How to Lose Visceral Fat vs. Subcutaneous during Dieting & Cardio

Visceral fat and subcutaneous are very different anatomically and physiologically. Both have their pros and cons in wanting to get rid of first. I had to really dig deep to find the information on subcutaneous and visceral and how diet and cardio effects each.

Differences between visceral fat and subcutaneous

When people think of fat, they usually only think of subcutaneous. That’s the fat right below your skin that you can grab as flab. There is another type of fat called visceral fat, which makes up about 10 to 20 percent of your total fat. Its buried deep inside your body, especially around your abdomen area. Men tend to have more visceral fat than women, which is why they tend to carry more of a protruding gut.

Visceral fat is the most unhealthy and effects your entire body. It leads to insulin resistance, high cortisol levels, sleeping problems like sleep apnea and snoring, diabetes, and other chronic degenerative diseases. Generally fat people with a large gut and thick neck have a lot of visceral fat, but even sometimes skinny people can have a lot of visceral fat. Genetics plays a role if skinny people have a lot of visceral fat naturally. If they have a poor diet and other factors like lack of excercise and smoking and drinking that can increase the risk of visceral fat. The high levels of visceral fat even in skinny people was shown in recent studies that made major headlines in the news a few years ago. Just because you are skinny doesn’t always mean you are healthy.

Losing subcutaneous fat doesn’t really have much of an impact on your health according to the studies done on patients who went through liposuction, which just removes subcutaneous fat. Therefore, getting rid of visceral is to feel better and be healthier vs. subcutaneous is mainly for just looking physically better.

Factors that affect how visceral vs. subcutaneous fat is lost

After looking at all the evidence in studies of different factors affecting visceral fat is mainly sensitive to hormones; insulin, testosterone, and cortisol. Genetics also play a role, as some people just naturally lose and gain more visceral fat than others. Thats why some guys tend to get big beer guts when they get fat and others store it more evenly. Visceral fat is very easy to lose and gain compared to subcutaneous, which seems more stubborn. A higher percentage of your fat loss in the beginning of a diet will be visceral because it’s easier to lose. This is supported in studies and I have observed it myself.

Insulin sensitivity plays a crucial role in visceral fat loss. When you restrict calories, your insulin sensitivity goes up. This is probably why visceral fat comes off the easiest when first starting a diet. People who went on low carb diets tended to lose even more visceral fat and I believe this is because low carb diets increase insulin sensitivity moreso than high carb diets do. Lowering saturated fat intake and replacing it with mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, also helped lower visceral fat in studies. Saturated fats increases insulin resistance.

Subcutaneous fat seems more correlated with cardio. When people increased the amount of cardio and the intensity they lost more subcutaneous according to studies. The intensity is also important, HIIT cardio seems to really melt the subcutaneous compared to regular cardio.

Older people tend to have more visceral fat too. That’s why on body fat measurement scales, they have different adjustments based on age. They assume that as you get older more of your fat is visceral instead of subcutaneous. I believe as you get older you become more insulin resistance naturally, which may explain the change in visceral fat.

Women and men also have different levels of visceral fat. Hence why big beer guts are rarely seen on fat women. I believe this has to do with differences in estrogen and testosterone. Testosterone causes more of your fat to be gained as visceral fat. Subcutaneous is correlated with estrogen. There is even Aromatase enzyme in subcutaneous fat that convert testosterone to estrogen. The more subcutaneous fat you have the more estrogen you will produce. There may be an ancestral reason for this. Visceral is a source of quick energy and men generally had to use fat quickly while away looking for food and the women stayed home.

Alcohol and smoking may also increase visceral fat. Hence why they tend to have beer guts. Stress and depression have been shown in studies to cause visceral. This isn’t surprising since visceral has a lot of cortisol receptors and more visceral fat leads to more cortisol released. If someone is stressed or depressed they have chronic high levels of cortisol, which leads to visceral fat storage in an endless cycle. You might want to read one of my other articles where I discuss how to naturally lower cortisol levels

Lets just review a few studies I have come across.

