The Truth About hCG

Question of the Week:  Finish this sentence:  When the going gets tough, …

Nugget of the Day: The truth about hCG for weight loss.

A client recently asked me what I thought about hCG as a weight loss tool.  For those of you not familiar with hCG, it stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin.  It is a hormone released by the placenta of pregnant women.  (Huh?  Yeah, that’s most people’s response)  Believed to stimulate the consumption of excessive fat tissue in the pregnant mother in support of the growing fetus, it has been hypothesized to assist in metabolism of fat as an energy source in non-pregnant individuals, as well as suppress appetite.  When accompanied by what can only be classified as a “starvation” diet of 500 calories, it is believed to promote significant weight loss.

There are a few issues here to address.  The first is the effectiveness of hCG as a weight loss tool.  As of right now, both the Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have concluded that hCG is neither safe nor effective as a weight loss aid.  The second is the starvation diet of 500 calories.  Obviously, any diet that absent of calories is going to promote weight loss, at least for a time.  However, not only does it wreak havoc on your metabolism, but it is nearly impossible to adhere to for any length of time.  Since it is not a plan that promotes healthy, long-term eating habits, most people will regain much of the weight, if not all of it when returning to their regular eating plan.  And, third, the FDA has prohibited the sale of over the counter hCG products and homeopathic versions, declaring them illegal and fraudulent.  So if you are going to try to skirt the physician-prescribed route, don’t waste your time or your money.  There isn’t enough real hCG in there to have any metabolic effect at all.

In conclusion, the hCG diet is no more than another “quick fix” scheme that is unproven at best and downright dangerous at worst.  It is simply another “starvation” diet routine that leaves you undernourished and destroys your metabolism, increasing the likelihood of you not only returning to your pre-diet weight, but even getting heavier in the long term.  Don’t be fooled.  There are no quick fixes that beat good, solid hard work and lifestyle change.   Stay the course, keep up the hard work, and don’t give up!


Cardio Is Not the Best Way to Burn Calories-Part 2

Question of the Week: What does your pride keep you from accomplishing?

Nugget of the Day:  Cardio is not the best way to burn calories- Part 2- Anaerobic exercise burns a higher total amount of fat calories and carbohydrate calories combined.

In my previous post on this topic, I told you that for lower intensity, longer duration activities, fat is the predominant energy source.  Proportionately more fats are burned versus carbohydrates while participating in exercise that keeps the heart rate at a lower level (50% of maximal effort or below).  It is this fact that led to the “aerobics” craze of the 80’s, and it has still been a driving force in the minds of exercisers when choosing an activity to help them reach their weight-loss goals.  Hence the seemingly endless rows of cardio machines at the gym.  And this all sounds good.  Why not?  I want to burn body fat, so naturally I should choose this style of activity, right

Here is where that logic falls short.  I’ll go back to my dinner plate analogy.  If you looked at the energy burned in an aerobic-style activity like a dinner plate, a typical cardio workout “plate” might hold 3 Twinkies, and 1 granola bar, with the Twinkies representing fat and the granola bar representing carbohydrates.  This 3 to 1 ratio of fats to carbohydrates is the most effective way for the body to provide the energy it needs to complete the task.  (Understand that protein is also used as an energy source, but for the sake of clarity I have left it out for now).  As the intensity of exercise goes up, the proportions present on the plate changes.  In a highly anaerobic (“without oxygen”) workout, it may be 3 granola bars and 1 Twinkies instead.  Carbohydrates do not require the presence of oxygen to be used as energy.

So why can a higher intensity, anaerobic exercise be more effective for body fat loss than aerobic exercise?  The important thing to understand is that while the proportions may have changed at a higher intensity, the anaerobic workout requires more overall plates.  You may have to have 3 plates worth of food to provide the energy necessary for a higher intensity workout.  9 granola bars and 3 Twinkies at the higher intensity workout, and only 1 granola bar and 3 Twinkies at the lower intensity workout.  You can see from this analogy that the same amount of fat is burned at both workout intensities.  However, with the increase carbohydrate usage comes increased calorie burning altogether.  The result?  Assuming the nutrition is dialed in, and without going into too much detail about the biochemistry of it all, the body uses fat stores post workout to replenish the energy lost during the workout and the overall body fat loss is higher than with the aerobic workout.  Understand that time plays a factor here.  5 minutes of high-intensity exercise is not going to necessarily negate an hour of low-intensity exercise.  But minute for minute, the bang for your buck is much higher.  The game you are trying to play is calories in versus calories out.  And any time you can maximize the calories out, like with a high intensity workout, the more effective body fat loss you will achieve.


(Note: Always consult your physician before engaging in a high-intensity exercise program)

Cardio is Not the Best Way to Burn Body Fat-Part 1

Nugget of the Day:  Cardio is not the best way to burn body fat.

