Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cardio or Weights? What's The Best Tool For a Non-Obese Active Individual to Lose 20% of Belly Fat in 10 Weeks?

Slowly, painfully slowly the message transpires: Men and women are different, but the means by which they achieve the physique many of us desire are the virtually the same: Diet and exercise. Needless to say hat both lifting weight & doing "cardio" (LISS & HIIT) are obligatory for either sex. But is that true for fats and carbs, as well (learn more)?
If you are not one of those people who simply  ignore the fact that SuppVersity articles have "telling" titles, you will already have realized that the subject selection is one of the greatest strengths of the 10-week experiment Jorge Perez-Gomes and his Spanish colleagues have conducted recently. While we are bombarded with information on how walking in the park strips tons of body fat off the bodies of morbidly obese "big losers", detailed information on what works for people like the 26 healthy young men (age 22.5 ± 1.9 yr) who participated in the study at hand is surprisingly scarce.

"Dieting" does not necessary imply "eating less"

The participants, whose body composition was measured by the means of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) were all healthy and physically active and with an average BMI ~22kg/m² and body fat levels of  ~17% at a level comparable to that of the average gymrat striving "to [eventually?] look good naked" ;-) According to the research design, all participants were required to keep their dietary habits unchanged during the 10-week study period.

Since they were free to eat as much as they wanted, you can however safely assume, that the subjects in the endurance and strength training groups did increase their caloric intake in response to the energetic demands of their workouts (the subjects trained three times per week).
    Table 1: Detailed outline of the strength training protocol. The scientists had used the exact same protocol in a previous study in the course of which 18 male physical education students lost a whopping 7% BF in 6 weeks (Ara. 2006).
  • endurance training group (EG) - "The EG performed running and cycling sessions with a load intensities ranging between the ventilatory threshold 1 (VT1) and 2 (VT2), during 90 minutes per
    session. The VT were calculated from the cardiorespiratory tests that were performed at the same time of the day (16:00-19:00 h) under similar environmental conditions (20º C; relative humidity, 45-55%, 720 mmHg) on an electrically braked cycle-ergometer" (Perez-Gomez. 2013)
  • strength training group (ST) - "Briefly, RG trained with 5 different exercises (parallel squat, leg extension, inclined leg press, leg curl and hip flexors), for which 1RM was assessed before and after 10-week training. The ranged between 50-90% of 1RM values obtained were used for the training. A 90-s rest period was taken between exercise sets." (Perez-Gomez. 2013)
With the nutritional aspect off the table, you may be asking yourselves: "Why on earth we are we seeing a lower-body-only-workout, here?" Obviously, I cannot ask the scientists directly, but I would guess that it is a combination of (a) the proven efficiacy of the workout, which has been used by the same group of researchers in a previous study, in the course of which the 18 male physical education students had lost a whopping an statistically highly significant 7% body fat (Ara. 2006), and (b) the fact that it would be unfair to compare a whole body strength workout to a "leg only" endurance workout on a cycle ergometer.
Figure 1: Relative changes in body composition compared to baseline (Perez-Gomez. 2013)
Still, the advantage of the endurance training as far as overall fat loss is concerned is not a simple result of not training the upper body. You can even argue that the overall energy expenditure on a classic body part split would have been even  lower. With the latter, as well as the degree of dietary compensation for the "used" energy in the time between the workouts being the main determinant of the amount of weight you'll lose it should thus  not surprise you that a 90min of pretty intense cardio had an edge over a classic resistance training regimen (slow paced, progressive; cf. table 1)

Exercise doesn't just make you hungry

Don't trust anyone who wants to tell you that "exercise will just make you hungry" or that calories didn't count at all - regardless of how prominent he/she may be (learn why)
Now, you will probably remember that a fast paced, more versatile CrossFit-esque workout (learn more) would have been a better option for someone whose main goal is to shed that belly fat of his (or hers!), but could you honestly say that the 10 weeks of training on either protocol didn't server their purpose? I don't think so.

Moreover, the differential effects the two "types" of exercise had on the body composition of the subjects, as well as the observed correlations between improved HDL levels and increases in lean muscle mass (EG) and trunk fat (ST), and lower LDL levels with waist circumference (EG) do actually confirm that there is something healthy about striving to be lean and muscular.



Sometimes it also takes doing less, less of "dieting" and less of "training" to make progress again. I know it sounds like something only women who need a psychologist would fall for, but the Athlete's Triad (learn more) is neither a female thing, nor something only psychos would get trapped in. On the contrary! My personal experience tells me that it's often the smartest and most determined physical culturists who fall victim to their own burning ambition... much contrary to their often prominent role-models they don't have a team of shrinks and trainers to help them get back on track. So you better make sure not to sacrifice your friendships on your quest for perfection!
Bottom line: You don't have to reinvent the wheel. The simple combination of endurance and resistance training that has worked for the fathers of physical culture still works, today. If you need some inspirations on how you can combine them into a training program that matches your individual needs, professional schedule & social life and will take your physique another step closer to where you want it to be, check out the SuppVersity "Step by Step Guide to Your Own Workout Routine" (learn more)...

I guess, I don't have to tell you that 90min of LISS may be one way but certainly not the best way to improve on your physique - specifically if you are way past the "Homer Simpson" stage. You can learn more about training & dieting for your type and measuring your progress in one of the previous installments of the Intermittent Thoughts.

Ah, and one last word of wisdom: Don't forget that looking and feeling great is not all about having a cover model physique.

So, once you've got rid of the unhealthy blubber, it's often time to re-think whether taking the next and for the "non-genetic freaks" among us not necessary healthy step to being totally jacked is really what you want, or if the desire to look like X,Y or Z does not have much different roots.

References:
  • Ara I, Perez-Gomez J, Vicente-Rodriguez G, Chavarren J, Dorado C, Calbet JA. Serum free testosterone, leptin and soluble leptin receptor changes in a 6-week strength-training programme. Br J Nutr. 2006 Dec;96(6):1053-9.
  • Perez-Gomez J, Vicente-Rodríguez G, Ara Royo I, Martínez-Redondo D, Puzo Foncillas J, Moreno LA, Díez-Sánchez C, Casajús YJA. Effect Of Endurance And Resistance Training On Regional Fat Mass And Lipid Profile. Nutr Hop. 2013;28(2):340-346.