Visceral fat & subcutaneous loss studies

The study below showed that visceral fat only responded to calorie deficits (either from diet or more excercise). Whereas subcutaneous was correlated to amount of cardio.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Dec;29(12):1549-53.

Twenty-six sedentary young women (27.9% body fat) were randomized into three groups: nonexercising control (C, N = 8); 1-2 sessions/wk plus a 240 kcal caloric restriction (1-2SW, N = 9); and 3-4 sessions/wk without caloric restriction (3-4SW, N = 9). There was a equivalent decrease in the percentage of body fat and total fat mass in both exercise groups compared with that in C. Reduction in SFM was significant in 3-4SW, but not in 1-2SW or C. A negative correlation was observed between training frequency and changes in SFM (r = -0.65). In contrast, VFM decreased significantly and equivalently in both 1-2SW and 3-4SW, but there was no correlation between training frequency and changes in VFM (r = 0.20). It is suggested that the decrease in SFM, but not VFM, is proportional to the amount of aerobic exercise training. A change in VFM appears to be related to an deficit in caloric balance either by dietary restriction (decrease caloric intake) or by increased caloric expenditure.

The study below compared HIIT cardio to regular cardio. Subcutaneous fat loss was 9 times larger in the HIIT cardio group.

Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8.

The impact of two different modes of training on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism was investigated in young adults who were subjected to either a 20-week endurance-training (ET) program (eight men and nine women) or a 15-week high-intensity intermittent-training (HIIT) program (five men and five women). When corrected for the energy cost of training, the decrease in the sum of six subcutaneous skinfolds induced by the HIIT program was ninefold greater than by the ET program.

The study showed that high carb diet increased visceral fat and insulin resistance, but switching to a low saturated fat with plenty of mono-unsaturated fats lowered visceral fat storage and increased insulin sensitivity. Even the saturated fat diet did a better job of keeping off visceral fat than the high carb diet.

Monounsaturated Fat–Rich Diet Prevents Central Body Fat Distribution and Decreases Postprandial Adiponectin Expression Induced by a Carbohydrate-Rich Diet in Insulin-Resistant Subjects

Published ahead of print at http://care.diabetesjournals.org on 6 April 2007. DOI: 10.2337/dc06-2220.

All subjects underwent three dietary periods of 28 days each in a crossover design: 1) diet enriched in saturated fat (SAT), 2) diet rich in monounsaturated fat (MUFA) (Mediterranean diet), and 3) diet rich in carbohydrates (CHOs).

RESULTS— Weight, body composition, and resting energy expenditure remained unchanged during the three sequential dietary periods. Using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry we observed that when patients were fed a CHO-enriched diet, their fat mass was redistributed toward the abdominal depot, whereas periphery fat accumulation decreased compared with isocaloric MUFA-rich and high-SAT diets (ANOVA P < 0.05). Changes in fat deposition were associated with decreased postprandial mRNA adiponectin levels in peripheral adipose tissue and lower insulin sensitivity index values from a frequently sampled insulin-assisted intravenous glucose tolerance test in patients fed a CHO-rich diet compared with a MUFA-rich diet (ANOVA P < 0.05). An isocaloric MUFA-rich diet prevents central fat redistribution and the postprandial decrease in peripheral adiponectin gene expression and insulin resistance induced by a CHO-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects.

Conclusion

Any diet or cardio plan will lose both types of fat simultaneously, no matter what. However, depending on diet and lifestyle changes you will change how much you will lose more of each type up to a certain extent. Depending on your goal of vanity vs. health, you may want to target visceral or subcutaneous more. If your stomach width is at least half the size around the belly button as your height in inches, than visceral fat is a major health concern. Anything less and visceral may or may not be a concern depending on your genetics and lifestyle choices effect on if you store a lot of visceral fat.

Do Low Carb or High Carb Diets Preserve Muscle Better?

I’ve always been skeptical of Low Carb Diets for the average bodybuilder, unless they are getting ready for a competition. Low carb diets are needed for competition condition so they come in very dry. It’s almost been accepted as fact in the bodybuilding community for years that low carb diet was the quickest way to lose muscle, especially if you are a hardgainer. Recent bodybuilding authors like Lyle Mcdonald, who is making low carb diets very popular and new studies released, may prove that high carbs are not the best after all.

