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!


Do Women “Bulk Up”?

Question of the Week: When is it ok to stop serving?

Nugget of the Day:  Women don’t “bulk up” from strength training.

I’d like to speak to the ladies with this particular fact.  The average man would love to add a couple inches to his biceps.  But one of the most common fears when women are told they should begin a strength training program is that they are going to get bigger.  Most women engaged in an exercise program are trying to get smaller, or drop some amount of body fat.  So when told that they need to start “lifting weights”, immediately images of Zena the Warrior Princess or Eastern European power lifters come to mind.  Let me set your mind at ease.  If you are the typical woman, there are two main reasons why you don’t need to worry about  “bulking up” from strength training.

The main hormone responsible for muscle mass gain is testosterone.  This hormone is produced in the testes of men, and in the ovaries and adrenal glands of women.  On the average, men are shown to produce 15-20 times more testosterone than women.  This relatively small amount of testosterone compared to men greatly reduces the anabolic (building up) effects of resistance training.  The result: men will tend to put on significant amounts of muscle mass when resistance training, women will tend to see smaller increases in muscle mass and will achieve the more “toned” look that most desire.

In order to “bulk up”, the calorie intake needs to be higher than what is being expended due to exercise.  The typical exercise program that calls for a decrease in body fat will involve a calorie intake below what is expended throughout the average day.  This kind of nutrition plan greatly reduces the body’s ability to put on large amounts of muscle mass.  Obviously some muscle mass is being created due to the stimulus that strength training provides.  But it is significantly limited by the food intake because it takes extra energy and supplies to bulk up, and the body is not getting either.

Are there differences between women?  Yes, it is true that some women put on muscle mass more easily than others.  Most women know where they fit on this spectrum.  Program your exercise according to your body type.  Significantly increased muscle mass is more readily achieved by engaging in a strength training program that involves large amounts of weight and low repetitions.  If you are more prone to putting on mass, engaging in a more circuit-style exercise program will still stimulate metabolism and muscle growth, but not in the “bulking up” fashion.   But no matter where you fit on the spectrum, you can rest assured that engaging in a strength training program will not leave you like the Incredible Hulk, ripping through your clothes when you flex.


Effects of Too Much Cardio

Question of the Week #8: What course are you currently walking?

Nugget of the Day #4: Excessive amounts of aerobic exercise create a catabolic (breakdown) effect on the body, resulting in loss of muscle mass-a major component to body metabolism.

This one is for all you aerobic nuts out there, who decide to get in shape by wearing out every piece of cardio equipment in the gym.  While cardiovascular exercise (walking, running, cycling, aerobics classes) is an important and beneficial component to a balanced exercise program and is effective for calorie burn, the single-minded, cardio-only approach is actually detrimental to long term success.  If your goal is to run the marathon or win the spin-a-thon, then absolutely, keep at it.  But if your goal is to maximize the calorie burn potential of your workout and to improve body composition, then cardio all day…every day is not the answer.

Muscle mass is one of the key determinants of body metabolism.  Moving muscle takes energy.  The more muscle you must move, the more energy it requires.  In its attempt to be more efficient at your aerobic exercise activities, the body gets rid of muscle mass, thereby making the activity less taxing on the body to perform.  However, this catabolic effect results in a lower overall metabolism and decreases the amount of energy expended in your activities.  What does this mean?  It means that you need to do more and more cardio to get the same desired effect.  By stimulating the body to retain muscle mass through strength training, you negate this effect and keep the quality of your cardio workouts where you want it.  So substitute a couple of those turns on the Stairmaster with a couple of reps with the iron.  View the Workouts posts for some great ideas to get you started.  You’ll see the difference!