Ripped six packs and toned midsections are all the rage among enthusiasts in today’s fitness industry. As a result, fat loss is today’s single most desired exercise adaptation. We know that consistent exercise and sound nutritional practices result in fat loss. Yes, it is that simple. Despite this, a number of age-old philosophies barrage the industry and add unnecessary complexity to the adaptation’s simplistic nature. Some enthusiasts swear by low carbohydrate diets for fat loss, while others live by HIIT training, and so on and so forth. Regardless of the applied method, many enthusiasts lose sight of fat loss’s actual underlying mechanisms. So, how do we actually lose weight? Upon a lifestyle change, where do our saddle bags, love handles, and beer guts disappear to? Is fat loss some sort of “now you see it, now you don’t” magic trick, or is there a deeper, physiologically based rationale for the “slimming” phenomenon. This blog examines fat loss from a unique and often overlooked viewpoint-breathing.
We know that fats and carbohydrates are broken down to produce energy for bodily functioning. Upon digestion, a large portion of fats and carbohydrates are stored. Logically, stored fats and carbohydrates account for bodyweight since the foods we eat bear weight. Carbohydrates store in the liver and in muscle, while fats store subcutaneously, viscerally, and in muscle (Gleeson & Jeukendrup, 2010). Regardless of storage site, fats and carbohydrates function similarly. Although fats are longer and yield more potential energy, both fats and carbohydrates contain high energy carbon bonds. These high energy carbon bonds hold fats and carbohydrates together. During energy metabolism, carbon bonds break and fats and carbohydrates deconstruct. At this point, fats and carbohydrates are no longer fats and carbohydrates. When carbon molecules separate, energy is released. Generated energy is used to reconstruct ATP, and ATP is the body’s only usable energy form (Baechle, 2008). The body finally has the energy that it needs to function, yet, the body’s molecular count remains unchanged and so does bodyweight. To lose weight, the body must excrete more of something than it consumes. So, how do we actually lose weight? What can we lose to offset ingested food and create weight loss?
All energy systems have byproducts. Larger fat and carbohydrate molecules become smaller byproduct molecules. The body eliminates byproduct molecules in a number of ways. Carbon is a byproduct of the electron transport chain (an integral part of the oxidative energy system) and is eliminated through an innate, taken for granted body process- breathing. We consume oxygen to serve an important function. Oxygen binds with carbon to form carbon dioxide during the electron transport chain’s final step (Campbell & Spano, 2011). Essentially, since carbon bears weight, we lose weight when we breathe. Thus, our key to weight loss is to exhale more weight in carbon than we consume and store in food. Breathe more, eat less, and lose weight.
Breathing is applicable to exercise. High intensity exercise creates a hyper ventilatory effect by which we breathe more to pace carbon’s excretory demands. Lower intensity exercise does not affect breathing to the same degree. Training for fat loss is literally training to breathe hard and heavy over a long period of time. Through this philosophy, fat loss is simple. Fat loss is by far the least specific of all exercise adaptations. HIIT training, long duration conditioning, and muscular endurance training can all produce substantial fat loss results. The key to weight loss training is doing what we enjoy. Afterall, we are much more likely to be consistent in the things we like doing.
Campbell, B.I., Spano, M.A. (2011). NSCA’s guide to sport and exercise nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Gleeson, M., Jeukendrup, A. (2010). Sports nutrition: An introduction to energy production and performance (2nd ED) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.