Part 1: Golden Rules for novice fat-burners
Just do it
If you’re running to get rid of some fat, you’re ready to go as long as you can do up your laces. “For the first six weeks, all you need to do is run,” says sports scientist and coach Ian Mellis (resultsfast.co.uk) “As a new runner, exercise floods your body with adrenaline, stimulating the release of fat from your cells, which is broken down by running.” In other words, it’s the beginning of the end for your unseemly excess fat, wherever it is. But this golden period won’t last for ever. “Your body soon gets used to this level of stimulus,” says Mellis. “So this is when you can start doing intervals and tempo runs to continue the process.” Keep reading…
Done the crime? Do the time
Understanding how much running it takes to undo your dietary sins is crucial. Based on a 12st beginner running at 10min/mile, burning 730kcal/hour, here’s how long you need to spend pounding pavements to burn off a…
Small Milky Way (122kcal): 10 mins
Can of Stella Artois (243kcal): 20 mins
Burger King Caesar Chicken Wrap (365kcal): 30 mins
McDonald’s Big Mac (487kcal): 40 mins
Pret A Manger all-day breakfast
sandwich (608kcal): 50 mins
Pizza Express Quattro Formaggio (730kcal): 60 mins
Pass the plateau
As you become fitter, your body will need new stimuli to continue its fat-burning evolution. “Intervals take your body into the upper echelons of its capacity and increase the amount of oxygen you use to perform and recover, resulting in more calories burned,” says Mellis. Post-exercise, intervals really come into their own: the intensity means your body needs more oxygen than normal to return it to its pre-exercise state. For every litre of oxygen consumed you burn five calories; this post-exercise oxygen consumption elevates your calorie-burning for up to 48 hours.
“Beginners should run at 80 per cent of maximum effort for one minute, then jog for 30 seconds. Repeat this 20 times and you’ll inhale eight litres more oxygen than if you ran for the same time at a steady pace,” says Mellis.
Balance your books
It’s not rocket science: to lose weight you have to burn more calories than you take in, so it’s a good idea to know how many you need in the first place. Start by working out your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the number of calories you’d need to keep your body ticking over if you were to stay in bed all day.
Calculate your BMR by using the formula on the right. Then multiply that figure by 1.55 to account for ‘moderate’ exercise (running three to five days a week) and you’ll find how many calories you will need to maintain your current weight.
Set your alarm
Do some of your runs before breakfast. Research published in the Journal of Physiology found that training in a fasted state (before you grab the croissants) primes your body to burn fat stores more effectively.
Don’t sweat the scales
When you start running you’re not only burning calories, you’re also building muscle, which weighs more than the fat you’re ditching. “It’s surprisingly common to gain weight when you start running,” says personal trainer Kim Ingleby. “It’s partly because muscle is denser than the fat it replaces, and partly because the training makes you crave a higher ratio of carbs to protein in your diet.”
So go easy on your recovery meals. Researchers at Louisiana State University, in the US, found that aerobic exercisers often eat more than their daily calorie allowance in the misplaced belief that they need to ‘refuel’ after training.
Remember, you want your body to burn off the excess you’re carrying, not just the sports drink you’ve knocked back. There are 266kcal in a 380ml bottle of your favourite sports drink – the same as in six Chicken McNuggets. “Beginners need to train for over 30 minutes before thinking about sports drinks and gels,” says Harley Street sports nutritionist Drew Price. By that point you’ll have burned around 350kcal – beyond calorie-neutral.
Know your enemy
To lose an inch from your waistline, you need to shift around four and a half kilograms of fat – that’s approximately 15,000kcal or roughly 20 hours spent running.
(Based on 11st women and assuming 10-minute miles)
Part 2: the holy grail of endurance
It’s the physiological change that will push your endurance to the next level: relying on your body’s fat reserves to power you, rather than your carb stores, which last approximately 90 minutes. Training your body to use these fat stores may take a little time, but it’s worth the effort. Here’s how you can fire up your fat-burning engines.
Back to the fat
First, up your fat intake. “The body burns what you feed it and can be tightfisted with the enzymes needed to break down foods it’s not used to,” says Price. “If your body is geared toward processing carbs, it will produce enzymes to do that. You must train it to produce enzymes that process fat, so shift the focus of your meals from starch to fats and proteins. Enzymes don’t differentiate between the origins of the fat, so by increasing your body’s ability to process dietary fat, you make it more efficient at burning body fat, too. Maintain your calorie intake, just change the ratios.”
And make sure those fats are the unsaturated kind. It takes 10-14 days for your body to make the switch and it may not be an easy ride, according to Price. Try to drop as much carbohydrate from your diet as you can, for up to two weeks, keeping your daily calorie intake the same, but taking in extra protein and fats. Only have carbs around training times, but try not to overdo it – you still want your main calorie sources to be fats and proteins.
As for your running, Mellis suggests taking it slowly and steadily: “Steady-state cardio is the best way to train your body to access its fat stores. The more intense your training – intervals, speed work and so on – the more your body relies on carbohydrate,” says Mellis. “If you’re training five days a week, do one session at goal race pace and one session of interval training, but spend the other three running at a sub-maximal level – around 75 per cent of your intended race pace. Building endurance at that level will reduce your body’s reliance on carbohydrate and get it used to accessing fat stores more efficiently.
Tap the fat
The next phase is to train in a glycogen-depleted state, which forces your body to access its fat stores for energy. This is best done if you’re already a confident, strong runner. University of Dundee research published in the European Journal of Sport Science found the body will learn to search for fuel from other sources when there are no carbs available. These sources include the fat in your bum, thighs and belly. You may find it tough at first, but Danish research confirms that training in this depleted state can improve endurance. Try running at a steady pace for up to three hours before breakfast, twice a week; forgoing supplements; doing your long training runs in a carb-free state (see Do the Double, right); and drinking only water while training.
Do the double
“If you can’t train first thing, when you’re naturally carb-depleted, advanced runners can try a ‘depleted double’,” says Mellis. That is, training at 70 per cent of your race pace for up to an hour without carbs, then eating protein and fats only. “This will maintain your nutrient levels and aid muscle repair without replenishing glycogen stores,” says Mellis. Later in the day, do a second run of up to three hours to force your body to turn to its fat stores. “But remember, these aren’t race strategies,” says Mellis. “On race day, you want your glycogen levels to be high.” It’s the combination of the fat you’ve trained your body to burn and instantly accessible carbs that will deliver a winning performance of long-haul endurance and bursts of strength.
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