Even now, in an era where we know more about the body than any time previously, the number one health goal in the ‘developed’ world is weight loss. But with this in mind should we really be focused on weight loss or fat loss?
It is widely regarded that being ‘overweight’ is bad for your health, but is this a limited way of thinking?
(Before we start, it is very important to be aware that someone with a supposedly healthy body fat percentage can be very unhealthy in other ways!)
According to the NHS, the health benefits of losing weight include reducing your risk of:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- some types of cancer
- back pain
However, if you are only tracking your weight, some of the weight loss could be from muscle mass. This can come with its own implications:
- physical weakness
- reduced mobility
- poor posture
- low energy
- lower metabolism, leading to fat storage
- increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- insulin resistance
- breathing difficulties
- shorter life expectancy
Because of these risks, it makes a great deal of sense to maintain your muscle mass and focus on fat loss instead of general weight loss.
While our focus at F3E is not heavily geared towards appearance alone, many people do want to change the way they look. If this is the case, should they focus on weight loss or fat loss?
If you lose weight, that could potentially be a mix of excess fat and muscle, which can end up leaving you a smaller version of the same shape. For example, if you are a woman with a ‘pear’ shape (holding weight around your hips and thighs), losing weight alone could mean you are just a smaller, softer pear.
Losing body fat specifically, however, allows you to change your shape significantly. You may start out as a ‘pear’ shape, but end up losing the fat off your hips and thighs while maintaining your muscle mass. This leads to the leaner, more defined and ‘toned’ appearance that many people desire.
Appearance isn’t everything, and we would never encourage our members to get hung up on how they look. However, if you are hoping for some pleasing visible side-effects from your healthy lifestyle then you are better of focusing on fat loss rather than weight loss.
There are four main points when it comes to losing body fat and maintaining muscle mass:
There’s no getting around it, in order to lose excess body fat you will need to be in a calorie deficit. However, you don’t need to track everything religiously to create that deficit. Some people choose to eat smaller meals, others choose to cut out snacks and junk food, some people reduce alcohol intake… there are a number of ways to create that deficit. Quite simply: eat less, and tweak as necessary.
This means rather than just cardio (running, swimming, cycling, etc) try to include some weight bearing exercise. This could be bodyweight only (press ups, squats, lunges etc) or using equipment such as weights or resistance bands. Using your muscles is key to keeping them. Use it or lose it, people!
Adequate Protein Intake
If you don’t consume enough protein then your body will take it from the most abundant source in the body: muscle tissue. Aim for 0.8g of protein per lb of lean bodyweight, per day.
For example, if you are 11 stone (154lb) and 25% body fat, then your lean mass will be about 115lb (154 x 0.75). 115 x 0.8 is 92.4, so you should aim for 90-95g of protein per day.
Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, dairy, and tofu.
You don’t need to weigh everything out, this is just so you have a basic understanding and can keep it in mind throughout the day.
Track Your Body Fat, Not Just Weight
At F3E we use an InBody machine to track our 6-week challengers’ weight, muscle mass and body fat. Some other gyms have similar machines, as do some branches of Boots. You can also buy your own body fat monitors to use at home, but be aware that often the cheaper you go the less accurate they will be! As well as InBody, look for quality brands such as Tanita and Omron.
It’s important to only track using the same device, at the same time of day, in the same state (rested, fasted, after going to the toilet etc) to avoid any fluctuations.
As with anything, this information is all well and good but it’s the implementation which makes the difference. A personal coach or good quality training facility will give you the support you need to follow an effective resistance training programme, consume adequate protein, and track your body composition.
These three things are at the core of our 6-week Transformation Challenge. Our coached workouts are heavily focused on resistance training, we give personalised nutrition guidance, and we track our challengers’ body fat and muscle mass every week.
If you’re looking to lose body fat and gain all the knock-on benefits, find out more about our 6-week Transformation Challenge here!