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Why Losing Fat Seems More Difficult When You Are Already Fit

Discussion in 'Female Health & Fitness' started by causticmuse, Sep 30, 2007.

  1. causticmuse

    causticmuse Well-Known Member

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    (This topic seems to come up so often that I wanted to share my thoughts on it here in the Female Fitness forum.)

    The Pink Dumbbells MEGA Challenge is wrapping up week 2 this weekend, and already I am seeing some formerly gung-ho ladies drop off the radar completely or admit to flagging motivation due to their lack of instant results after just one week. Some have lost only a little bit of scale weight. Some have just maintained. Some, myself included, have even gone up a pound or two. And a few others have decided (perhaps wisely) to avoid the scale completely until week 4. We haven't even reached week 4 yet (the famous milestone marker for the "OMG! I've been SO perfect! Why haven't I lost any weight?!?!" freak out), but women who really should know better are starting to lose steam based on just a few digits on the scale.

    Now understand that the majority of the challenge participants are not new to healthy eating or exercise. If you read through the sign up posts, you’ll see that the common theme among this diverse group is that almost all of us have been lifting weights, performing cardio, and eating relatively clean for a year or more. We aren’t newbies starting their first Body-for-Life challenges after ten years of being one with our couches and regulars at Mickey D’s.

    And therein lies the reason for our lackluster weigh-ins at this early stage.

    Our bodies are EFFICIENT.

    Efficient is defined as “performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; economical to use.”

    Think about that for a moment in the context of our bodies. When you train hard regularly to constantly improve your strength and speed while keeping your clean food intake about the same, you are essentially wiring your body to handle an increasing amount of hard physical work in a more economical fashion when it comes to energy expenditure. A 5k run might have burned off over 450 calories when you were just starting out, but once you are fit that number could drop down to 320 calories just because you are more efficient at it due to lower overall body weight, improved cardiovascular endurance, and better running mechanics.

    I believe that those of us who have been working out for a few years just have greater buffer zones when it comes to physique changes compared to men and women who are complete beginners. What I mean by this is that our tolerance for exercise and clean nutrition is higher because we’ve conditioned our bodies to handle much more activity than the average person and to furthermore do so on “premium” fuel/mostly clean eats. We are stronger and have more endurance than we did before we started working out one, two, three, or more years ago.

    That’s good, of course, but it also means that we are able to lug around any extra poundage we have put on when we slack off for a while with less effort than we would have before.

    Here’s what I imagine happens when we sign up for these challenges, boost our workouts (which we were probably doing with 50-80% compliance already) to 80-100% compliance and tidy up our (again 50-80% clean) diets:

    Our bodies just shrug and say, “Ah, more of the same old thing. Hmm…can I perform these new workouts on this slightly reduced amount of very high quality food without burning up any of my (needed for 9 months of baby production) stored fat? Yup! Cool beans! No need to shed any of this extra weight until we know this is long-term change. La la la…. Ack! Geez, do I really have to lift THAT much weight again? I think I need to get some work crews and supplies over to the muscle department for an upgrade.”

    Don’t underestimate the importance of that “very high quality food” component. If a relatively fit gal has been eating 2000 calories of 50% healthy and 50% junk food, cleaning up her diet to 90% healthy may actually give the body MORE usable quality nutrients and calories for muscle growth even if she reduces her total caloric intake to 1500 per day. At 50% dietary compliance a maintenance intake level of 2000 calories per day yields only 1000 calories of quality fuel. At 90% dietary compliance and 1500 calories per day, that is 1350 calories of quality fuel (very likely quite high in protein) that her body would just LOVE to use to rebuild muscles that have grown a bit soft from a few weeks or months of scaled-back workouts. If you add in the effect of muscle memory which theoretically makes it easier for someone who once achieved a certain level of muscle size and strength to return to that same level with less effort, what you may actually have for the first few weeks of clean eats and consistent workouts is such a favorable environment for muscle hypertrophy that fat loss gets pushed to second place on the body’s list of priorities.

    After all, we are now subjecting our muscles to heavy loads on a regular basis again. The natural response of our bodies is to restore our muscles to their previous glory ASAP in order to handle the new physical demands, and what do you know? There’s suddenly lots of good, clean building blocks coming in, ready to make this happen!

