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Vic Toffan

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The idolization of a skinny physique for women, often influenced by Western beauty standards, has promoted a society that values short-term weight loss and slimness over strength and overall health. To achieve this, many people put their long-term health at risk for short-term gains, unknowingly and ironically, making it harder to sustain a lean physique long term. 

In this article, we will explore why the emphasis should be shifted from skinny to healthy to achieve long-term success, the significance of gaining lean muscle to increase basal metabolic rate, and why diet foods are not helpful with long-term maintenance.

Strong vs. Skinny: Shifting Perspectives
Prioritizing strong physiques, rather than ultra-lean physiques, encourages a focus on building a healthy and functional body, with the bonus of increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat.

By increasing our muscle mass, we directly increase our basal metabolic rate. Our bodies require more calories to sustain the new muscle mass on our frame, which allows us to diet with more ease, or increase our caloric intake while in maintenance. 

Simply put, we can adapt our metabolism to a higher caloric intake over time, which is directly inverse to the effect of short-term weight loss achieved via highly restrictive diets or “quick fixes,” resulting in negative metabolic adaptations.

The Importance of Gaining Lean Muscle: Boosting Metabolism and Health
Muscle tissue is metabolically active, meaning that the more muscle mass one has, the more calories their body burns at rest (also referred to as their basal metabolic rate). This is particularly beneficial for individuals looking to manage their weight and improve their body composition, or fat to lean muscle ratio.

Maintaining a moderate or high caloric intake during maintenance periods is ideal for overall health and vitality, but it also allows for the flexibility/option to pursue fat loss through cutting (a fixed period of dieting) without dropping calories extremely low and/or pushing cardio to extreme measures in the pursuit of a caloric deficit. 

By increasing muscle mass, individuals can achieve a “toned,” physique which is often the goal of diet and exercise. 

In addition to boosting metabolism, gaining lean muscle also contributes to improved strength, endurance, and overall physical performance. It can enhance functional abilities, reduce the risk of injury, and promote healthy aging and vitality. 

By increasing muscle mass, individuals can achieve a “toned,” physique which is often the goal of diet and exercise. 

The Pitfalls of Diet Foods: Long-Term Ineffectiveness
In the pursuit of fat loss, many individuals turn to diet foods that are often marketed as low-calorie or low-fat alternatives. While these products may initially contribute to weight loss (not specifically fat loss), they often also lead to unsustainable eating habits and can result in binge eating and an unhealthy relationship with food. 

Relying on low-calorie alternatives and decreasing caloric intake via extreme measures will result in a slowing (adapted) metabolism. Instead of focusing on increasing muscle mass to increase basal metabolic rate (through strength training and eating to fuel the body), individuals will be unable to recover properly from exercise, let alone sustain more muscle mass on their frame. 

Once an individual has adapted to an extremely low caloric intake, and the body cannot sustain muscle mass (and in some cases, has required the breakdown of muscle to sustain bodily functions), it will be extremely hard for the individual to decrease their body fat percentage and/or increase muscle mass, which was likely the goal of the extreme diet in the first place. Compounding these issues, the individual will be more susceptible to gaining fat in this state, as their metabolism has adapted to a very low caloric intake and any increase in calories or decrease in exercise will very likely cause an increase in fat mass. Many people refer to the effects of this as the “skinny-fat” look.

At this point, these individuals require a slow and methodical reverse diet to adapt their metabolism to a higher caloric intake over time and establish the ability in the future to increase muscle mass and/or reduce body fat. They will require a well-rounded and nourishing diet that includes a variety of whole foods such as lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, a far leap from low-calorie diet foods. 

In Conclusion: Strong > Skinny
Although quick weight loss success can be enticing, long-term “gains” through the promotion of strength training and eating to properly fuel the body should be the priority for individuals who wish to achieve a strong, “toned” physique that can be maintained with ease.

Choosing quick fixes to be skinny will incur a hefty price to pay while being strong will always stand the test of time.

If you’ve ever counted macros before, you’ve probably asked yourself if the quality of the foods you’re eating matters. The benefit of macro tracking is working within a specific individualized macro profile/budget, with less restriction than following a meal plan. But how much freedom do we really have?

The Importance of Choosing High-Quality Foods: A Key to Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

The world of nutrition and fitness is complex, but there is one principle that is universally understood: what you eat matters. Whether you’re in a caloric deficit aiming for fat loss, reverse-dieting once you’ve hit your goal physique, or eating in a surplus to gain muscle, the quality of the foods you choose to fit your macros plays an integral role in your success, and here’s why!

Macronutrients: The Basics
It’s important to establish a basic foundation and understanding of macronutrients. There are three primary macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. The fourth macronutrient (often not mentioned) is water, but we won’t take a deep dive into this macro, as there is only one way to hit your target (drink up!)

Our bodies use/respond to each macronutrient differently, and synergistically with one another. Proteins are essential for building and repairing body tissues, which becomes even more important with regular exercise, specifically resistance and strength training. Protein also helps to keep you satiated and helps stabilize blood sugar levels (thereby reducing cravings and maintaining energy). Carbohydrates provide a quick source of energy, and many carbs contain fibre, which assists with digestion and excretion. Our third macronutrient, fat, supports cellular function and hormone production and also assists in slowing down digestion (which can become handy when in a caloric deficit and wanting to decrease hunger).

The Right Foods to Fill Your Macros
When it comes to your fitness and physique goals, the quality of your food is just as important as the quantity. Whether you’re in a calorie deficit, maintenance or surplus, choosing nutrient-dense over calorie-dense foods helps to ensure that your body gets the micronutrients it needs to function optimally.

