Studies on Weight Loss
*Before we start, none of us are licensed nutritionists or healthcare professionals, we’re just presenting studies and research gathered by various scholarly journals to help you make better decisions.*
It’s all about calories in, calories out. Ignoring any pre-existing conditions, genetics, and the thermic effect of food or NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis), this is how life works. The first law of thermodynamics suggests that if you’re trying to gain weight for a sport or if you’re so underweight your body can’t function properly, you need to be in a caloric surplus. And if you want to have that summer beach bod, you need to be in a caloric deficit. Now this doesn’t mean you should start consuming junk food to gain weight. And don’t even think about starving yourself to lose it either. For either of these extremities, you’re inevitably going to create worse health problems for yourself, and it’s going to be even harder to bounce back. You still have to be smart and mindful about how you approach your fitness needs/goals.
The number you see when you step on a scale, aka your bodyweight, is basically a makeup of a variety of different variables. But to keep things simple, let’s just break down your BODYWEIGHT into body fat and muscle.
- Body fat is a direct relation based on whether you are above or below your maintenance calories. If you’re above your maintenance, your body fat % goes up therefore your body weight increases too. This happens because your body is like oh damn what am I supposed to do with all these excess calories, so it stores it on your body for later use hence body fat. With a continued surplus eating habit, your body is just going to keep storing it in these fat reserves. The same is true if you’re consuming below your maintenance calories, that body fat % decreases because your body starts tapping into these fat reserves to give it the energy it needs to perform workouts or other physically demanding activities. Or even more importantly to keep your body functioning; things such as allowing your limbs to move your heart to keep beating and your brain to keep going. There are many ways to effectively and safely be in a caloric surplus/deficit based on your certain goals. But we'll get into that later.
- The other main factor that contributes to your body weight is muscle. In terms of muscle, to build or maintain it you need some sort of stimulus. Whether it’s running, lifting or playing any sort of sport, you need to be acting against some sort of resistance. From there, the body really only needs 1-1.5 grams of protein per lean pound of body mass (notice we said LEAN muscle not just bodyweight in general). So let’s say your maintenance is 2,000 calories and you somehow plan on and find a way to eat just straight protein. EVEN IF YOU CONSUMED 10,000 CALORIES made up OF ALL PROTEIN (no fat or carbs), you’re still consuming an absurd amount of calories (every gram of protein has 4 calories)! In this exaggerated example, it doesn't matter that you’re consuming the 2,500 grams of protein within that 10,000 calories, your BODY will STILL store the extra 8000 calories leftover as body fat (again ignoring the thermic effect of food/NEAT). It doesn’t matter how you split it, because at the end of the day, a calorie is a calorie. That’s why it’s per LEAN body mass. So make sure you’re consuming just the right amount of protein, and then from there just split up the rest of your calories between fat and carbs. There's no real set percentage for each of them, just do what’s comfortable and what you like. The beauty is as you start to pack on more muscle, your maintenance calories will go up, meaning you get to look good, feel good, AND eat more awesome foods!
As we’ve mentioned before, don’t starve yourself. Unless you’re starving yourself due to religious purposes or any other reasoning besides losing weight, that’s fine. But don’t think for a second that this is the only way to go about losing weight. In fact this shouldn't even be considered as a viable option. The only thing that’ll happen is you’ll significantly decrease your WEIGHT so drastically, and way too quickly that you’re eventually going to binge eat and put on all those calories/fat again. Your weight will essentially fly up and down; you’ll feel guilty, miserable, low energy and with more health problems than before. Notice also that we said WEIGHT, because completely starving yourself negatively affects not just your bodyfat but also eats away at your muscles too (and eventually some organs). What’s worse, you run the risk of inheriting a detrimental eating disorder (anorexia) and it’ll be even harder to recover from. In terms of intermittent fasting which is just a fancy word for periodically starving yourself in increments, it’s also not beneficial either. Studies have shown short term intermittent fastings done on animals, end up overeating more and having lower energy than their control group. Did you ever notice what happened after you skipped breakfast, that you usually end up eating more later at lunch or dinner time? Same idea holds true. It’s because of this hormone in your stomach called GHRELIN aka the hungry hormone. It tells your brain when you’re hungry which is what will inevitably happen when you force yourself NOT TO EAT. Just as important, you’re simply not going to have the energy to get yourself through your busy day let alone your workouts. And to make matters worse you might end up consuming more calories at the very end of the day compared to if you hadn’t fasted to begin with. So now you're hungrier and consuming more food overall in the day; now you can’t get an efficient workout so you burn even fewer active calories. This is more obvious but you’re also just not going to get in any of your essential amino acids and micronutrients that you need to help your body function, help you fight off diseases, and keep your cells happy and moving. Perhaps intermittent fasting has another place though besides just losing body fat since it isn’t as sustainable as the research shows. But that’s a different discussion for another day.
