Here's what you need to know...
- Eat for what you're about to do. Carbs fuel intense activity, so don't carb-up for bed or you may end up storing them instead of burning them.
- Do cardio in the morning before you've had any carbs. Tap into fat stores without eating away at muscle by having amino acids (or protein) pre-cardio.
- Not all carbs work the same way. Broken down to their smallest components, fructose goes straight to the liver while glucose preferentially gets used in muscle cells. Keep tabs on fructose intake to keep it from being stored as fat.
You're doing everything right: Banishing junk food, training hard, adding in some cardio – but none of it seems to touch that spare tire around your waist.
Don't save up for lipo just yet. When everything in your regimen says you should have visible abs and yet you don't, try these tricks to lean out.
What did you eat before bed last night? What are you going to eat before bed tonight?
It's important, because what you eat in the two hours prior to bedtime has an enormous impact on your physique, especially when it comes to fat loss.
Here's the rule: Eat for what you're about to do.
Most of us aren't going to go for a walk or move around much during the two hours before hitting the sack. For that reason, we don't need to eat a traditional bodybuilding meal at that time. Instead, we need to eat for what we're about to do: not move very much.
More specifically, your carbohydrate needs are dramatically diminished – arguably eliminated – when you're sleeping. Remember, carbs fuel high-intensity exercise like weight-training and sprinting, and there's no such thing as "high-intensity sleeping."
Fat, on the other hand, becomes the primary fuel source as the intensity of exercise goes down. In fact, when you're sleeping you're burning almost exclusively fat for fuel.
Therefore, feeding your body carbs prior to bed dramatically increases the chance that the carbs are stored as opposed to being burned. And if carbs aren't burned, they're either stored as glycogen or as fat.
If you happen to have weight-trained (cardio doesn't count) in the last three or four hours prior to retiring to your chamber, then there's very little chance that the carbs you eat at this time will be converted to fat. That's because glycogen stores are low and will hog all the carbs, leaving none needing to be converted to fat.
For those of us who don't train within three or four hours before bed, we should eliminate carbs in our pre-bed meal. When I say eliminate I don't necessarily mean zero grams. Don't be afraid of low-starch veggies at this time.
The Fat Factor
As for pre-bed fat intake, I stand by my rule of "have fat when you don't have carbs." However, I do recommend cutting your normal portion of fat in half.
There's evidence that consuming a large amount of fat – "fat loading" – suppresses hormone sensitive lipase (HSL), which is needed to break down fat.
Although the fat load in one study which claimed this was more than a health-conscious lifter would normally consume in one meal (40g), I'd recommend being even more conservative. For the last meal of the day, limit yourself to 10 or 15 grams of fat.
No, not "fasted" cardio, but rather "no-carb" cardio. There's a big difference.
Let's say you just knocked back a bowl of Fruit Loops and you decide you want to go do some cardio to get leaner. Problem is, that cardio is going to primarily be fueled by your Fruit Loops, not your love handles.
That's because eating carbs blunts fat burning and promotes the body's use of carbs for fuel. Clearly, we don't want to burn carbs for fuel if we're doing cardio to lose fat.
So how do we burn fat for fuel?
Fasting – going without eating for a period of time, like during sleep – shifts the body toward burning fat for fuel. Why? Liver glycogen and blood sugar are lower after fasting, so the body is forced to burn fat for fuel in a fasted state.
Fasted cardio leads to significantly higher levels of the potent fat-burning hormone, norepinephrine, than non-fasted cardio. That's why bodybuilders have been doing fasted cardio for years, with great results.
The Problem With Fasted Cardio
In addition to burning fat for fuel, the body will also mobilize protein to help with meeting energy demands. And it will get this protein, specifically amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) from muscle tissue. Your muscles are parting with precious branched-chain amino acids. Not good.
Your body will break down muscle tissue to fuel your treadmill walking, and it'll occur more and more as the intensity of exercise goes up. But there's a way around this robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul conundrum.
Consuming BCAAs, like what you'll get in Mag-10®, prior to doing cardio reduces and even prevents the protein breakdown that would otherwise occur. That means more muscle for you and a faster metabolic rate.
When doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT), research suggests it's probably not beneficial to do it fasted, since the fuel used for it isn't fat anyway. It's carbs. However, consuming BCAAs prior to HIIT is still crucial, maybe even more so. As the intensity of exercise goes up, so does the role BCAAs play in energy production.
Fact: You need to eat carbs to replenish muscle glycogen for optimal performance and muscle growth. Trying to build muscle without carbs is like driving with four flat tires. It can be done, but it ain't fast, and it ain't fun!
But it's not enough to just eat carbs and hope they'll make it to your muscles. You need to know they're going to your muscles. Ditch the wish-upon-a-star strategy and implement a scientific protocol of carb consumption.
Let's review some carb science. There are three types of monosaccharides of interest to us humans: glucose, fructose, and galactose. The latter comes from the breakdown of the disaccharide lactose, found in dairy products. I highly doubt a significant portion of your carbs come from lactose.
Regardless, it will be broken down into one part glucose and one part galactose. Subsequently, the galactose will soon be converted to your body's favorite monosaccharide – glucose.
Glucose is the body's preferred carb currency. Once in the body – whether ingested directly or from the breakdown of more complex carbs – glucose is used for energy, stored as glycogen, or converted to fat.
In The Insulin Advantage we discussed the importance of not overeating carbs so that the excess can't be converted to fat. We only want to eat enough carbs to supply our immediate energy needs and to replenish glycogen, specifically muscle glycogen.
The cool, physique-friendly thing about glucose is that it preferentially replenishes muscle glycogen as opposed to liver glycogen. It seems the skeletal muscles worked out some sort of deal with the body so that it gets first dibs on extra glucose before the liver gets a chance to lay its mitts on the fuel.
That's great for us, because we desperately want our carbs to go to our muscles, not to our liver!
When we ingest fructose, it's quickly absorbed and shuttled off to the liver. It'll then be stored as liver glycogen and will be slowly broken down as needed by the blood.
There are two problems with fructose:
- Storing carbs in our liver does our muscles no good!
- Once the liver is full of glycogen it will convert any incoming fructose to triglycerides. And the liver only holds about 100 grams of fructose.
What does that mean for us? It means that we don't need to be liberal with our fructose intake.
It also means that your nutrition around workout time should have glucose-containing carbs, not fructose-containing. Because, essentially, whatever carbs you eat from fructose are not going to your muscles, which will benefit most from them post-workout.
So, keep an eye on fructose, but also monitor your sucrose intake. Sucrose, which is table sugar, is a disaccharide made of one fructose molecule and one glucose molecule. In other words, sucrose is half fructose.
Soda is definitely not a good choice for post-workout carbs, but there's a much less obvious carb source we need to keep an eye on: fruit. For example, of the roughly 25 grams of carbs in an apple, about 15 grams are from fructose.
The point isn't to avoid fruit altogether. In fact, I typically recommend most people eat one or two servings a day because of their micronutrients. Rather, the point is to avoid having a couple pieces of fruit and thinking all 50 grams of carbs are going to your muscles. They're not.
A better approach is to have no more than one piece of fruit at a time, even in the post-workout "window of opportunity." And if you're going to have fruit post-workout, consider making it a banana, which has more glucose, yet about half the fructose of an apple.
These fat-loss strategies aren't going to get you lean if you superimpose them on otherwise piss-poor nutrition and training programs.
However, I can tell you from experience that if you try to get lean without using these tricks, your abs are going to stay hidden for a much longer time.
- Evans K et al. Effects of an oral and intravenous fat load on adipose tissue and forearm lipid metabolism. Am J Physiol. 1999 Feb;276(2):E241-8. PubMed.
- Zoladz JA et al. Effect of moderate incremental exercise, performed in fed and fasted state on cardio-respiratory variables and leptin and ghrelin concentrations in young healthy men. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2005 Mar;56(1):63-85. PubMed.
- Blomstrand E et al. Effect of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on the exercise-induced change in aromatic amino acid concentration in human muscle. Acta Physiol Scand. 1992 Nov;146(3):293-8. PubMed.