Low carb diets vs. high carb diet metabolism

In high carb diets you generally eat around 40 percent of your calories from carbohydrates. There are different Low Carb Diets usually called keto diets for bodybuilders, but most like the TKD (Targeted Keto Diet) has you eat about 10 percent of your calories as carbs and you cycle carbs at certain times and days. Instead low carb diets eat a lot more protein and fat to make up for the loss in carbs.

During High carb diets your body continues to metabolize macronutrients as usual, using glucose from carbs mainly for energy. With very Low Carb Diets your glycogen levels would get very depleted extremely fast with the lack of carbs shuttling glucose into your muscles. Your body has to come up with an alternative energy source to preserve some of that glycogen in your muscle for your brain, which needs glucose from the bloodstream. It does this by entering ketosis, where fat sources are used to make ketone bodies. Your brain tends to prefer glucose so that is mainly reserved for brain, while ketone bodies are burned for energy for other activities. Glycogen in the muscles won’t be completely depleted either, especially when carb load up days are utilized like in the TKD diet. Therefore during your weight training days you can use glycogen from your muscles for short term energy.

Studies on Low carb and muscle preservation and fat loss

There seems to be studies supporting both sides of the argument when it comes to muscle preservation. Many studies show low carbs preserving muscle better during diet than high carb diets and many studies say the complete opposite too. Here is just 3 studies I want to go over.

The study below shows a simultaneous fat loss and significant muscle gain while dieting low carbs. There was also lower insulin levels in the low carb diet. No other hormonal changes between the two groups such as testosterone or cortisol.

Volek JS, Sharman MJ, Love DM, Avery NG, Gomez AL, Scheett TP, Kraemer WJ: Body composition and hormonal responses to a carbohydrate-restricted diet.

Twelve healthy normal-weight men switched from their habitual diet (48% carbohydrate) to a carbohydrate-restricted diet (8% carbohydrate) for 6 weeks and 8 men served as controls, consuming their normal diet. Subjects were encouraged to consume adequate dietary energy to maintain body mass during the intervention.

Fat mass was significantly (P less than r=.05) decreased (-3.4 kg) and lean body mass significantly increased (+1.1 kg) at week 6. There was a significant decrease in serum insulin (-34%), and an increase in total thyroxine (T(4)) (+11%) and the free T(4) index (+13%).

There were no significant changes in glucagon, total or free testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), cortisol, or triiodothyronine (T(3)) uptake, nor were there significant changes in body composition or hormones in the control group. Thus, we conclude that a carbohydrate-restricted diet resulted in a significant reduction in fat mass and a concomitant increase in lean body mass in normal-weight men, which may be partially mediated by the reduction in circulating insulin concentrations.

The study below shows that most of the loss in weight was due to fat and not muscle on a low carb diet.

Willi SM, Oexmann MJ, Wright NM, Collop NA, Key LL Jr: The effects of a high-protein, low-fat, ketogenic diet on adolescents with morbid obesity: body composition, blood chemistries, and sleep abnormalities.

Six adolescents, aged 12 to 15 years, weighing an average of 147.8 kg (range, 120.6-198.6 kg) and having an average body mass index of 50.9 kg/m (39.8-63.0 kg/m), consumed the K diet for 8 weeks. Daily intake consisted of 650 to 725 calories, which was substantively in the form of protein (80-100 g). The diet was very low in carbohydrates (25 g) and fat (25 g). This was followed by 12 weeks of the K diet plus two carbohydrates (30 g) per meal (K+2 diet)

Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry showed a decrease from 51.1% +/- 2.1% body fat to 44.2% +/- 2.9% during the K diet and then to 41.6% +/- 4.5% during the K+2 diet. Lean body mass was not significantly affected.

The study below measured protein breakdown at the site and found no difference between low carb and high carb.

Vazquez JA, Adibi SA: Protein sparing during treatment of obesity: ketogenic versus non-ketogenic very low calorie diet.

