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.


Increasing Resting Metabolic Rate

Question of the Week:  What is the purpose of your journey?

Nugget of the Day:  Increasing muscle mass through strength training is the best way to raise resting metabolic rate (RMR).

The major factors in increasing resting metabolic rate (RMR) are an increase in lean body tissue (muscle mass), being young, genetics, or some hormonal change such as hyperthyroidism or monthly cycle.  Scroll through this list and tell me which ones you actually have some control over.  “Being young”?  It would sure be nice to have some control in this area, but unfortunately the clock keeps ticking.  “Genetics”?  Again, while some of us wish we could have chosen our pedigree, our chromosomes are what they are.  And genetics can even account for a 10-20% difference in RMR.  Some engines just run a little more “hot” than others.  “Hormonal changes” are also largely out of our control, so the only remaining factor that we can influence is lean body tissue, or muscle mass.

A few post back I mentioned that excessive amounts of cardiovascular exercise can decrease muscle mass, thereby decreasing number of calories burned, both at rest and during exercise.  Have any of you ever participated in a cardio-heavy exercise routine and wondered why you plateaued after a few months?  One of the prevailing factors leading to this plateau is a decrease in metabolism associated with loss of muscle mass.  Strength training stimulates the body to both retain present muscle and to add additional muscle mass to what you already have.  The benefits gained pertaining to metabolism are in effect for the entire day.  Not only does the body burn more calories during exercise when there is more muscle mass present, but the RMR also goes up and you burn more calories at rest as well.  RMR is important, whether you are trying to shed body fat, or just seeking to maintain your current level of fitness.  And a proper strength training program performed a couple times a week is just the thing your body needs.  I have some workouts that you can use to get started, and keep checking back as I am adding more each week!

“I’m afraid of ‘bulking up’ by doing strength training” is a concern I often hear, and I will address this in the next “Nugget of the Day”, so check back soon!


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!


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.