The Skinny on Fat Loss: Scientific-Based Research on Losing Fat

Fat Loss, Not Muscle Loss

Studies and Research is Key for Success

I wanted to call this article "The skinny on fat loss and muscle gains part one," but that would have been way too long a title to fit on the page. Anyway, as you [might have noticed, things in the fat-loss war are really getting hot. The baffle of the references (i.e. who can come up with the most references to uphold their argument) continues unabated in the bodybuilding magazines, general health magazines, and even the medical literature. In bodybuilding we say "fat loss" because we are only interested in losing fat, not muscle. In the diet industry they say "weight loss" because they don't care what they lose (fat, muscle, bone, water, etc.) as long as the numbers on the scale go down. I think this difference in terminology has a great deal to do with the high level of confusion that we see. That idea is not the main thrust of this article, but it is important to keep it in the back of your mind the next time you read an article on weight loss.

I have always used common sense, based on my knowledge. of human physiology, biochemistry and nutrition, to formulate thy theories on bodybuilding and sports nutrition. Anyone who reads my stuff with any regularity knows I usually include plenty of scientific references with my articles, but I still use good old common sense as my guide. By scientific standards this is considered a most unscientific approach. Scientists generally hate the concepts of common sense, instinct and anecdotal evidence when they are used in reference to human physiology - or any science for that matter. That's really one of the major problems with the scientific and medical community today; they completely lack any common sense. For example: It is only common sense that bodybuilders need more protein, and more and more research comes out every day showing this to be the case, but most nutritionists and doctors still refuse to admit it. It is only common sense that every animal in the world - besides humans, guinea pigs and fruit bats - makes roughly the equivalent of three grams per day or more of vitamin C, but the RDA is still set at 60mg even though hundreds of research papers are published each year showing higher intakes of vitamin C (and many other vitamins) are extremely beneficial for your health. Finally, my personal favorite example showing how the average person's instinct was smarter than most of the world's top nutritionists: For years they kept telling people that "a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from." Do you remember that beauty? Even the average person who had very little science background knew by common sense that 100 calories from celery as different from 100 calories from pizza, hut the medical community held firm for years. Of course, now they are singing a different tune as the research has shown this theory to be totally untrue. I never received a letter of apology for that one. Did you? As expected, we find this lack of common sense pervades most of the articles on fat loss too.

Though I usually take a more scientific approach to my articles, loading them up with references from medical journals or other sources, this time I am going to stick to trying to appeal to people's common sense in their approach to fat loss and muscle gains. This will piss of the inflexible scientist-nutritionist types to no end, hut I am not writing this particular article for them. This one's for you the hard-training bodybuilder who does not care where the information comes from as long as it works!


When people ask me what I do for a living I tell them I am a "nutritional theorist." I don't know exactly what that means either, but it always gets them off my case as they walk away scratching their head. But seriously, the role of a theorist is to think of something (in this case nutrition) and formulate a working hypothesis based on some research, instinct and common theorist has to go further than just the research and venture into the realm of the unknown. A good theorist can take research from many areas and consolidate it to form a cohesive whole, sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. It starts out as many seemingly unrelated pieces and ends up being some kind of picture. For example, Linus Pauling theorized that DNA (the genetic code that makes us who we are) was shaped like a helix (a spiral-shaped chain). He used his instinct, commons sense and vast knowledge of various sciences to come to this conclusion. The point is, he went where there was very little research to figure out the structure of DNA' by putting together the pieces of the puzzle even though no one had ever seen the picture.

The greatest threat to the future is the present - i.e. if you threaten the status quo, the people who hide behind the research get very upset with you. They call you a nut, they call you unscientific, and finally they call you sir when you prove them wrong! (Unfortunately, most of the world's greatest theorists do not live long enough to enjoy that last part.)

A good theorist actually works backward from your average scientist. The average scientist, doctor or nutritionist will base his or her opinion only on the current research and will give you advice or an opinion founded only on "the available research." A theorist on the other hand will often come up with a theory based on a working knowledge of a topic, then will go looking for the research to prove the theory. Many times, however, there is only a small amount of research to back up the theory, and the theorist will have to endure ridicule for sonic time until finally the additional research is done to prove the theory correct. (Linus Pauling had to wait a while until the research was done to prove his theory of the shape of DNA.)

Take the current view of the high-carb diet. It is the status quo right now. If you say anything bad about it you get called names by people who can't or won't look deeper into the topic.