Metabolism 1992 , 41:401-14. OpenURL

The following study showed that the higher carb diet lost less total fat and lost more muscle (ie. a larger percentage of their weight gains lost were muscle instead of fat)

Young CM, Scanlan SS, Im HS, Lutwak L: Effect of body composition and other parameters in obese young men of carbohydrate level of reduction diet.

They compared three diets containing the same amounts of calories (1,800 kcal/day) and protein (115 g/day) but differing in carbohydrate content.

After nine weeks on the 30-g, 60-g and 104-g carbohydrate diets, weight loss was 16.2, 12.8 and 11.9 kg and fat accounted for 95, 84, and 75% of the weight loss, respectively

These are just some of the studies supporting low carb diets are better at preserving muscle. There are many others out there. There is also many studies out there that show high carbs preserved muscle better.

Final conclusion on low carb vs. high carb

One common denominator from most of the studies I have come across is that Low Carb Diets are a better fat burner. Regardless if one preserves muscle better than the other, if fat loss is your number one concern than low carb diet is the best way to go. That has been the general consensus among bodybuilders for years anyways. The muscle preservation part is more controversial theory I believe. If you’re a hardgainer or your muscle genetics aren’t that good then it matters a lot more whether or not low carb diets or high carb diets are better in regards to preserving muscle. From all the studies I’ve seen its really hard to tell which side is right if you don’t do some further digging. Even Lyle Mcdonald in his book on keto diets the biggest advocate of low carb diets for bodybuilders, suggests that the results vary and that some lose muscle on low carb and for some its the opposite. Not exactly the most assuring assessment from the number one advocate in the industry.

The other thing I’ve noticed is most of these studies weren’t done on people who weight train. I believe that when someone is working out hard with weights 3+ times a week, the lack of carbs could be a game changer. Carbs give you plenty of energy and strength by keeping your glycogen levels full. When they get depleted more in low carb diets, its much harder to maintain strength and endurance. As you lose strength and do less reps week after week as you get fatigued easier its much harder to hold onto your muscle since they aren’t getting the same stimulation so your muscles are going to shrink.

The other reason I’m skeptical that Low Carb Diets hold onto muscle better than high carb diets is insulin is the most potent anabolic hormone in the body. Most people don’t realize this, they usually think of Testosterone first. Insulin increases protein synthesis and stops muscle breakdown by up to 50 % (University College London 2006 (2006) Proc Physiol Soc 3, C46) and helps shuttle nutrients into the muscles. Its hard for me to believe that when your eating mainly protein and fat which have very little impact on insulin compared to carbs, you can hold onto your muscle to the same degree. Insulin also counteracts cortisol the main culprit for muscle breakdown.

Could both sides be right?

Lower insulin levels have been shown in these studies for those on Low Carb Diets. They also show no changes in cortisol or other hormones between the two groups that may have an effect. Insulin resistance does lead to poor nutrient partitioning (higher bodyfat percent). Your body doesn’t burn fat as effectively or build muscle as well when you don’t respond to insulin and become resistant. As said earlier insulin is a potent anabolic hormone and if your body becomes resistant to it your fat loss should be less and your more likely to burn muscle instead.

Perhaps the insulin sensitivity changes in low carb diets are enough to overcome the other obstacles of a low carb diet and actually lead to better fat loss and muscle gains. If someone is borderline diabetic or has a lot of insulin sensitivity due to be overweight or genetics, then perhaps the switch to low carb diets puts their body into a different shift primed for not only losing fat better, but even sometimes gaining muscle. Perhaps this is why results vary between individuals. If someone is presently insulin resistant than low carb diet may be a better option.

Other possible reasons to avoid low carb diets

Whether or not Low Carb Diets works better for fat loss or muscle preservation, some choose to not do them because the risks outweigh any slight gains. I think low carb diets are much harder to stick to long term. What good is a diet if you can’t stick to it? Its very hard to come up with a diet for months or years that relies on mainly food that isn’t carbs. Also it is very hard to get enough fiber in your diet with such a low carb diet. Low fiber leads to constipation and increased risk of cancer. I also worry about the long term health effects on the body of such low carbs. Low carb diets also make you lose massive amounts of water weight which can give you the false impression of more fat lost than you really lost. You will be dissapointed when you carb back up and gain a lot of that water weight back giving you a more bloated fat appearance.