    We can still make our bodies drop the fat, but it takes either a MAJOR shock to the system exercise/food-wise (think crazy Velocity Diet or a completely different workout plan that we are NOT efficient at performing) or simply a little MORE time performing a reasonable program consistently and with stricter compliance to get the results that we once achieved by simply cutting out regular Cokes and adding chicken breast, weight training, and a few 20 minute HIIT sessions to our week.

    Perhaps challengers like us shouldn’t even be allowed to have the classic 4-Week Freak Out; our realistic time-frame would be more in line with a 6- or 8-Week Freak Out.

    My advice is to stick to your workouts and nutrition plan and let your body do its thing to get your muscles back up to spec if you’ve been sloppy with exercise and food for a while and know you’ve lost some strength and muscle size. Once it’s finished rebuilding that underlying uber-buff chica structure under the hood in a few weeks, your body will be more than happy to turn its attention to burning off the extra fluff sitting on top.

    Oh, and picking out some new exercises that you have never done before or are particularly tough for you to do might be a good idea, too.

    Now take that self pity-motivated Hershey bar out of your mouth, hit those planned workouts and meals religiously, and don’t let me hear any more whining until Week 6 at the earliest!
     
  2. guava

    guava Elite Member
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    Losing fat IS more difficult when you are already fit.

    I think many women attempt to lose weight below a level which is optimal for healthy functioning. I'm starting to believe more in the genetic component of our weight, which has the result that some individuals will be naturally inclined to be heavier than others. People who are already fit are already at a healthy spot for their body, even if that spot may not be perfectly aesthetically pleasing for that person. Losing extra body fat will not make them any healthier, and in some cases will make them less healthy. At certain points in a person's weight loss diet (particularly for women, who are often aiming to become smaller than what may be their "ideal" weight) they are eating a caloric equivalent that is barely sufficient to maintain their basic bodily functions. Of course, this adds stress and the body rebels.

    People who are not already fit often only need to remove calories only to the point where they may not eat what their appetite demands, whereas people who are already fit sometimes need to reduce their calories below what their hunger dictates. I think there's a difference.

    I certainly agree with the extra caution to focus on quality foods. On a calorie restricted diet, especially for an already lean person, it's even harder to meet the various recommended micronutrient targets, to ensure a diet rich in iron, calcium, and various other vitamins and minerals. Any deficiencies in these areas can more easily lead to negative behaviors and moods (fatigue, irritability, etc.)
     
  3. JoeSchmo

    JoeSchmo Well-Known Member

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    Another reason why it is more difficult is because fit people usually have less body fat to lose. If you don't have much fat to begin with, your body is going to fight your fat loss attempts in order to keep a reasonable amount of fat. Your body doesn't mind going from 30% bf to 20%, but it does mind going from 12% to 6% (in males), and so will fight you along the way...making fat loss much more difficult.
     
  4. littlechic

    littlechic Active Member

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    Same Problem....Any Advice?

    I am in the same boat.....I am 5' 2 and weigh 119lbs. I have a very small/petite frame and am currently at 24% bf, down from 32% two years ago when I first got serious about changing my body. I am happy with my actual weight, if anything I probably need to gain some weight, but I want to get my bf% down a little. I feel like I still have too much "extra" on my buns and thighs. I eat relatively clean and have for about 2 years now. I lift on split weeks MWF, Lower, Upper, Lower and on TTH I usually take a cardio or combo class like step, or step interval. I am pretty happy with my strength and indurance right now, I really just want a "leaner" look for my bikini! I just feel like I have reached a plateau. What do I need to do to kick my body back into producing results? Do I need to intensify my workout or focus more on my diet? Both? Any comments, advice would be welcome.
     
  5. shannonlee

    shannonlee Active Member

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    Some ways to bust plateaus:

    Changing training frequencies, allowing an extra rest days for recovery, or by splitting a full body routine to several days working different muscles groups, like upper body on alternating days and then the lower body other days

    Changing up sets, going from multiple sets to single sets, and visa versa

    Changing resistance and repetitions, like if normally you have muscle failure with 8 reps at 80lbs, changing it to 10 reps at 70lb

    Assisted training, having a little help during a lifting movement also allows one to increase reps before muscle failure

    Slowing down the movements for greater muscle tension is another way

    I have been at a plateau since before xmas. Lately I have been wondering if I'm just too interested in the number on the scale, and may be I really am where I should be, and just need to get over it.