Luckily we don't have to wait years to see that the high-carb diet is not the optimal diet for losing fat and/or growing muscle. There is an abundance of research on the topic right now, but it is being ignored by mainstream scientists, medicine and most nutritionists. Why, you ask? Because it threatens the status quo. It would mean they would have to admit that their understanding of nutrition is pretty damn poor. I can honestly say that getting "mainstream" anything to change its views on a topic is no easier a task than building the pyramids at Giza! Mark my words. Whether in two years, five years or ten years, the high-carb diet will slowly fade as the weight of the research gradually overwhelms even the most stubborn believer in the the high-carb, no-fat) low- fat diet as the best way to lose fat and gain muscle.

Are theories and theorists always correct? Of course not. Bad theories abound and good theories are rare, but having the gonads to stick your neck out is better than constantly hiding behind the status quo and not sticking your neck out occasionally to get the answers to some questions. Anyway, being a theorist - a good one I hope - is my hobby and my job. I am certainly no Linus Pauling in the chemistry department, but can more than hold my own in the nutrition department.


Let's start this shindig off by taking a look at carbohydrates. I don't want people to think I am some kind of high-fat fanatic just because I have stated that high-carb diets are not the optimal way to gain muscle and lose fat, but there are some simple questions that I ask myself about carbohydrates that can give anyone some insight into why a diet overly high in carbs makes it tough to get the blubber off. For instance, at a seminar I was giving not too long ago this pudgy little aerobics instructor says, "I thought carbs were the preferred fuel of the body. Isn't that what we should base most of our diet on?" So I replied, "If you supply the body with an abundant amount of its favorite fuel, what reason does it have to burn fat?" She looked confused and sat down.

The simple question I raised to our pudgy trend has appeared in the research repeatedly. The higher the blood sugar (glucose) the less free fatty acids are found. In one study they tested three groups of people by feeding them three different amounts of carbs and then making them all exercise. After the exercise their blood was drawn. What do you think they found? As expected, the group with the lowest carb intake had the highest levels of free fatty acids in the blood (showing they had mobilized stored fat for energy) and the people eating the most carbs had very little free fatty acids in the bloodstream (showing they had not been using stored fat for energy).

This tells us that (1) the use of fat as an energy source - i.e. burning bodyfat for energy - happens when blood sugar is low and (2) the more glucose you have floating around the longer it will take to tap into bodyfat stores when you exercise.' If I eat carbs all day, how am I going to burn any bodyfat? It's only common sense.

Someone might say, as people have so many times to me, "Yeah, but humans don't store calories as fat from carbs very well." This is only partially true. The body has an unlimited ability to convert carbs to fat after the very limited glycogen stores are full; moreover, you don't have to store much of the carbs you eat as fat for it to do damage because the very act of storing fat shuts off fat-burning. Remember, the body does not store fat and burn fat at the same time, so if you are only storing a small amount of fat from carbs (as the high-carb proponents keep telling us) you are not burning any fat. Why should you? Your body has all the fuel it needs from all those damn carbs. Plain and simple, high blood glucose levels blunt fat-burning and fat metabolism in general, besides also causing insulin resistance. The body does not release stored fat from fat cells in the presence of insulin and/or high blood glucose levels.

Bodyweight has gone up, not down, in this country since we raised our carb intake over the past few years. The incidence of glucose metabolism problems (type II diabetes, hypoglycemia, etc.) has also gone up since we increased our carbs intake. Many researchers consider heart disease to be related to blood glucose levels and insulin resistance too, but that's for another article.

It's funny how every self-made nutritionist/born-again cheerleader/aerobics instructor will say, "I don't need to eat much protein because carbs are protein sparing." Guess what? Carbs are also fat sparing! That is not so hard to understand in a common- sense kinda way, is it? The body will always burn carbs preferentially over fat because they are the body's preferred fuel source. You might want to give up your fat, but your body does not, and if you give it an abundance of an alternative fuel course (its preferred fuel source no less) it will not activate the enzymes and hormones necessary to tap into bodyfat stores.

If you look in any textbook under "essential nutrients' you will not - or at least should not - see carbs listed. The term essential nutrient means a substance required for health that cannot be synthesized by the human body and must be supplied by the diet or serious metabolic disturbances and/or death can occur. We need vitamins, minerals, about nine amino acids and two fatty acids, but there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate! The body can, and will, synthesize glucose from other sources, such as certain amino acids from protein, glycerol, and several other possible substrates.

