Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Midlife Spare Tyre Road to Damascus

Now you have read the introduction you know you are in the target audience so to speak: You are the cyclist with the beer gut encapsulated in lycra like a defrosted turkey in plastic. You are the rugger-bugger who wears an XXXXL rugby shirt and has thighs as round as average women's waistlines.  You are the jogging soccer mum who has extra love handles where you really don't want them. You are the five-a-side veteran sitting eating chips over a beer every time you finish an hour or so on the pitch.

There are several big realistaions you are going to have to make on your road to Damascus:

1) I am too fat , I really am going to do something about it

2) I am eating too much

3) I am not exercising correctly to be thin

Do you want to lose weight?

Look at yourself in the mirror and look closely at photos of yourself when you were young, trained and slank. You are over weight and you may look a bit ridiculous in sports clothes. You can though get a much better body by slimming and training, it does not need to be perfect or as good as you were when you peaked in your twenties. For some semi sporty types, they may end up with a better level of health than they have ever had though on this regime!

Most of we the sporty-fatty would like to loose weight but basically we are eating and drinking in two ways which are keeping us fat. More on this later.

Now admit also that the beer gut or thunder thighs are at least 10kg , two and a quarter stone over weight. For an average formerly sporty woman that means you are around 75-85 kg, for a sporty man that means you are around 85-115 kg depending on your build. Your ideal weight by BMI is probably 20kg lighter, but muscle and bone mass is not well accounted for in the current system. You can refer to it and see if you are in the range if the graph has a range that is, some are just lines.

For me I was 18kg over weight and am now 14kg over weight: I have decided that. My goal is 100kg and to sustain a weight below 105 kg (unless I suddenly take up major body building for a 115 kg meat mountain!) That 14kg is almost forty pounds, like carrying a typical overnighting rucksack around. I enjoy mostly cycling and xc skiing with some swimming and other stuff, and that means I am lugging around extra weight and wind resistance which slows me down on the surfaces and in the water.

Here in lies a good thing about training : when you train from your  higher weight, having been sporty and with a base fitness, you burn more calories and build more muscles if you sustain that training, and the process becomes more self fulfilling (there can be a phase of peak weight loss where the rate of fat burning is highest because you have more muscle and a higher VO2 and therfore burn more off for a period)

Set yourself a goal then which is likely to be weight, but could as well be waist line : it could be you are a light, sporty, running woman and you want to really burn off about 5 kg of fat and maybe in fact the net muscle gain will just mean that you lose null weight but are thinner on the waist and thighs. Don't kid yourself, man of 125kg (20 stone) that muscle is heavier than fat: in this training regime you will gain only small amounts of muscle in the level of a few kilos over six months. Alternatively if you are moderately overwieght, 10 - 15 kilograms and a 40 minute three times a week gymn burster, then you want to actually check your resting heart rate which is probably infact over 60 for men, 70 for women. Your goal could be to reduce this by 30%.

Did I mention this was going to be slow?  Yes, we are talking about a regime which is six to nine months long followed by a life long regime and attitude to food. This would correspond to the period perhaps you had earlier in life when you trained up towards a goal such as a major athletic event, or when you first caught the bug for a sport and it was all consuming

Eating Errors!

 As I wrote above, most of we the sporty-fatty would like to loose weight but basically we are eating and drinking in two ways which are keeping us fat. More on this later. Firstly entertainment eating. I wouldn't call it comfort eating. We are eating for the pleasure of it. We are eating for the sociability. We are eating for the ethos of fine food and luxuries. Secondly we are over-compensating. We eat snacks or larger portions because we train, and after training or at the weekend we eat more treats than were actually 'earned' by our calorie burn.

The later version of Weight Watchers ( which is one of the best commercial systems for losing weight by 'starvation' dieting, or limiting your calories and is effective and sustainable for many) did include the fact above that you exercise at around 400-500 calories per hour, so an hours exercise can earn you a few glasses of wine on Friday. I think that is great for those who can also understand the discipline of total calorie intake PER DAY, but it can be counter productive for many.

For the sporty-fatty who was super trained as a twenty something, then we have from that time learned a tendency to on the one side eat extra to perform higher, while on the other when we were used to being able to have quite a few beers, cakes etc and burn them off. In general back then we  probably did more training hours than we bothered to count. Also we  had more active lifestyles in general at the side of sport and we walked or cycled around the place, and we just went out to meet people at nights by foot, we maybe had a more physical job. For cyclists and other endurance athletes we learned something worse in compensation eating- we learned to stuff ourselves in 'carbo-loading' and to eat while out on long runs before we were hungry.