Cutting Diet Guide

Here is a practical basic cutting guide that allows you to adjust it as you see progress (or lack of) in your fat loss phase. This will work for everyone, whether your a hardgainer or a endomorph body type.

Cutting Diet calories:

A cutting diet should start at 15 calories per lean muscle weight, unless you were previously bulking. Your lean muscle weight is calculated by first knowing your bodyfat %. If you are 12% bodyfat, subtract 100 from your bf% to get the percentage of lean muscle weight. For example, if you weigh 200 lbs at 12% bf, 100 minus 12 equals 88% lean weight. 88% of 200 lbs is 176 lbs. So this person should start at 2640 calories / dayfor cutting.

If you are currently bulking already and ready to start cutting, then ignore the 15 calculation and just lower your current total bulking calorie intake by 400 calories. If you were to lower your calorie intake to the 15 times bodyweight calculation, you would cause your body to go into starvation mode and you would lose a lot of muscle and little fat.

Monitoring progress:

Please note, that these are just starting calorie recommendations. Everyone’s metabolism and genetics are different. People with faster metabolisms may need a higher calorie starting point. You first need to start at some point though, so you can use it as a reference point for your results.

For best results, its important to measure bodyfat % weekly. That way you can see how muscle muscle mass vs. fat mass you are losing. If you are losing weight too quick, or just as much muscle as fat, your calorie intake is probably too low. If you are losing a lot of weight quickly, but it is showing as mostly fat loss, then that is perfect! What you want is most of the weight you are losing to be fat (at least 2/3).

Avoding Fat loss plateaus:

As you lose fat, you will have to slowly lower calories to continue to lose fat. You won’t keep losing fat on the same diet for weeks and weeks, just like the same workout routine and weightswon’t lead to continued muscle gains. Long term dieters, should cycle calories to help get through more stubborn plateaus. You do this by having large high carb calorie days once in a while.

These calorie spikes help maintain healthy leptin, thyroid, and testosterone levels, which help ultimately with fat loss. If you restrict calories everyday for weeks and don’t incorporate these calorie cycles, no matter what you do your fat loss will halt. All your hormones including the thyroid, which controls your metabolism, gets stunted during low calorie dieting. A large spike in calories is proven scientifically to cause a spike in all these important hormones.

Controlling Leptin Levels through Diet

You may not have heard of leptin, but you probably have felt the power of Leptin trying to keep you from losing fat during dieting. Leptin is a type of chemical hormone called a cytokine, that controls your hunger and metabolism. Leptin plays it’s biggest role during long term dieting. During a long diet, your leptin levels increase in order to slow your metabolism down and increase your cravings. This is a survival mechanism by the body, to try and keep you to hang onto as much fat as possible during times of starvation. Although, dieters are not usually “starving” when they diet, it’s the bodies way of trying to stay in balance. Leptin is mainly released through the fat cells, so people who start a diet fatter will have a harder time controlling their appetite and will hit a fat losing plateau easier.

How to diet properly to lower leptin levels:

To help ward off a potential fat loss plateau, you can manipulate lower leptin levels while dieting. To do this is simple, Leptin is dependant on your glucose levels. If you have a large meal, high in carbs, your Leptin levels will drop. Not only that, but you get an extra benefit, your Testosterone, IGF-1, Growth hormone, and thyroid levels will skyrocket. All of these hormones help in fat loss and maintain your muscle.

You may be wondering how you can get away with these kinds of meals, if your goal is to lose fat. The answer is through cycling or some kind of “cheat meal”. Every few days have one or 2 cheat meals. This will help temporarily ward off the long term trend to lower leptin levels.
Realize, this does not mean that you can diet indefinitely. While the high carb meals will give a temporary drop in Leptin levels, eventually you will plateau permanently. You can only push your body so much before it eventually stops losing fat. This is how all biological systems work as they are built to resist too much extreme change. These cheat meals are just a way to get more fat loss, before you reach the dreaded fat loss plateau.