    But I am a very goal oriented, perfectionist kind of a person and it bugs the crap out of me not to reach a goal. Plus when I do the math it tells me my perfect body weight is still 4lbs away, and I had been at that weight before and felt good there. But then again I am much more muscular now then when I weighed 100lbs before (I'm only 5 foot tall and small boned). And I think muscle weighs 30% more than fat (someone please correct me if I'm wrong there), so if I take that into account may be I really should be where I'm at now.

    I just want a little more definition. I'm trying to revamp my diet and see if that helps.
     
    #5 shannonlee, Mar 18, 2008
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2008
  6. guava

    guava Elite Member
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    If you're talking about the BMI charts, for defining your "perfect" weight, in a woman's case, it's most accurate for mildly active person with body fat percentage in about the 21 to 30% range.

    It's mostly based on the idea that excess body fat in harmful and can put strain on your joints. I know of no cases where extra lean body mass has created health risks. So for any woman who is near the bottom body fat percentage, the recommended healthy weight limits should be higher.

    According to this source, body fat takes up 18% more room than muscle mass.
    http://www.gain-weight-muscle-fast.com/lean-body-mass.html

    To revamp your diet, things you might try:
    greater proportion of protein
    carbohydrates focused mainly around your workouts
    calories zig-zagged around where you need them most (fewer calories and carbohydrates on less active days, and less activie times of day)
     
  7. shannonlee

    shannonlee Active Member

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    This is the formula I used:

    height x weight =

    dividing that by my weight

    multiplying that by 703 for BMI

    Multiplying BMI by 1.20

    Then multiplying age by .23

    and add those numbers together

    subtracting 5.4 to find body weight percentage

    Using a chart I found to determine how far over the goal I am -which was 14% over the goal of 21

    Then I multiplied my body fat by my current weight to find my weight from fat

    and then I multiplied my % over goal by total body fat to find how many pounds of fat I should seek to lose

    I ended with 3, and since my current weight is 103 it seemed 100lbs was where I should be.

    Does all that make sense???
     
  8. suzyqwood

    suzyqwood Active Member

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    Excellent post. I find myself in a similar situation.

    I am a 46 y/o female, mother of 3. Last year between March and September I lost 20 pounds with the advice and motivation from this site and Tom Venuto's BFFM. I am approx. 5'1", 116 pounds, 21-23% BF. I have been maintaining since September, eating clean foods but overdoing it with snacking. Exercise consists Body Pump and Spinning classes at the gym. I still feel I have lots of fat to lose, mainly in the lower ab area. I have that lovely "mommy belly".

    My question is, what do you gals feel is an attainable and maintainable BF percentage, for a woman my age specifically? I weigh around what I weighed when I got married 23 years ago, but the fat has been redistributed. My focus now is to lose the fat, regardless of what the scale says.
     
  9. shannonlee

    shannonlee Active Member

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    Your body fat % is within the range for fit women. But so is mine and I know I'm not quite satisified yet. I just know what results I want (a bit more definition).

    You sound really fit to me, but may be 18-20 would be what to shoot for to get the look you want.....
     
  10. guava

    guava Elite Member
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    21 to 23 % body fat is a very healthy range for a female, and would be considered "fit".

    Female athletes typically have a body fat percentage between 15 and 19% body fat. Those levels in most cases would require a significant amount of training and diligence. Check out the journal of hibiscus09 for inspiration! She competed in a figure competition at the age of 43. Unfortunately the photos have been removed.
     
  11. suzyqwood

    suzyqwood Active Member

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    Thank you for the replies!

    I do feel like I'm in pretty good shape and am basically happy with my appearance, fully clothed at least. I do worry about losing more fat where I don't want to, though, like in my boobs! With summer coming I'd like to get rid of the belly. I guess I'll never know if I don't give it a try.
     

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