If you’re trying to bulk, please don’t consume junk foods in order to get yourself to put on mass. Unless you’re training for a sport that requires you to have a higher body fat percentage (i.e. sumo wrestler or lineman) OR if you’re significantly underweight, having little to no body fat % (either after recovering off of an anorexic eating disorder or competing in a bodybuilding show), then by all means consume above maintenance calories at a steady rate with the right calories-not the wrong ones like junk food. If you go about it the wrong way, then yes you'll eventually gain weight. Notice we sayed weight. Why? Because the majority of what you’ll eventually put on is gonna be body fat. You’ve essentially fattened yourself up (as opposed to bulking up and gaining optimal lean muscle whilst maintaining a low body fat %). Other more obvious health problems arise too; you could get heart problems, irregular blood pressures and perhaps joint issues. There’s plenty of literature on why overeating is horrible-I didn’t think I’d have to write that out for ya. But also you’ll just end up feeling like shit. Obviously, genetics plays an extremely integral part in how we look and how our body metabolizes. Some people are more prone to putting on muscle and/or fat more easily than others. The people who have a hard time doing either of these two are what we call hard gainers (aka ectomorphs). We’ll get into more of this further down the rant. However, this general principle of calories in calories out still applies to these groups of individuals as well.
So then, let’s redefine the mantra. The key to feeling good and feeling like YOUR definition of “healthy” is ALL about the RIGHT calories IN, and the RIGHT AMOUNT of calories going OUT. Depending on your goals, start consuming more food up to where your maintenance calories are (if you’re trying to bulk), or begin cutting back below that number (if you’re trying to cut). Don’t be scared of carbs, fats or protein. Hit your daily fiber intake, and incorporate high volume-low calories foods; this will help keep ghrelin away which again tells you when you’re always hungry. So then, why these factors? Why are high protein, high-fiber, and high volume foods elite? Every 1 gram of Protein, when compared to a gram of carb or a gram of fat, will significantly keep you feeling more full and satiated. Think about it: you feel more full eating 500 grams of chicken as opposed to 500 grams of straight butter (honestly i’d be really impressed if you consumed 500 grams of butter.. grossed out but impressed). The same holds true for fiber as well! Fiber helps keep you feeling full, thus keeping your appetite at bay, and further prevent you from binge eating more junk foods. Fiber has also been shown to significantly decrease ghrelin which as mentioned before is the hormone in charge of making you hungry! Eating enough fiber can help prevent you from consuming more food than you think (the eye is bigger than the belly as the saying goes). Finally, high volume-low calorie foods such as veggies, fruits/seeds, oats, lean meats, and even plain popcorn (shoutout Greg Doucette) as well are all excellent ways to keep you feeling full as they’re both full of fiber but also they just take up more physical space in your stomach! Notice that most high volume-low calories foods almost always contain plenty of fiber and/or protein along with the essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals that you should be aiming for as well (they’re zero calories so yay!). So you’re basically hitting like 6 birds with one stone. It’s great! You can eat a wider variety of foods, without going over on calories! Then just start doing what you love whether it’s training for a sport, picking up a weight or going for a bike ride. Whatever it is, just train hard! Everyone loses/puts on fat and muscle differently. We’re all built different, as the saying goes.
For those of you on your fitness journey, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to accomplish, nutrition always comes first. Then hard work, patience, and consistency comes next. Stick to the 1-1.5 grams of protein per lean body mass as we’ve talked about before. Doesn’t matter if you’re cutting fat or putting on muscle.
- For those of you out there on your journey to fat loss it’s easier to control the amount of food you’re consuming (at an appropriate rate) than to train your butt off more. The 3 tools we touched on before are what you can do to help you along your way: the protein, fiber, and high volume foods will make it that much easier to keep your calories in a deficit. Coupled with whatever resistance training and at least 20 mins of cardio a day will allow you to reach your peak physique. What’s more important is once you lose the excess body fat, these tactics will still keep that excess weight off, preventing you from ever bouncing back. Utilizing these science based factors in mind, can keep you feeling full and energized, keep ghrelin at bay, and prevent you from ever binge-eating again!!
- If you’re trying to pack on muscle and you're already at a low body fat percentage you should apply the same ideas we’ve gone over already despite what you might think. Again nutrition is always a priority. Make sure you’re at least in bounds with the 1-1.5 gram of protein per lean body muscle mass as we’ve touched on many times before; as you gain more muscle you can eat more protein! Then from there gradually add more calories to your diet until you’re consuming at maintenance. If you didn’t heed our warning from before, and decide you’re going to bulk, then cut, you’re inevitably going to lose that little extra bit of muscle from said bulk (even if you’re juiced out bro). In short, you’re going to balance out at the very end, meaning you might as well main-gain to save yourself the trouble of getting overweight and then cutting. Besides adverse health problems, you don’t want to get used to sticking with a poor surplus eating habit. If you feel like you need more energy, then just consume more carbs and less fats to help fuel and energize your training. But again make sure you’re still within your maintenance so you can still feel good and look good. Oh and keep doing cardio. Maybe not as much as your endomorphs or your mesomorph buddies but enough to get the heart going. Remember the heart is also a muscle so give your heart some love too. Keep in mind everyone has a limit; everyone has a certain cap where they can’t build more muscle and put on more weight, but at that point it’s not going to matter because you’ll look like a greek god.
To be the best that you can be, set realistic goals for yourself, don’t compare yourself to others and TRAIN HARD. Don’t be discouraged or give up just because you’re limited by your genetics you can still achieve substantial and realistic fitness goals. Make sure you’re doing what you love. Whether you’re a swimmer, a baller, or a lifter you can achieve your genetic potential.