Cardio Necessary for Effective Fat Loss?

There is a common belief in the mainstream, that for maximum (or even effective fat loss) you need to do some form of regular cardio to lose fat. This is simply wrong of course because many people have just dieted to lose fat, without any form of excercise. Of course this is a bodybuilding site, therefore dieting only is not ideal, since it doesn’t preserve muscle that well.

The next decision when going on a cutting phase, is whether or not cardio is even necessary? Weight training is actually more effective than low intensity cardio. Then there is HIIT cardio, which is much tougher to do, but is about as effective as weight training for fat loss. You would still have to do weight training for either form of cardio, to help preserve lean muscle preservation and strength.

So who should do cardio and when?

Most bodybuilders would agree that cardio is a pain. It is a nuisance and most would just rather stick to weight training only for their excercise. It is perfectly O.K no matter if you’re a newbie, or a veteran to start your cutting phase without any cardio. When you first start dieting, the act of restricting calories will be enough to start causing fat loss, even without cardio.

Eventually everyone will hit a fat loss plateau, which is when cardio will be a necessity. You can only restrict your calories so much, before you cause your metabolism to crawl to a halt. The cardio will allow a phenomenon called energy flux. Basically what that means is, you will lose fat more effectively if you eat more, but also burn more calories simulatenously. In other words, it is better for fat loss if you eat more calories and burn more, than to eat less calories and burn less simulatenously.

If you don’t want to do cardio while cutting, your fat loss will be slower. But bodybuilders often don’t want to hassle with the time and effort cardio takes and wouldn’t mind, even if the cutting phase took a little longer. You shouldn’t increase weight training to overcompensate for lack of cardio, that would cause more harm than good. You would wind up overtaxing the body putting you into overtraining state.

For further reading, You can read a previous article of mine:
Fat loss effect of weight training vs. cardio

Stubborn Fat Protocol

The Stubborn Fat Protocol is a cardio routine developed by Lyle McDonald, a respected author of multiple excercise and diet books. The routine is innovative, but it is based on scientific research.

You will break up your cardio into 2 seperate sessions. The first session will be high intensity interval cardio for 10 minutes. The purpose of this firt session is to manipulate the adrenaline/ noradrenaline levels to mobilize the fat out of your fat cells. You then take a 5 minute rest after the first session.

Next you do 45 minutes of low intensity cardio. Afterwards you wait one hour before having a protein only meal. Then 2 or 3 hours later you can go back to normal diet, with carbs and fat included in the meals.

The reason why Lyle McDonald says it has to be done this way is because the high intensity portion gets the fat out of the cells, but there is a reduced burning effect at the muscle. It is then that you do the low intensity to finally be able to burn the mobilized fat in the muscle. Mcdonald recommends this workout 3 times a week.

Who should do the stubborn fat protocol?

The routine will be highly catabolic (muscle wasting). Ideally it should be for those who are at a plateau and low bodyfat percent trying to get that last bit of fat off. Overweight people should just stick to traditional routines as they are easier to stick to, require less time, and work well anyways. Only when you start to plateau, will a more aggressive cardio plan make sense.

You can learn more about the author Lyle McDonald at his site bodyrecomposition.com

Comparing HIIT Cardio vs. Low Intensity Cardio for Fat Loss

The average person and many novice bodybuilders, don’t know that regular low intensity cardio is not the most effective form of cardio for fat loss. Low intensity cardio burns calories during the activity, but it doesn’t increase your metabolism rate afterwards.

HIIT (High intensity interval training) cardio on the other hand, has the ability to raise your metabolism and fat burning capability. This makes HIIT much more valuable then just a simple calorie deficit. You will burn calories from the excercise and for many hours post excercise and more of it will be fat compared to low intensity cardio.

HIIT Cardio Studies:

Post excercise metabolism changes is measured by researchers by EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption). When our metabolism increases, our cells in the body require more oxygen.