I thought I would start this nugget on the positive side of things.  What is cardiovascular exercise good for, and why do we use it as our “go-to” exercise when we want to lose weight?  What we call “cardio” should be more accurately termed “aerobic” exercise.  The term “aerobic” literally means “with oxygen”.  The body can breakdown food into energy in the presence of oxygen or without oxygen present.  However, the fat molecule needs oxygen in order to be broken down into energy to be utilized by the body.  Because the intensity is not as high in aerobic exercise, the body is able to get enough oxygen to meet the energy demands of the body.  This allows fat to be utilized as a major energy source.  Carbohydrates, on the other hand, can be burned with or without the presence of oxygen.  But fats provide a little more whallop to their punch, supplying more energy per gram than carbohydrates, so it is a more efficient fuel source.  This makes it the more prevalent provider when the intensity of exercise is low enough to allow it to be utilized properly.

To see the big picture, you need to understand that it is a matter of proportions.  You never are just utilizing one energy source.  You are always using a combination of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins as energy at all times.  While engaged in aerobic exercise, you burn a higher proportion of fat calories versus carbohydrate calories.  As an analogy, let’s look at it like a dinner plate, with the food on the plate representing the amount and type of energy burned in an aerobic workout.  At a low intensity, the plate might hold three Twinkies and one granola bar (the Twinkies representing fat and the granola bar representing carbohydrates).  You might have as much as a 3:1 ratio of fats burned versus carbohydrates when engaged in aerobic exercise.  Fats are the major source of energy in this case.  Sounds like a good recipe for weight loss, right?  Wrong…and I’ll tell you why in the next post…


Motivation/ Results of Aerobic Exercise

Question of the Week #7: What is your motivation for being physically healthy?

Nugget of the Day #3: Aerobic exercise results in reduced body fat, as well as increased heart and lung efficiency.

Aerobic exercise is an important component to a well-balanced exercise program.  Aerobic exercise, or cardio as it has been nicknamed, refers to activities such as walking, running, cycling, elliptical trainers, stair climbers, and aerobics classes.  Any type of activity that involves longer duration, sustained body movement.  What type and amount is dictated by the goals of the individual and the needs of their activities.  Aerobic exercise has both its benefits and its drawbacks.  Today we will focus just on the benefits.

Reduced Body Fat– Studies have shown that people who engage in regular aerobic exercise show greater decreases in body fat percentage than those who do not.  One reason for this is the utilization of fat as an energy source for the activity.  Because aerobic exercise by definition is exercise in the presence of oxygen, and breakdown of the fat molecule into energy requires oxygen, fat becomes a major energy source during aerobic activity.  Second, aerobic activity, by nature, is usually sustained over a longer period of time, and therefore the overall energy requirement is higher resulting in a net decrease of calories and a loss of body fat.

Increased Heart and Lung Efficiency– Over time, the body adapts to aerobic exercise and becomes more efficient.  One area is heart efficiency.  Consistent aerobic exercise stimulus results in strengthening of the heart muscle, as well as improvements throughout the entire circulatory system.  The heart is able to pump more blood per beat, resulting in a lower heart rate to provide adequate oxygen to the body systems and decreased stress on the heart.  Also, higher red blood cell count and increased capillary density mean increased ability to carry oxygen, lowering heart rate as well.  With regard to the lungs, aerobic exercise improves the lungs’ oxygen uptake capacity and ability to transfer oxygen to the blood stream, also improving efficiency and resulting in a decreased workload on the lungs.

The improved heart and lung efficiency means a couple of different things.  One, it means that you are able to exercise at higher and higher levels as the body becomes conditioned.  When you first start out, the fastest you might be able to run a mile is 12 minutes.  But over the course of time and training, as a result of improved efficiency in the heart and lungs, as well as muscle efficiency (but we’ll talk about that later), you will find that you will be able to run the mile in 10 minutes, or less, at the same level of effort.  These adaptations certainly have implications for how you program your aerobic exercise routine.  If your goal is to run faster, then you are on your way.  Keep up the good work.  But, improved efficiency also means that the energy requirement for your activity goes down.  If your goals are more focused on body composition, then adaptation might not be your friend.  You will have to be a little more creative.  I will explain why and how in the next “Nugget” post.


Question of the Week #6/ Nugget of the Day #2

Question of the Week #6What role does prayer play, if any, in improving physical fitness?

Nugget of the Day #2Vigorous physical activity burns an average of about 10 Calories per minute.  Obviously this varies depending on the age and weight of the individual, but this is a good ballpark figure to use when estimating the impact of your exercise sessions.  Just remember, shopping at the mall for an hour is not “vigorous exercise”.  If you aren’t breaking a sweat, it isn’t vigorous.  Adding this to the knowledge that 1 pound of body fat contains approximately 3500 Calories, then it would take 350 minutes of vigorous exercise alone to burn 1 pound of body fat if no dietary modifications were made.  This is just under 6 hours of exercise to lose a pound of body fat if you didn’t make any adjustments in your food consumption.  To some this probably sounds like a lot of exercise for only 1 pound.  Two things you need to understand from this:
1: Food control is extremely important when attempting to drop body fat!  Adding a calorie deficit to the extra calories burned can safely double the rate of body fat loss.
2: It takes time!  If you are engaged in both a regular exercise program and a calorie-restricted nutrition plan, a reasonable expectation for body fat loss is 1-2 pounds a week.  Any amount more than that means that you’ve either quit your day job and become an Olympian in training or become a monk and have taken up fasting every day.  If the package or the infomercial says “lose 5 pounds a week”, someone is trying to sell you something!