Running Makes You Fat

We have all seem them before. The people who day after day, week after week , month after month and year after year , follow the same cardiovascular venture, the 30 or even 60 minute run on the treadmill, elliptical, stair master or pavement.

The confusing thing is that many of these people both male and female in hopes of getting in better shape continue to show no signs of fat loss. In fact most of the time they actually continue to gain body fat while performing hours on top of hours of aerobic activity per week.

Let’s be honest, I think its safe to say that most of us are under the impression that if we were to put in that much time- consuming cardiovascular activity we would expect to see a dramatic drop in body fat levels, not the opposite. So what gives?

To fully understand what takes place I will provide a spectrum that illustrates the metabolic, physiological and hormonal adaptations that occur.

Fat loss comes to a haltMuscle breakdown beginsCortisol levels increaseFat storage occurs for survivalMuscle Strength decreasesTestosterone levels decrease Fat loss occurs Cardiovascular HealthNutrient PartitioningIncreased Energy-FluxIncreased Metabolic Rate

In the “green” stage a de-conditioned person can experience an entire array of benefits from introducing just two,  aerobic or anaerobic energy system training sessions per week.

The foremost benefit is improved heart health along with improved Vo2 max and lowered resting heart rate.

Another interesting benefit is nutrient partitioning. Anytime you perform exercise your muscle glycogen stores will drop. Granted your not going to use as much muscle glycogen doing a brisk walk on the t-mill as you are performing a full body weight training session but glycogen is still a fuel source and levels will decrease.

When you eat a meal post cardiovascular workout, the nutrients will be better utilized by the body for muscle recovery, and muscle & liver glycogen replenishment if the body is in a slightly depleted state.

Energy flux refers to the amount of your body’s energy intake vs. energy expenditure or “energy turnover”.  The higher your body’s energy-flux, the better chance you have for body re-composition. Think of it this way, you want to raise the bodies energy levels of consumption and output.

Anytime you perform exercise your heart rate will increase and anytime your heart rate increases so does your metabolism or metabolic rate. Your metabolic rate is simply referred to the rate at which your body burns calories. Performing low to moderate amounts of cardiovascular exercise will increase your metabolic rate, even if just for a short amount of time.

Fat loss can certainly occur during this stage but is usually demonstrated when the subject has not performed any cardiovascular activity for a long period of time causing the individual to become de-conditioned or if the individual has a high body fat percentage.

The “yellow” stage can best be described as the best of both worlds. There is some carry-over affect from the “green” stage but overall intake must be low enough but not to dramatic in order to elicit a substantial amount of fat loss. This is the most difficult stage to maintain presence in.  The human body has extraordinary adaptive characteristics, therefore if fat loss is the result of a certain stimulus it won’t be long until the stimulus loses its effect and fat loss comes to an abrupt halt.

This leads me into the final stage of “red”. This is a stage most commonly found in people who are chronic runners. The overuse of aerobic exercise over years and years can throw your body into fat loss-resistance.

I knew a girl back in 2004 who was having a helluva time losing fat for a fast approaching figure show. She was currently walking on the treadmill 2 x day for seven days a week. Come to find out she had joined a running club the previous year and had run an average of fifteen miles per week for the last eight months.

Her aerobic system had become so efficient that she was actually making the problem even worse by compounding it even more with all the treadmill walking and also in the process downgrading any fat loss stimulus what so ever.

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( Hey fat loss, this is what you’re up against!)

Regular running improves exercise efficiency, meaning it takes the same amount of activity to burn fewer calories. So if you run for 30 minutes 3 times per week at the same speed on a treadmill, you will be burning fewer calories 1 month later, and even fewer calories 3 months later and after a year, you will be burning even fewer calories. Now imagine running 30 miles per week for the last 10 years. How much fat do you really think your body is burning during one of your 6 mile runs?

In fact Dr. Eric Serrano has explained in several seminars that the body will improve its ability to store fat as a part of a natural survival mechanism. Your body does not want to lose fat and the more fat you lose, the more difficult it becomes to continue to lose fat.

Once you get to the far end of the “red” stage your body will produce cortisol, a catabolic hormone that will also maintain and add body fat in desperate times such as starvation.

Typically long durations of repetitive exercise goes hand in hand with starvation states such as being stuck in thick jungles or endless deserts.

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(Don’t forget your water bottle)

Your body will treat that 10 mile jog the same as if you were stranded in a desolate wilderness running for your survival. You are forced to walk or run long distances in these situations and the body must slow fat loss to a grinding halt by raising stress hormones to preserve life.

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So now that we understand why half of the competitors in a recreational triathlon have love handles and bellies that jiggle like a bowl of jelly when they trot through the finish line, it is obvious that this is not an optimal way to achieve our fitness goals. Let’s examine how one should transition back to normalcy and balance if this is your current exercise protocol.

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  • Perform two, fifteen minute quick burst, high intensity bouts of aerobic energy system work per week. These can be burpees, jump rope or agility drills.
  • Increase workout density by performing 3 total body workouts with brief rest periods under 60 seconds, heavy resistance and supersets between upper and lower body per week.

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I can already hear the voices now. “If I don’t run at least 30 miles this week I will get fat!” If you take into account the fact that regular running improves exercise efficiency, then you can imagine how low your actual caloric expenditure has dwindled down to after all those years of pounding the pavement.. When you introduce explosive bouts of interval training and total body workouts using heavy loads you create a great amount of metabolic disturbance.

By creating a metabolic disturbance you will fire up the nervous system, deplete muscle glycogen stores and activate the type IIB muscle fiber types most responsible for building muscle and strength. Remember, building muscle is very important since muscle is very metabolically active and will assist your body in burning more energy while even at rest.

Creating a metabolic disturbance is crucial for an individual who is suffering from presence in the far end of the “red” zone and will serve as life support for anyone transitioning away from the world of the chronic runner.

The Wet Wolf specializes in physique transformation, contest prep, eating patterns & sports performance training for clients in real life and online.

       

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