I have always found it odd that we need vitamins to stay alive (but they keep telling us we don't need to take extra vitamins), we need the essential fatty acids to stay alive (but they keep telling us we should avoid fat), we need nine amino acids to stay alive (but they tell us we don't need any more than the RDA), yet they tell us to load up on carbs, the only nutrient we don't need to get directly from our diet! Is it just me, or is there an inherent lack of common sense to this line of thought?

Now I have to wan you that this is in way an invitation to stop eating carbs. If you were to stop eating carbs altogether, you would lock and feel like shi... really bad. The emphasis placed on carbs by the nutritional community - i.e. according to them carbs should make up 60 to 70 percent of the diet - is illogical in my view. They keep telling us to eat "balanced meals." What's so balanced about a diet containing 60 to 70 percent carbs? If a person raises his protein and fat a bit, with Less of an emphasis on carbs, they will say he is not eating a balanced meal. Call me crazy, but doesn't a diet split containing approximately equal parts protein, carbs and fat seem more "balanced" than a diet that contains 60 to 70 percent carbs?


An interesting fact about fat that is commonly overlooked is that higher fat intakes are also associated with a rise in anabolic hormones such as testosterone and possibly OH. A study I was reading just the other thy showed testosterone went up proportionately to the amount of fat in the diet. We have known for a quite a while that low-fat diets can lead to lower testosterone levels. However and this is a fairly big however- there is a cap to this benefit of fat intake to testosterone levels, so don't eat a pound of bacon and sit around waiting to grow muscle. When fat in the diet exceeds 30 to 40 percent, it does not appear to supply any additional benefit - that is, the levels of anabolic hormones don't change after you reach 30 to 40 percent. This is one of several reasons why I generally recommend no more than 30 percent fat in the diet.

For some odd reason people have embraced the idea that there are large differences in the type and quality of carbs and protein we eat, but they seem incapable of extending this concept to fat. 'Fat is fat;' they say. Nothing could be further from the truth. Saturated fats also cause increased insulin resistance and other potential health problems. The average American gets his fat from saturated fat, rancid fats, hydrogenated fats,9 etc., giving fats a bad name.'° However, the essential fatty acids (especially the Omega-3 fatty acids) from such sources as flax oil and fish oils are anti-lipolytic (stop fat storage), anti- catabolic (stop muscle breakdown), increase fat-burning and metabolic rate, increase insulin sensitivity, and a whole lot more." The monounsaturated oils such as olive oil are metabolically neutral fats (i.e. they do not sway the metabolism in a hormonally positive or negative direction) and are a good caloric ballast that can be used to adjust calorie intake. The proper balance among the essential fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and saturated fats is the key to health, performance and building muscle. Trying to avoid all fat in the diet is not only health degrading, but it is also a losing battle if there ever was one, though it has been a great money- make for the producers of low-fat/no-fat foods.

Now let's take a look at protein. Protein is a wonderful nutrient. If you are trying to keep the fat off and the muscle on, protein is second to none. High-carb proponents love to say, "Anything will turn to fat if you eat too much of it' i put this statement in my no-shit-Sherlock file because it is such a stupid expression. First of all 60 to 70 percent carbs in the diet is too much, and secondly the question is not (fit will be stored as fat but how likely is it that what you eat is going to he stored as fat from a hormonal, thermic and biochemical point of view. High-carb proponents often quote the fact that it takes more energy for carbs to be stored as fat than it does for fat to be stored as fat (a no-brainer if there ever was one). This is true; however, there is much more to the story than that (see above discussion on fats), and they fail to tell you that protein uses up even more energy for metabolism than carbs! If the most metabolically costly nutrient is protein, why don't we recommend more protein and less carbs? Besides the difference in the hormonal effects of carbs versus proteins (increases in thyroid, Gil, IGH- l,etc.), protein is the least likely nutrient to be converted to fat - from both a hormonal and biochemical point of view. Here is a real humdinger-as I said before, glucose can be made from protein by a process known as gluconeogenesis. If the body needs glucose it will use certain amino acids and other non-carbohydrate substrates to make glucose. However, this process is energetically costly. It takes a lot of energy for the body to make its own glucose by burning calories. Good! This means you are burning calories (i.e. raising your metabolism) when you force the body to use the gluconeogenic pathway for making glucose. This is was I call the double whammy of protein. Not only is it energetically costly (calorie-burning) to metabolize, but it eats up even more calories through the conversion of amino acids to glucose. If you are eating just enough carbs to fuel workouts and keep gycogen stores full, but not a drop more than you need (i.e. a slight carb deficit) so the gluconeogenic pathway is activated, you can get a metabolism that is very conducive to burning fat and building muscle because of the rise in metabolic rate and other factors.


