Monday, March 31, 2008

Body Composition

I don't want to leave you with those last two posts without giving you some practical ways to improve body composition. Body composition is the ratio of lean tissue to fat. The ideal ratio differs depending on gender and individual differences. In general, 10% and 20% bodyfat are good targets for men and women, respectively. There's no need to measure however, as the eye is a pretty good judge.

The most dangerous fat is visceral fat, or the "beer belly". Fortunately, it's also the most responsive to lifestyle changes.

The strategies I recommend all have one thing in common: they work to restore insulin sensitivity. This will not only improve body composition, it will normalize your metabolism on a fundamental level, reducing the risk of all the common chronic diseases. I may cover these topics again in more detail at another time.

1. Carbohydrate restriction
. This is by far the most effective way to improve body composition. It will even benefit people who are already profoundly insulin resistant. Eliminating grains, legumes, potatoes and sugar is the simplest and best way to do this. That includes wheat, corn, rice, beans, oats, honorary grains like buckwheat and quinoa, and especially their derivatives. Carbohydrate is not the devil, but restricting intake to moderate amounts from vegetables and fruit is ideal for someone trying to lose weight. I think starchy root vegetables, soaked or sprouted legumes and soaked, sprouted or fermented non-gluten grains are OK for people who already have a healthy body composition.

2. Exercise
. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had a word for exercise: "life". Exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity by increasing the muscles' demand for fuel. It also builds muscle mass. Any exercise is great, but the best kind is brief and intense (anaerobic). This includes sprinting and brisk weight training. It's more effective than jogging at improving muscle mass, decreasing fat mass, decreasing insulin and improving other markers of metabolic health. Chris at Conditioning Research covers this topic regularly. Traditional sports like soccer and basketball are effective because they have anaerobic and aerobic components. Even walking up stairs or down the street have measurable health benefits, however.

3. Intermittent fasting
. This is very effective at improving insulin sensitivity and body composition. IF isn't starvation; it simply postpones calorie intake. Nor is it unhealthy. In fact, it's probably closely in line with the variable energy intake to which we are fundamentally adapted. My method is one 24-hour, water-only fast per week. No juice; that defeats the purpose. If you have elevated insulin like most people, it's best to get into IF gradually. Try skipping breakfast first. If you can skip breakfast and lunch, you've completed a 23-hour fast.

4. Lose the soda!
Soda and other sweet foods are the enemy of body composition and general health. Fructose, found abundantly in high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar and agave nectar, seems to have a particular talent for causing insulin resistance. It's rapidly converted to fat in the liver, which is partially stored on the spot, and partially exported into the bloodstream as triglycerides. Diet soda isn't much better. It's been associated with weight gain in humans, and actually causes weight gain in rats. Normalizing insulin through carbohydrate restriction and fasting reduces cravings for sweet foods. A moderate amount of fruit is probably fine.

1 comment:

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