In a previous article we discussed the most important factor to losing body fat. Simply put, if you want to lose body fat you need to be eating fewer calories than you are burning, which is why the majority of men out there could accomplish their weight loss goals by simply cleaning up their diet and increasing their activity levels.
But for men who are already quite lean (less than 10% body fat) and who want to get even leaner, a straightforward reduction in calories may not be enough. Although these men are quite lean all over the bodies, often they will notice a small layer of body fat surrounding their love handles and lower abdomen that refuses to budge. In fact, these men will often report that no matter what they try they just can’t seem to get rid of that last layer of body fat from this area.
These men have a problem with stubborn body fat.
In a previous article I discussed some of my favourite training resources. In part 1 of the series I mentioned Lyle McDonald and his website Bodyrecomposition. Many years ago it was the premier site on all things related to diet and nutrition. Lyle is a very knowledgeable individual and has written many informative books on all aspects of diet and training. One particular book that he wrote and that I have found very useful is called The Stubborn Fat Solution.
For men who have problems with stubborn body fat it is an excellent resource, which is why in this article I want to go over Lyle’s protocol in the book.
But before I can get to that I need to back up a little bit and explain some of the science.
Why is stubborn body fat so stubborn?
Research suggests that the reason why certain fat cells are more stubborn than others has to do with blood flow. Frankly speaking, stubborn fat cells don’t receive the adequate blood flow needed in order to mobilize the fat from within the cells. There are actually two different types of receptors that control fat cell metabolism in the body. Beta-2 receptors, otherwise known as the “good” receptors, increase blood flow to the fat cell which enables lipolysis (the breakdown of fat). On the other hand, alpha-2 receptors decrease the blood flow to the fat cell, making it more difficult for the body to mobilize fat out of the cell.
Interestingly, different areas of the body have a different distribution of alpha-2 and beta-2 receptors. Research suggests that men’s abdominal fat actually has higher density of alpha-2 receptors. This is likely why many men find it difficult to burn off that last layer of fat accumulating around their love handles and lower abdominals. It’s those pesky alpha-2 receptors!
What can you do?
In order to get stubborn fat mobilized in the body you need to first overcome the resistance in blood flow to the fat cells. This is best accomplished by ramping up the concentration of catecholamines (e.g. adrenaline) in the body. Research has indicated that catecholamines are important in the mobilization of fat out of the fat cell and is likely the reason why High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is so productive in reducing body fat. This is why the best way to quickly ramp up the catecholamine levels in your body is by doing some form of hard interval exercise (such as hill sprints). This will ramp up your adrenaline levels which will in turn mobilize or release the fatty acids out of the fat cells. However, this only solves one part of the problem.
Once you have gotten the fat outside of the cell by raising your body’s level of catecholamines you need to then be able to burn off the fatty acids. This is where the steady state cardio comes into play. Because steady state cardio preferentially uses fat as a fuel it will allow you to burn off the free flowing fatty acids in your body.
It is ultimately this two step process of mobilization followed by oxidation that will allow you to burn off those last layers of stubborn fat.
Putting it all together
Now that we know what we need to do to get rid of stubborn body fat (mobilize and then oxidize), the following is plan that was laid out by Lyle Mcdonald himself on how to best accomplish this. I have added my additional comments in red:
- An hour or two before the cardio session take 200mg caffeine with 1-3g of l-Tyrosine. (Personally I don’t think you need to use any supplements but for some guys it might be worthwhile).
- Complete a brief warm up for 3-5 minutes.
- After the warm up complete 5-10 minutes of hard interval work. You can do this on a stationary bike, treadmill, or stair stepper etc. (My suggestion would be to do several hill sprints).
- After completing your intervals take a 5 minute break to recover.
- Now go and do a form of steady state cardio for 30-45 minutes or another piece of cardio equipment. So if you performed intervals on the stationary bike, then use the stair stepper. (My suggestion would be to do a longer conditioning run, somewhere between 5 and 10k depending on your fitness level).
- After completing the steady state cardio session wait an hour before having a small protein meal (protein shake would be ideal). Do not consume any dietary fat. You want your body to continue burning off the free fatty acids floating in your bloodstream.
- After 2-3 hours go back to your normal dieting.
Lyle made some further suggestions including that this type of protocol should not be done more than 3x per week. Even at 3x per week you have to be very careful about burning yourself out. Remember, you’re in a caloric deficit so your body’s ability to recover will be hampered. In my opinion, it’s probably wise to start with just two sessions before ramping it up. Additionally, this is a protocol that I would not recommend you run for extended periods of time (maybe 3-6 weeks max). Ideally you wouldn’t need to run the protocol beyond that if you only have a few pounds of stubborn body fat left to lose.
For the men out there who are already quite lean (less than 10% body fat) and are having problems with losing those last few pounds of fat, I highly recommend you give this protocol a chance for at least a few weeks. It’s a great example of using the latest research on exercise physiology in order to come up with real world, practical solutions to typical fitness problems.
Here’s to staying fit!