I have since last June been undertaking a bit of a personal experiment. Over couple of years I’d found I’d somehow managed to accumulate some added fat to my midriff. At 43, I suppose ‘middle-aged’ spread might have had something to do with it. But also when I looked at my diet with as much objectivity as I could muster it became clear that crappy carbohydrates had crept in here and there.
Around this time I embarked on a book-writing project. The book (Waist Disposal – The Ultimate Fat Loss Manual for Men) is based on a wealth of available science as well as my clinical experience with real people in practice, and is due to be published next month. You will see from the title of the book that its contents had direct relevance to me. So, I resolved to take some of my own medicine. These are the two main changes I made:
1. I cut almost all starchy carbs from my diet, and ate even more ‘primally’ than ever.
2. In addition to the regular walking that I have done for years, I added just a few minutes of resistance exercise each day.
My rationale for the resistance exercise was nothing to do with ‘burning calories’. It was primarily to boost strength (never a bad thing) and to simply improve the look of my physique. I also knew that weight loss can induce not just loss of fat, but loss of a more desirable body element – muscle – too. Resistance exercise should help to preserve muscle during weight loss, which was another reason I engaged in this activity.
The results, even though I say so myself, were pretty dramatic. Monitoring my weight and skin-fold measurements (to estimate body fat) revealed that my body composition changed rapidly. I certainly looked quite different quite quickly. Plus, there was no doubt that I got stronger too. As an aside, I had an ambition of being able to perform 60 press-ups in a minute. I remembered being able to do this when I was at school. And school was about the last time I did any consistent resistance-related exercise (I was quite into gymnastics and gym-based exercise at the time). Seeing as I’d hardly done a single press-up over the last 25-odd years, I wasn’t too surprised to find that I could barely manage 15 of these back in June. However, over about a couple of months I was able to build up to 60 continuous press-ups which I have maintained since.
My book is geared towards men, but there’s no reason why the same principles may not help women too. And with this in mind I was interested to read a study published this week which tested the effects of a low-carb diet coupled with resistance exercise on weight loss and body composition change in women . In this study, all women engaged in 60-100 minutes of varied resistance exercises twice weekly for 10 weeks.
Other than this, the group was split into two. One group ate a ‘conventional’ diet, in which calories contributed by carbohydrate, fat and protein were 41, 34 and 17 per cent respectively. The other group ate a very low carb diet in which calories contributed by carbohydrate, fat and protein were 6, 66 and 22 per cent respectively. You can download a provisional pdf of the whole study here.
On average, the conventional diet-eating group gained weight (an average of 0.8 kg – non-significant). This gain in weight appeared to be caused by an increase in ‘lean body mass’. Fat mass did not change significantly.
In comparison, the low-carb group did not appear to gain in terms of lean body mass. But they did lose a lot more fat: Average weight loss was an impressive 5.6 kg, ALL OF WHICH appeared to be in the form of fat. So, while this group of women did not seem to build muscle, they did not lose any either. Men have the added advantage of being able to preserve and even build muscle much more easily than women, generally speaking.
The results of this study demonstrate the potential fat loss benefits of a low-carb diet. They also support the idea that during weight loss, resistance exercise has benefits in terms of preservation of muscle mass. Previous studies have found that low-carb diets that lead to weight loss generally lead to muscle loss too. The preservation of muscle found in this study is likely to be down to the resistance exercise.
In short, a low-carb diet coupled with resistance exercise was found to be effective for fat loss and for the improvement in body composition. My forthcoming book – Waist Disposal – emphasises these approaches, and also includes a section on mental techniques that can accelerate the benefits to be had from diet and exercise.
1. Jabekk PT, et al. Resistance training in overweight women on a ketogenic diet conserved lean body mass while reducing body fat. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2 March 2010;7(1):17. [Epub ahead of print]