Fat burning - A diet or lifestyle?

When it come to shedding the excess pounds of fat to get ready for a show or even just to get in shape for summer or a holiday most bodybuilders make the usual changes of adding fat burnersto their regime, cutting calories and/or adding cardio in their precontest phase shifting from high cals and no cardio from their usual offseason. Some bodybuilders prefer to follow the keto diets having more or less no carbs thinking this will force your body to burn fat. There are so many different approaches to contest dieting and losing bodyfat from the weird to the wonderfull. If you could survey every guy who steps on stage you would clearly see that the majority of contest preparation is different. Yet whether or not each athlete achieves peak condition and loses all their fat, it is obvious that each method of preparation has enabled the athlete to lose a significant amount of bodyfat. So what does this mean? Is there not a single one best way to lose bodyfat? Is it down to genetics? Is it down to supplementation? etc etc. The reason for so many different dietry approaches can enable fat loss is just a testament to how adaptive the human body is. So is there really a single one best way to do this?

On that note, lets take a brief look at a few common methods on how to lose bodyfat.

Restricted calorie diets

Its not rocket science here, eat more food (than you normally do at a stable bodyweight), the more likely you are to gain weight. Eat less food and the more likely you are to lose weight. So eating less will help you shed the fat? Not exactly! As bodybuilders we aren't concerened with losing any old type of "weight". Our priority is to lose fat. Losing "weight" could be muscle, glycogen, intracellular water, and other such body masses - losing these types of "weight" would not lead to your physique looking any better. So how does eating less calories help lose just bodyfat? In short, it doesn't.

The problem with basing a diet soley on counting calories is this; Food contains calories, hence as stated above, the more food you eat, the more calories you consume, hence the more likely you are to gain weight. So you can quite clearly see the correlation between food and calories. However a calorie is not something we need to pay that much attention to, heres why:- a calorie is simply a measurment of how much heat energy is realeased when foodstuffs are burned in a bomb calorimeter. The word calorie is actually dervied from the Latin word calor which means heat. Scientists put foodstuffs into a bomb calorimeter, where everything is completey burned and the energy of heat combustion is then measured. The human body is not a bomb calorimeter. You could put a pile of poo in a bomb calorimeter and burn it to measure how many calories are in that. A bomb calorimeter doesnt know the difference between calories, the human body does. The Keto diet (no carbs) is a good example of this. Following this kind of diet people can eat significantly more calories and still lose weight. How is this possible? For a while biologists and scientists pondered over this. The reason people can lose weight on a keto diet is because the human body knows the difference between calories. Eating no carbs means that the body will have to convert dietry fats and protein to glucose. This procees puts the body in a calorie deficit as the metabolism of proteins and fats to glucose requires more energy than it can provide. There is also associated weight loss from the loss of glycogen from glycogen stores and therefore water weight too.

Macronutrients count

Focus on macros (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) rather than counting calories. Stick to measuring your macronutrient intake. Getting the right amount and right type of each macronutrient is the key to your fat loss success. Now that we have established that the human body knows the difference between where its calories come from lets take a brief look at what each macro does so we can understand their functions and then look at how to fit these into our fat loss plan.


The word protein is derived from the Greek word proteios meaning "primary" or "of first importance". You will see why shortly! DNA is made from amino acids and proteins, therefore protein is an important component of every cell in the human body. Proteins can also form enzymes, hormones, antibodies, skeletal muscle and more. Unlike Carbohydrates and fats, the human body does not have a store for protein.

Protein's most basic building block is an amino acid. Each amino acid is unique in its empirical formula and thus structure and therfore each different amino has its own properties as to its functions and affects on the body. Proteins are polymers (a large molecule aka macromolecule) of amino acids. Two or more amino acids bonded together form Linear chains which are known as peptides (using peptide bonds). For a protein structure to be referred to as a peptide rather than a protein its chain has to be within a certain size (which is relatively small). These polypeptides can then go onto form different levels of structure, primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary structured proteins. Each different level of structure can use different types of molecular bonds giving rise to many different shapes of proteins. You may wonder why I am touching on all of this here? Simply put the shapes that proteins can form is significant as these different shaped proteins are biologically active molecules which are keys to receptors unlocking the door for many biological processes.

Of the 21 or so amino acids in human nutrition 8 of these are classed as "essential" since the body cannot manufacture them from other amino acids. The remaining 13 amino acids are classed as "non-essential" as the body can manufacture these from other aminos. A protein that contains all 8 essential amino acids is know as a first class protein source. A protein source that does not contain all 8 essential amino acids is known as a second class protein. As bodybuilders and athletes we need to consume first class sources of protein at each meal.