Protein
During a fat-loss phase, high-quality proteins like lean meats, eggs, fish, and legumes help repair and preserve muscle during weight loss and increase your basal metabolic rate due to thermogenesis. When it comes to building muscle, protein is also essential. Choosing high-quality proteins with complete amino acids (which are the building blocks of protein) is necessary for optimal muscle protein synthesis. By maintaining a high protein intake, we can repair and preserve muscle, which ultimately also increases our basal metabolic rate to maintain more muscle on our frame, making it easier to maintain a higher caloric intake with less effort (the ultimate goal).

Whether you’re in a caloric deficit aiming for fat loss, reverse-dieting once you’ve hit your goal physique, or eating in a surplus to gain muscle, the quality of the foods you choose to fit your macros plays an integral role in your success……

Carbohydrates
During a fat loss phase, high-fibre (complex) carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains help to promote healthy digestion and excretion and stable energy levels throughout the day. During a muscle-building phase, carbohydrates provide the necessary energy for intense workouts and help replenish glycogen stores in muscle, promoting recovery and growth. Choosing complex carbohydrates helps to provide sustained energy throughout the day (versus short energy bursts and crashes), and essential vitamins and minerals.

Fats
During a fat loss or muscle-building phase, healthy fats are important as they are involved in hormone production, including anabolic hormones like testosterone, which are crucial for both muscle growth and fat loss.

The Role of Micronutrients
Once you’ve mastered the art of hitting your macros, it’s important to consider micronutrients – vitamins, minerals and other compounds found in foods. Micronutrients play a crucial role in a myriad of bodily functions, such as energy production, bone health, immunity, and inflammation. All of these factors can affect your fitness journey, your general health and overall wellbeing.

Conclusion
Although it is tempting to fill your macronutrients with calorie-dense treats, it is vital to choose high-quality foods that support your overall health and wellness and make the journey to reaching your goals much easier. What I suggest to my clients is an 80/20 rule – choosing nutrient-dense foods 80% of the time and indulging within their macro guidelines 20% of the time. This allows for the flexibility of macro tracking and some food freedom, with the structure to support an effective body composition phase.

Have you ever heard of Beta Blockers? With Obesity rates on the rise, we are seeing a corollary increase in Heart Disease. In 2017 alone, Cardiovascular Disease was the underlying cause of 868, 662 deaths in the US, claiming more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined (American Heart Association, 2021). The Heart and Stroke Foundation defines Heart Disease as any condition that affects the function or structure of the heart (Heart and Stroke Foundation, 2021).

Many common conditions include Coronary Artery and Vascular Diseases, Irregular Heart Rhythms, Structural Heart Diseases and Heart Failure. Breaking these diseases down further, there are many pre-emptive conditions that can lead to a form of Cardiovascular Disease. Most commonly, Hypertension (high blood pressure) and Myocardial Infarction (heart attack). When facing a diagnosis of Cardiovascular Disease, one may consider introducing positive lifestyle modifications, such as the introduction of cardiovascular exercise, to reduce the risk of a worsening condition.

So what do Beta Blockers have to do with cardio and cardiac disease? And why do they matter? First of all, it is always a wise idea to consult your Doctor prior to beginning a new diet or exercise plan. Cardiovascular conditions are complex, and thus each person is treated uniquely concerning their specific needs. Secondly, the information provided in this article is simply intended to educate those who are already under the care of a doctor and taking Beta-Blockers.

Now to get down to the “heart” of it, Beta Blockers are a common drug prescribed to many patients with a diagnosis of Hypertension (high blood pressure), Arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm), Heart Failure, Heart Attack, Angina (chest pain), and for many other conditions. There are three main groupings of Beta Blockers, and many are prescribed this class of drug in conjunction with other cardiac medications. The purpose of Beta-Blockers is to reduce blood pressure and heart rate, thereby reducing the chance of developing Cardiovascular Disease, Stroke and other serious conditions. The effects of these medications are patient-specific, and so are their effects in relation to exercise.

When introducing cardio, we often use the Target Heart Rate Method to ensure we are working in accordance with our goals. To estimate heart rate percentage during cardio, the standard formula is:

(220 – age) x desired heart rate percentage.

For moderate to intense physical activity, this is usually between 60%-70% heart rate maximum. For high-intensity cardio, we usually aim for 80-90% heart rate max.

If you’ll remember, Beta Blockers are utilized to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, which is an important cardiac consideration to “take to heart.” Due to the effectiveness of this class of drug, those who implement a cardio routine while taking a Beta Blocker will have to be mindful that the traditional method of measuring
cardiovascular intensity may be inapplicable. This does not mean that they’re not benefiting from the cardiovascular benefits of cardio, it simply means that if they are unable to meet a specific target heart rate percentage, they should consider another method to assess exertion rates.

The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale, although subjective to personal bias, is an alternative many used to monitor and trend cardiovascular exertion over time. This scale utilizes physical sensations to determine exertion, such as breathlessness, sweating, muscle fatigue and more. This scale is widely available on the internet for reference.

Ironically, those who take Beta Blockers who are unable to reach standardized perceived heart rate targets using the Target Heart Rate Method may actually be overexerting themselves, solidifying the importance of an alternative scale to measure exertion rates.

For those taking Beta Blockers and with the consideration of incorporating exercise or any new lifestyle modification, it is important to start small and to consult a healthcare provider, who will always have your best interests at heart.

Photo By: Arsenik