed, “the menopause transition appears to promote the selective accumulation of fat in the intra-abdominal compartment.”

Leptin

Leptin is known as the “satiety” hormone.  Produced by your fat cells, the hormone leptin determines the amount you eat, calories you expend and even how much fat your body stores. Leptin levels are based on an individuals’ fat mass and its primary purpose is to protect you from starvation.

Low levels of leptin signal your brain to increase feelings of hunger which trigger you to eat more while your body burns less energy.

Overall, women have higher leptin levels than men, which makes sense due to women naturally carrying a higher percentage of fat than men.

It has been found that leptin levels decline significantly in post-menopausal women, regardless of the amount of fat mass. This explains why so many women report an increased appetite during menopause.

Combined with the other menopausal factors of aging, decreased estrogen, increased cortisol, and metabolic changes, the hormone leptin only adds to the struggle for women trying to control their weight gain and fat accumulation.

Is it a losing battle?

Absolutely not!  While the odds seem to be stacked against you, you can take action to positively change your body composition after menopause. Remember to always consult with your physician before beginning a new exercise or eating plan. Here are some lifestyle changes you can take:

Move more!

All levels of exercise intensity — light, moderate, and intense — are highly beneficial to post-menopausal women for impacting body composition.

One study concluded that intense physical activity resulted in significantly lower levels of total body fat in postmenopausal women.

Here’s one area in which postmenopausal women have an advantage (finally!):  light physical activity has a greater impact on body composition in women after menopause than before.  It is important to note this study also found that sedentary lifestyle is more strongly associated with an increase in waist circumference after menopause than before.

The bottom line? You don’t have to start intense daily endurance and strength training to see improvements. Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference.  You can benefit from a variety of physical activities from gardening to walking.

Don’t forget strength training

The same principles apply postmenopause as they do at any age. You can’t forget your about fitness level just because you are aging. Strength training increases muscle mass and quality and helps balance your hormones like your estrogen levels.  More muscle mass increases metabolism, which may contribute to diminished weight gain and decreased fat mass.

Now more than ever is the time to counteract that loss of muscle mass to prevent a slowdown of that metabolic rate. You should aim for strength training exercises at least two times per week to get the maximum benefit for your muscles. Consult with a fitness professional to help you get started.

Watch what you eat

To reach your target body composition may require permanent lifestyle changes rather than a stop-gap dieting approach. Keep in mind you may need about 200 calories less per day to maintain your weight in your 50’s than you did in your 30’s due to a decline/decrease in muscle mass.  It is important not to take in too few calories as this will lead to muscle loss, which will slow your metabolism.

Instead of taking a restrictive dieting approach, aim to pay attention to what you eat and drink. Choose nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins and fats. And make sure you get the extra nutrients you need, like extra protein, to help you build muscle. Avoid processed foods and limit sweets and alcohol.

Get enough sleep

Menopause is notoriously a time of challenged sleep, and lack of quality sleep directly affects hormones that alter your body composition, increasing cortisol levels the next day and may accelerate the development of metabolic consequences.  Practicing good sleep hygiene may help you get the 7-9 hours of nightly sleep you need. Sleep hygiene refers to habits that promote quality sleep, such as:

  • Regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime
  • Avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, close to bedtime
  • Adequate exposure to natural light during the day to maintain sleep-wake cycle
  • Avoiding long naps (more than 30 minutes) during the day
  • Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine with limited TV time
  • Creating a comfortable sleep environment

Manage stress

Remember that stress hormone called cortisol?  Effectively managing stress will reduce your body’s production of cortisol, which will help you avoid negative changes to your body composition, like fat gain and muscle loss.  You can’t eliminate stress, but you can do things to help you handle it better. Exercise, meditation, yoga, tai chi, spending time with friends, or just doing things you enjoy are all effective strategies to decrease your cortisol levels.

Conclusion

While some women dread the arrival of menopause, many embrace the freedom from years of menstrual cramps and bloating.  It is true you will likely experience changes during this midlife event — some not so welcome — but you can take control of your body composition with simple lifestyle changes.

Understanding the factors contributing to changes in your body composition — aging, estrogen, cortisol, fat redistribution, and leptin — is the first step to fighting the battle. At the same time, you will be warding off health conditions associated with an unhealthy body composition, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Regular physical activity, strength training, proper diet, adequate sleep, and stress management are all proactive things you can do to help during this natural aging process and help you enjoy your golden years.

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Jennifer
 Boidy, RN is a freelance healthcare content writer who is always on the lookout for innovative technologies that improve health and the delivery of healthcare.  Jennifer resides in Manchester, MD with her husband, two teenagers, dog, cat, and plenty of wildlife.

Why You Need to Know Your Body Fat Percentage

By Blog, Body Composition, Health
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on October 1, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on April 20, 2016
by InBody USA

 

Do you know what your body fat percentage is, right now?

What range is considered ideal for your gender?

Or why you should even care?

Your body fat percentage is a value that tells you how much of your body weight is made up of fat.  In terms of your overall health, your body fat percentage can be one of the most useful numbers available to you, more than how much you weigh and even more than your Body Mass Index (BMI).

You might argue that you can just rely on visual appearance, everyone knows what an overweight or obese person looks like. When you get to that point, you know you need to start making a change in your lifestyle. Unfortunately, once you get to the overweight/obese stage your risk for developing health complications will have increased and weight loss becomes difficult.

If you are interested in developing or maintaining a healthy and productive lifestyle, measuring and understanding your body fat percentage is incredibly important.  

Here are three reasons why understanding your body fat percentage can positively impact your life.