There are good fats and bad fats, or as the famous Dr. Udo Erasmus says, there are "fats that heal and fats that kill". Therefore there are fats that you really want to avoid, such as saturated and worse still trans fats. Then there are fats that you want to consume every day, such as ALA. Comparitive to proteins some fats are again essential (EFA's), that is the body cannot manufacture them itself, hence you need to supply your body with them each and every day. To clear up on a lot of advertising propoganda Fish oil's are NOT essential. While the omega 3 fish oils EPA and DHA are incredibly good for you they are not actually essential as these can be made in the body from the ESSENTIAL fats ALA (Alpha linoleic acid) and LA (Linoleneic acid). You can think as the Omega 3 & 6 EFAs, ALA & lA as the parent fats and EPA & DHA as the child fats. Again due to the nature of their structure, fats (apart from saturated fats) are biologcally active molecules, that is they are the "keys" to natures locks within your body. Fats are an important part of your brain and eyes and are also included in cellular membranes that surround every cell in the human body. The human body can store fats, hence we get can readily get fat from over eating. So what kinds of fats and how much fat should we eat each day? I would suggest using 10-20ml of a balanced ratio 3,6,9 omega oil derived from cold processed flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds etc - such as UDO's oil. I would also suggest eating a 200-250 gram portion of non farmed norwegian oily fish, such as salmon or mackeral. I would also supplement with some good fats from CLA, add to this a small portion of organic nuts and seeds each day and you will have all bases covered for you fat intake.


As their name suggests these are made from the three elements, Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen (CHO). Carbohydrates are the Bodys primary source of energy. Carbohydrates can vary in complexity of their structure giving rise to quick digesting (high glycemic index) or slow digesting (low GI). Other factors such as fibre, proteins, fats that are ingested at the same time can also affect the GI of a carb, however in general, complex carbs (longer chains of glucose) are slower to digest and hence give rise to a lower GI compared to more simple carbohydrates. The human body can store carbohydrates as glycogen, in skeletal muscle and in the liver. Excess carbs can also be converted to bodyfat. Carbohydrates are not biologically active molecules and serve purely as a source of energy. In order to maintain a low level of bodyfat you want to keep your insulin levels under control. To do this try and consume the majority of your carbs from low GI sources. Contrary to popular belief by many a bodybuilder, most fruits are low gi. Try and consume a good 5 portions of fruit each day.

Now we have briefly touched on each macro and their roles, we can get back on topic.

Restricted calorie diets...

So is cutting back on your food intake alone the best way to go for losing bodyfat? NO! If you have ever been ill with a sickness and diarrhoea bug, not eaten in several days and lost a considerable amount of weight. You would notice that your bodyfat levels didnt lessen and your physique always looks worse for losing the weight. If this were the case, surely you would have been shredded by now? Eating less food is not a direct stimulus for fat loss. Contrary to popular belief losing fat is not JUST a case of energy in vs energy out. The old analgy of someone who maintains their bodyweight consuming 3000 calories a day who then cuts their daily calorie intake by 500 cals, will be within a week, be in deficit of 3500 cals equating of 1 lb of fat. Fat loss doesn't quite happen like that - if only it were that easy! Im not sure what the next step in this approach would be? I again refer back to the example of a bomb calorimeter. Not only is the human body resistant to change (ie it wants to be in Homeostasis) it does not use everything we eat, hence we go to the toilet. Lets say you went to the toilet (excreting unneeded cals) for a poo 3 times a day eating on a daily intake of 3000 cals. Reducing your daily cals by 500 may just result in you visiting the loo less frequently with no change in body weight. Thus you are using more of the food you are eating relative to when you consumed more. I have worked with many bodybuilders before who have made a slight reduction in their food intake and not lost any weight.

Bodyfat is not particulalry metabolically active, thus it doesnt require much in the way of energy, protein, and amino acids etc to maintain. Muscle on the otherhand is very demmanding and very metabolically active requiring a plentifull supply of energy, protein, amino acids and other food stuffs. You suddenly drop your food and energy intake your body doesnt adjust by burning its fat stores and keeping all your muscle. Lets do the math here, reducing our food intake can rob our muscles of energy and even protein and amino acids (as proteins may be converted by the body to glucose for energy in a process called Gluconeogenesis) supplies. On the other hand, reducing food intake will do what for our bodyfat? Not much, since it doesn't require much to maintain. bodyfat is a much more energy dense material compared to skeletal muscle. The body can call on bodyfat stores in times of need for survival. Lets remember that your body doesnt want or need to have all the excess pounds of highly demmanding muscle tissue, infact it actually costs your body to maintain a large amount of skeletal muscle. Although you may know that you are going to have your next meal at 3pm, your body doesn't. Your body is geared around survival and hence will quickly burn muscle rather than fat when it requires energy that it doesn't have from food. Thus in general simply cutting back on your food intake is not the best strategy to fat loss. Of course if you make a big enough reduction in your food intake you will undoubtedly lose "weight". However not all of this will be fat - which as bodybuilders is our aim. I hope by now you see where I am coming from?

Continued in part 2