Two studies done by the same researchers, were published in Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Mar;25(3):332-9. The first study was done on two groups of 352 total men, those who did High intensity activities regularly and those who did not. The study showed that men who were more likely to be in high intensity activities not only had lower bodyfat and subcutaneous fat, but even when they ate more than the sedentary group. The 2nd study was more direct, measuring the effects after a high intensity excercise. They found that oxygen consumption and fat oxidation increased afterwards. They also found that the oxygen consumption effect was much greater in the high intensity group compared to low intensity. In other words, the high intensity group not only had increased metabolism and fat loss abilities for hours post excercise, but the metabolism increasing effect was much higher over the low intensity group. Interesting part is they found these effects to stop with the addition of propranolol, researchers concluded that beta adrenergic stimulation, may be the major role in the after effects from high intensity excercise.

Another study published in Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8 They compared a group (8 women 9 men) doing 20-week endurance-training compared to a group (5 men 5 women) doing HIIT. The decrease in subcutaneous skinfolds when adjusted for energy expedenture were 9 times greater than the endurance group! Researchers concluded that higher intensity, was not only superior for metabolism and fat burning effects, but also for skeletal muscle adaptions.

The study published in (J Appl Physiol (December 14, 2006). doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01098.2006) done on moderately active women for 2 weeks. Results showed increased capacity in fat burning in muscles and whole body, during HIIT cardio sessions.

Why doesn’t every bodybuilder do HIIT cardio then?

HIIT is very intense cardio and is only recommended for very fit people. Even physically fit people should find it very exhausting. Many bodybuilders would just rather walk on a treadmill or bicycle at a steady pace and watch the T.V than do HIIT. HIIT cardio sessions are about 1/3 as long as long as lower intensity cardio sessions. Another consideration is that for hardgainers (naturally fast metabolism), they may find HIIT cardio too catabolic(muscle wasting). HIIT cardio done with leg excercises such as the bike or running, should also be beneficial for helping to maintain leg muscle mass. Doing low intensity cardio instead of HIIT, may cause changes in your muscle fiber type composition, causing your leg muscles to shrink. Weight training during fat loss cycles however, might help ward off these muscle fiber type changes with low intensity cardio.

HIIT cardio should always be done after a meal, since your body will start eating into your muscle, when glucose levels drop during the excercise. Your body needs quick energy to perform HIIT and when glucose runs low, then it moves to protein as an alternative quick fuel source. Since low intensity cardio doesn’t have much of a metabolism burning effect, it is recommended to be done in the morning upon wakeup. This is because your glycogen stores will have been depleted and you will be ripe for a state of fat burning during the excercise. Doing low intensity cardio in the day will mostly result in burning carbs. You will create a calorie deficit either way, but it won’t be as effective as if you had done it in the morning. In the morning you will be taking advantage of fat burning instead of carb burning. Whether you burn fat or carbs it won’t make much of a difference in the long run, since fat loss is mainly about calories in vs. out, but every bit does help.

Fat Loss Effect of Weight Training vs. Cardio

There is a common belief among many, that cardio is better than weight training for fat loss. Is there any research to back this up or could even the opposite actually be true?

Low intensity cardio vs. weight training studies:

Unlike low intensity cardio, weight training has a significant boost on post-workout metabolism. A study published in Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Mar;86(5):411-7. Epub 2002 Jan 29. showed that weight training caused a significant increase in metabolism for 38 hours post-workout.

Another study Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 31, No. 9, pp. 1320-1329, 1999 was done comparing diet, diet and cardio, and diet plus cardio plus resistance. Guess who lost the most fat? The one who combined weight training with the other two factors. In fact, the cardio group only lost one more pound of fat than the diet only group.

The best study I have found was in published J Am Coll Nutr. 1999 Apr; 18(2):115-21, directly compares resistance only to cardio only. The cardio group did 4 hours of low intensity cardio a week. The resistance group did 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps a excercise for 10 excercises, 3 times a week. Both groups were on a 800 calorie deficit. Both lost fat, but the weight training group lost far more fat and unlike the cardio group, they maintained all their lean muscle.

As you can see from the studies, weight training is far superior to low intensity cardio, for burning fat and raising metabolism. The main importance we can see from these studies, is that weight training and diet, are the main factors behind fat loss, not low intensity cardio.

