Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Diet Dilemmas

A lot of the times you hear weird and wonderful diets that bodybuilders try out in order to get a more ripped- muscle-defining- low-body-fat-vein-popping-look-at-me-now -looking-good-24/7-muscle-bound physique (trying saying that aloud in one breath..) however most of them are not aware of the dangers of dieting as most tend to focus on losing body fat. A factor that is frequently overlooked is the effect the dieting process has on the body’s hormone levels.

Hormones are compounds that are naturally produced by the body and they play vital roles in the regulation of bodily processes, muscle repair, growth and recovery. When you diet your hormone levels may be affected resulting in you not only losing body fat but also losing precious muscle, something which none of us want. By now you must be wondering what could possibly happen when you over diet?

Your leptin levels decline (before you do a Google search to find out what leptin is, read on...). Leptin is an important hormone that helps your body regulate its weight. Drastic dieting habits can cause a decrease in leptin levels which results in an increase in the intensity of food cravings (as a result you eat more) and the decreased leptin levels can also slow down your metabolic rate, making it more difficult to burn calories.

When calories are cut too aggressively a drop in testosterone also occurs. This affect you body’s ability to preserve your hard earned muscle tissue. Having an elevated testosterone level is not only important for holding on to muscle mass but also it helps to cut body fat by increasing the number of beta-receptors (the part of the fat cell that helps to break down the stored fat) and it inhibits the activity of lipoprotein lipase (simply put.. it is an enzyme that “sucks” fat from the bloodstream and stores it near fat cells).

Your immune system which is your body’s built-in security guard, protecting it from germs, bacteria, viruses and anything that might attack your body, is weakened. A too big or too long decrease in calories can weaken you immune system which directly impacts on your ability to retain muscle. A weakened immune system can cause an increase in cortisol (a stress hormone that destroys muscle and cause a decrease in testosterone) and affect the body’s ability to destroy free radicals, which could lead to insulin resistance (a contributor of fat storage).

Your thyroid function plays an important role in your body’s metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn each day) and it also impacts on muscle growth by speeding up or slowing down protein synthesis. Diets that are too restrictive can decrease optimal thyroid function resulting in a decreased metabolic rate (less calories burnt) and a negative effect on protein synthesis.

However all hope is not lost as there are easy steps to overcome the above mentioned hormonal shortcomings. These tips are simple and easy to incorporate into your diet..

In many diets carbs are solely attained from slow-burning carb sources (oats, beans, sweet potatoes..) as they cause a lower insulin response which encourages fat burning. However as good as it may sound this is not ideal. In diets were carbs intake is restricted, having fast-digesting simple carbs on two out of every ten training days can help in the maintenance of muscle during restricted caloric intake. The simple carbs causes an insulin rise above typical levels without higher caloric intake. So basically there is greater muscle maintenance as well as anabolic effect of insulin without the storage of fat (clever huh..).

When cutting back on your carbs do not reduce it your intake by more than 30%. Extremely low carb dieting will causes a hormonal change and it will make your muscles look flat. Less drastic diets over a longer period is more sustainable and safer. Another effective way is eating less carbs on your non-training rest days (yes,there should be days spent out of the gym).

The amount of cardio you do should be optimal and not excessive. There is no doubt that cardio burns body fat but it also burns muscle as well. Excess cardio can not only negatively affect your hormone levels but also your training adaptations,resulting in you looking terrible. About four 45min cardio sessions a week is the max you should do as this will allow for optimal hormone and immune system levels as well as allowing training adaptations to occur without hindrance from excessive cardio training (the belief for Mr Average Joe of an hour of cardio every morning and a heavy gym session in the evening is only good for one thing...overtraining!).

Dieting can be a complex process however it can be manipulated by simple tips that encourage fat reduction and discourage loss of muscle mass. A moderate diet over a longer period is the safer and more sustainable approach than severe diets over shorter periods. (You can let go of the old cabbage soup diet..).

Until the next post, Keep it anabolic.....

Posted by Mo Ebrahim 

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