Limiting or reducing the amount of fat you carry is one key to good health. If you have too much fat, it’s important to understand how lose fat safely and at a rate your body can handle.
Keep in mind, losing weight and losing fat are not the same thing. (If you went only by the Body Mass Index (BMI), a bodybuilder is obese, thanks to all that extra muscle mass!)
The Goal: to Lose Fat
There is a short answer to the question above: you can safely lose one to two pounds a week. However, the short answer neglects to take into account the nuances of the process. If you try to lose fat too quickly, without eating correctly, your body will feed on muscle and other tissues instead. Since muscle actually burns energy, you may be more susceptible to weight gain later. To lose fat safely, without sacrificing muscle, you need to understand this process.
What is Fat?
Fat is essentially an organ unto itself, one that is spread throughout the body. As you grow up and reach adolescence, your body grows fat cells. The number of cells you produce depends on a combination of genetics and environment. If you grew up living a sedentary lifestyle, you will have many more fat cells than if you had lived an active childhood. Once your fat cells have grown, hormonal changes in adolescence stop the process, and you have produced roughly the number of fat cells you will have for the rest of your life.
How many fat cells? That can range from 20 billion to an astonishing 400 billion!
Regardless of the number of fat cells you have, they all serve the same purpose: to store energy. Depending on hormonal conditions in your body, that energy can be easy to retrieve — or very difficult. So to lose fat, it isn’t simply a matter of making your muscles work through exercise. You need to create the conditions that allow them to pull energy from fat.
What Happens When Muscles Burn Energy?
When you exercise, your muscles don’t go to your fat cells for energy, not immediately. Instead, your muscle cells use their own energy, stored in a substance called glycogen. Glycogen can be broken down rapidly into glucose, a sugar, which muscle cells devour voraciously when needed. Glycogen is the reason an athlete’s muscles can respond with a huge amount of energy in a short amount of time. What this means is, a sprinter isn’t actually burning fat during a 100-meter run. That sprinter’s muscles are burning glycogen into sugar.
But what happens when your muscle cells run low on glycogen? This is where it turns to fat and begins converting it to energy. So, to lose fat, you need to tell your body that it is constantly needing to burn its reserves of glycogen. How do we do this? In a word: exercise.
But exercise alone isn’t enough. Depending on hormonal conditions, your fat cells may give up their stored energy freely – or your body may struggle to pull energy out of fat.
In part two we will look at losing fat, and how we can alter the hormones in our bodies through diet to access all that stored energy in fat.