HIIT cardio vs. low intensity cardio:

The article has been discussing only low intensity cardio, but HIIT cardio on the other hand, is a much more effective at fat burning than low intensity cardio.  HIIT cardio can be just as effective as weight training for fat loss according to recent studies.

Best Rep Range for Fat Loss

Bodybuilders have long argued whether, heavy weight low reps or lower weight higher reps for your weight training routine, is better during a cutting cycle.

The arguments:

One group advocates heavy weights because they believe that it will help preserve lean muscle during low calorie dieting. The more muscle they believe, will also help keep the metabolism higher, which automatically slows during cutting.

The other side advocates that heavy weight is too much and can lead to overtraining, causing more harm than good. They also believe the high reps with quick repetitions, lead to metabolic and hormonal changes such as Growth Hormone production, that help aid in fat loss.

Who is right?

There is only one study I found comparing rep ranges of resistance training on calorie burning. It was published in 2001 Thornton, K., et al. A comparison of two different resistance-training intensities on exercise energy expenditure and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.. One group of females did 2 sets of 15 repetitions on 9 excercises. The 2nd group did 2 sets of 8 repetitions for 9 excercises. The study concluded the low repetition group had burned more calories post excercise than the high rep group.

Another study I find relevant is Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1990;61(1-2):37-41. They showed that endurance resistance training for a few weeks reversed all the hypertrophy gains from a few weeks worth of heavy strength training.

Trying to make your weight training workouts more “cardio like” with less weight and higher reps, is faulty logic to me anyways. On one hand you are trying to stimulate your muscles to preserve them, yet you are also not giving them what they need to be stimulated adequately. People who do high reps during fat loss, are trying to stimulate the most fat burning, while maintaining their muscle simulataneously. Sorry, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. One is going to have to be sacrificed for the sake of the other. The higher reps is going to cost you muscle, due to the lack of stimulus. If you believe that high reps light weight and short rest maintains muscle, then tell that to any 220 lb muscle bound bodybuilder and he will laugh in your face. If muscle is important to you, then lift heavy.

The argument in response of course to this argument will be, that you are then susceptible to overtraining from doing heavier weights while in a calorie deficit. This may be true if you keep your workout volume the same, but you should have a much lower volume workout routine anyways. The goal should be to only briefly stimulate the muscles with a heavy weight. Your goal is not to build them up or give them a “good workout”. You will not overtrain if your weight training is heavy, but very brief. You should also focus on the major compound excercises and eliminate isolation excercises.

One heavy exhausting set on a muscle part, should be adequate in helping to maintain muscle, during cutting. For some reason everyone seems to think you have to hit the muscle 3 sets just to stimulate it when cutting. With all the cardio and the low calories, that is a recipe for overtraining and more muscle loss than is necessary. Just do one or 2 sets and move on. Drop all isolations out too, they aren’t necessary to maintain muscle. Even the common 3 day split is overkill during cutting I believe. A 2 day split, one day upper and one lower body should be all that is necessary to get the muscles worked out enough.

Hormone Factor That Causes Rebound Weight Gain

Recent research has shown a chemical in the body called IL-6 interleukin-6 is a important hormone in regulating fat gain. IL-6 is a pro-inflammatory hormone. It promotes the same inflammatory cascade that is seen as a result of excercise. The inflammatory cascade results ultimately in increased cortisol production, which as we know increases muscle breakdown and fat gain.

British Journal of Nutrition (2006) published research done on 67 overweight people(45 women and 22 men). They were put on a weight loss program for 10 weeks. There was no statistically significant differences in weight loss between those with high or low IL-6 levels in the body. The interesting results came one year later on follow up testing. They found that those who had gained the weight back , had higher levels of IL-6 naturally than those who kept the weight off.

Researchers concluded that IL-6 may trigger regain of weight by inflammation at the fat cell. This means that bodybuilders should realize, that some people will have a harder time keeping the fat off. This is more of a concern for inconsistent amateur dieters than for experienced bodybuilders. Research also shows that a may help reduce IL-6 and control insulin levels, both beneficial for bodybuilders. You can read more about it in a previous article of mine Whole grain diet effects inflammation & insulin


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