Eating when you are not actually hungry and eating beyond your actual satiation of appetite are the two major causes of a calorific intake which is higher than burning. Couple this rightly to Dr. Atkins assertion we live with super-sugar, carbo loaded, quick available, calorie marketed times. Refined sugars and carbohydrates make up not only a major part of our diet, but a major part of our western problem of obesity. Coupled to the salt-fat-sugar mega reinforcement loop in our lower brains then we have a perfect storm to become obese in a sedentary lifestyle, or if we hold on to some sportiness, then we just are a bit on the silly looking side of chubby.

In the next entry I will look specifically at the realisation of just how much extra we eat, how to approach this realisation and what way to look at doing something about it without having to go on a counter productive starvation diet or give up some small rewards, or replace them with other, healthier options.

It's Training Jim, But Not As We (Should) Know It....

This is the third realisation you will have to make if you are training now and want to loose weight. Basically you are training too short and too intensely. Simple as that: as said in the introduction you are actually never reaching fat metabolism and worse you are topping up with carbos (read blood sugar) as snacks soon after or before exercise. We are in effect never even using up our half kilo of glycogen reserves and not going into fat metabolism.

Sports physiologists assert that there is a best 'fat burning' heart rate which is 65-75% max heart rate, for most of us 120 -130 bpm a little lower as you get older. This is true only when we do sustained longer training sessions. What happens is that the body senses glycogen depletion over time and starts the fat metabolism / catabolism process up. Allegedly this does not happen through more intense exercise over 75% max heart rate, but really I think this is probably a function of sustainability of that intensity,  and glycogen bottom out rather than there being a magic bpm number: you can sustain a 65% level for very long periods if you build up to it.

From my own experience and that of others, the key is to be able to break free of the 40 minutes to one Hour effective aerobic gymn or quick run work out, and get over the hour barrier as soon as possible and up to two hour sessions. For a fit fatty, this means decreasing the tempo.

In fact when I decided to try and burn more fat through exercise I managed an two and a half hour session on xc skis first time out. Previously my sessions had been maybe upto an hour, or an hour and a half but with sociable breaks. When you do these longer sessions one thing you will notice to begin with is that your recovery to absolute base heart rate is longer than it is from the short intense burst sub one hour sessions.

Duration training is often used by various athletes as part of a wider plan and often in the early phase of the pre-season or after injury. The intensity is far lower than they will endure in competition, in the 50-65% max bpm for fit young athletes, so about 90 to 130 bpm. For cyclists traditionally this has meant long, slow runs in early spring or winter. For boxers it has been long hours out running in the fells.

Although there are more recent training regimes which concentrate on building up an intensity and being 'over-intense' in terms of actually having peak durations longer than in competition, low intensity duration training is proven over a wider range of humans to be beneficial to cardio vascular condition: VO2 max, resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, better insulin response: all the factors which make for a good base fitness for competition and a good quality of life in the long term.

In our modern, rushed lifestyles from one seat to the next seat, we think we can only squeeze in those short after work sessions. Also  people in less unionised western countries now work longer, often with little productivity. Finally we all find excuses or distractions,TV is the old one, now like facebook, twitter,  blogging for that matter to just waste time . However I have seen plenty 50 something business men or women and hard worked school teachers, who have endless time with a long term sick line ! It seems we think we can invest lots of time in impressing bosses or grinding our way through admin we could have maybe delegated or failed to do, showing the department is under resourced. Time exercising moderately is like meditation and requires little concentration compared to working more than eight hours when most people's productivity in a dull or hectic job falls completely off. This is where Scandinavians score highly - they don't believe in long working hours, and the corporate culture is often that long hours are associated to eventual down time and worse, mistakes which lead to accidents.

I advocate a target of two hour sessions three times a week. This is less than amateur atheetes put in when they are in their twenties, but 6 hours is a lot more than say a weekend warrior footballer achieves. If you have been going along with the three times half an hour effective burst training in the gymn or jogging, then it will be a major life change. At that level you are actually not sporty: you are just ticking over, raising your fitness above the heart attack cases.

More on all these points of where you are going wrong in subsequent blogs.

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