#1 Get The Context Of Your Weight

Knowing how much you weigh tells you very little because two people can have the same weight but have completely different body compositions and health risks. Your body fat percentage (PBF) puts your weight into context, telling you far more about yourself than how heavy you are.

Here are the body compositions of three types of people, all around the same weight (~154 pounds) and height (5’10”). To make each of these easier to talk about later, we’ll give them each a fictitious name.

Bill has a body weight of 154.0 pounds and a PBF of 28.3%. Notice the large differences between the bar for Body Fat Mass (BFM) and SMM (Skeletal Muscle Mass). Because of this very large difference, Bill likely falls into the category of what is popularly calledskinny fat.”

Ted has a nearly identical weight to Bill – less than half a pound in difference – but has a PBF of 15.6%, almost 13% less than Bill! This is because, unlike Bill, Ted has average amounts of muscle and fat for a 5’10” person.

Within about a pound of both Bill and Ted is Brian, with a body weight of 154.8 and a PBF of 10.1%.  The bars for his SMM and Body Fat Mass are the complete inverse of Bill, who had a skinny fat composition.

Now it’s true that even without these charts, it would be quite obvious to tell skinny fat Bill from athletic Brian just by looking at them.

However, the more extreme examples of Bill and Brian are helpful to illustrate how three individuals with roughly the same scale weight and BMI can have wildly different body compositions— something that scale cannot reveal.

Of the three individuals, Bill stands to be the most at risk for health problems because of his high PBF and low muscle mass, but especially so because his weight and BMI are considered normal. Bill may not be aware that he has increased risk for developing health complication, because visually he looks fine.

Without the context body fat percentage provides, it’s very difficult to understand what your weight means when you stand on a scale and whether or not you should consider making changes to improve your body composition.

#2 Decide How To Start Improving

man stretching

Understanding your body fat percentage helps you decide which of the two goals that reflect healthy body composition changes – increasing Lean Body Mass and decreasing Fat Mass – you should be working on.

It’s difficult to point to any single “ideal” percentage because what may be ideal for a bodybuilder may be different than what’s ideal for a soccer player. For this reason, ranges are used to give people an idea of where they stand in terms of health.

  • For men: 10-20% is considered normal/healthy
  • For women: 18-28% is considered normal/healthy

These ranges may vary depending on who your source is. The American College of Sports Medicine has ranges that may differ from the Mayo Clinic (more on that later in the next section)

Knowing where your body fat percentage falls in these ranges can be very helpful for you to decide how to improve your overall composition.

For example (and this may come as a surprise): many overweight/obese people actually already have a significant amount of muscle development compared to an average person of the same height.

Now, while strength training can be healthy and useful for everyone, a program based on bulking up and developing huge muscles may not be the best method for improving the body composition of someone who is overweight. That’s because the diet that encourages muscle mass growth typically requires being in a caloric surplus (eating more than your body needs to maintain its weight).

This person would benefit from a more conventional weight loss strategy. While it is true that fat loss can occur while strength training and gaining muscle, for someone of this body type, results will likely be achieved faster by a combination of restricting calories, increasing energy use, and weight lifting to maintain – not grow – muscle.

For someone like Bill, who is not overweight but still “overfat,” the opposite advice may apply.

Based on the relative lack of muscle compared to other people of the same height, Bill can likely get the quickest and most positive body composition changes by focusing on strength training to build muscle, not losing fat.

The reason this approach is better for this person and not someone who is overweight or obese is due to the lack of developed muscle.  While an overweight person already has a lot of muscle due to the need to support a larger frame, a smaller person will need to actively work to develop this muscle while maintaining or reducing the amount of fat mass they carry.

#3: Reduce The Risk of Heart Disease

healthy heart pulse

Understanding your body fat percentage has uses outside of fitness, too. Keeping your body fat percentage at a healthy level can help reduce your likelihood of getting serious health risks, specifically, heart disease.

Heart disease is most often caused by a buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries. This occurs when small pieces of cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) damage your arteries, causing them to harden, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body.

What does body fat have to do with your heart? Quite a lot, actually.

According to new research published by the Mayo Clinic, having a healthy body fat percentage has a significant effect on your cholesterol levels – increasing the good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) which helps to remove the damaging LDL and lower overall total cholesterol. This means less artery-clogging cholesterol in your bloodstream, which means less stress on your heart.

To be clear: this research isn’t linking this to overall weight or even total fat mass. These positive effects are linked with the amount of body fat you have compared to your current weight. The body fat percentage ranges needed to have this positive effect have an upper limit of 20% for men and 30% for women.

While the research doesn’t suggest that this is any type of complete preventative for heart disease – many lifestyle factors, as well as genetics, play into whether you will develop it or not – it does suggest that you have some degree of control over reducing your risk factor by maintaining a healthy body fat percentage and consuming a diet that promotes healthy cholesterol levels.

Know Your Percentage to Take Control of Your Health

Perhaps one of the best things about your body fat percentage is that it compares you to yourself.

If you just track weight, this invariably leads to comparing yourself to someone else. Even though there could be significant differences in height, muscle mass, genetics, or other factors, all people hear when they talk about or think about their weight is the number.

That’s what’s so great about your body fat percentage. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh; the only thing that matters is what that weight is made up of. You could be overweight (and even have a BMI that tells you that) but if you’re a woman with a healthy body fat percentage of 25%, why care?

To take control of your health and fitness and gain the positive benefits of living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the first step is to get your body composition measured.  Find a facility near you that offers body composition testing, get your body fat percentage, and start tracking it to start living better!