I could goon all day about this stuff but I am running out of space. I have tried my best to take a large amount of complex information and synthesize it down to fit in this article when it could easily take up several books. Obviously there are a lot of details I had to leave out and other topics I could have elaborated on further questions such as "Which supplements should I take?", "What about aerobics?", and "How many calories should I eat?" also need answering, but that's for another fitFLEX article.

So how do we put this information into useful and usable diet recommendations that the hard-training bodybuilders can start on today? Combining all the above information to get the optimal metabolism for growth and low bodyfat levels, I have come to the conclusion that a dietary split of 40 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 30 percent carbs is as close to optimal as I have found. Of your 30 percent allotment of fat, a third should come from a source rich in essential fatty acids." Another third should come from monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and avocados. The final third can come from saturated fats - of which l am sure you do not need an example! The carbs should be low-glycemic, high-fiber, complex carbs - oatmeal, sweet potatoes, brown rice, etc. - except for the post workout meal which should be simple carbs. Finally, the protein should come from the highest-quality sources possible- whey, eggs, red meat, chicken, fish, etc. Dan Duchaine has recently recommended a perfectly even split of 33 percent fat, 33 percent carbs and 33 percent protein. I have no problem with this split, and it could work equally well, but I personally prefer a slightly higher protein intake for reasons that are partly scientific and partly instinctive.

If you want to gain weight, maintain the above split (40, 30, 30) and eat a few more calories than you need to maintain your current weight. If you want to lose fat, lower carbs by about 50 grams a day, lower saturated fat intake, and raise your intake of essential fatty acids that are Omega-3 rich. About every five to seven days have a higher than normal intake of carbs so you don't get flat. Go back to the original split when you reach your desired bodyfat levels and maintain bodyfat levels by adjusting total calories and aerobics schedule. If you follow these dietary recommendations, your glycogen regulated Storing pathways will be up-regulated, and you will - become more efficient at storing glycogen. On such a diet you will become a glycogen-storing, fat burning, anabolic hormone- producing machine!


Permanent fat loss will never come from trying to starve yourself avoiding all fat in your diet, or doing aerobics till your legs fall off. Permanent fat loss will happen only when there is a long-term shift in your metabolism to one that favors fat-burning over fat storage. This can only occur when your hormonal profiles also shift to that mode because, as I said, fat and/or muscle gains and losses are a biochemical- hormonal event. The food you eat is only as relevant as the hormones and enzymatic pathways it affects. If you go into the average doctor's or nutritionist's office and ask, "What effect will this food have (as you hold up a bag of rice cakes) on my hormones?" they will not have a clue. They will likely take a look at the bag, see that it has no fat, lots of carbs, and low calories, and tell you to go right on eating one of the most fat-producing foods on God's earth. Now you will know better. Of course, the total number of calories eaten is an important determinant of weight gain, but I have found repeatedly that you can eat more calories without getting fat when the diet is based on plenty of high-quality proteins, the right types of fats in the correct ratios, and a moderate to low carb intake, which reflects the hormonal shift to one of fat-burning as opposed to fat-storing.


Let's take a typical 200-pound bodybuilder eating 3500 calories - a pretty typical weight and caloric intake for the average bodybuilder Using the 40:30:30 split, we get some figures to consider He would be getting 350 grams of protein, 262.5 grams of carbs, and 117 grams of fat. How much of this will be saturated fat? If fat makes up 30 percent of total calories, and saturated fat is a third of that figure, he will be eating 39 grams of saturated fat. This leaves him enough room in his fat-calorie allotment for two tablespoons of flax oil and two tablespoons of olive oil. This calculation of 3500 calories is not carved in stone; it's just what I figured roughly someone at that bodyweight eats. You will have to figure out for yourself the right number of calories to suit your needs. It will depend on such variables as body- weight, type of metabolism, whether you need to gain weight or lose weight, lifting schedule, etc. Don't forget that this diet is based on the bodybuilder's needs.

It's not for couch potatoes or endurance athletes, so keep that in mind, well, as the cartoon pig would say, "The... the… that's all, folks!"

Related Articles